History of West Australia/John De Baun


John De Baun.jpg
Photo by
Greenham & Evans.

SOME men stake their fortunes and the existing happy thread of their lives on some speculative venture which their sagacity and foresight deem safe and secure. History has seen the weal and woe resulting from such nineteenth century commercial transactions.

In Australia no one, it can be safely said, has sailed so disastrously and so merrily in the barque of fortune as Mr. John De Baun. His career is redolent of romantic luxuriance. Many have written in flowing terms of his invincible pluck, his perseverance, and his complete composure and stoical cheerfulness.

Mr. De Baun was born in the State of New Jersey (U.S.), on the 19th January, 1852. Even to the far Western States of America the news of great gold discoveries in the remote continent of Australia had penetrated and created a momentary flutter of excitement. Mr. De Baun, when old enough, determined to sail to these Pactolian streams. He arrived in Melbourne, provided with the essential paraphernalia of the miner, and he travelled hundreds of miles with swag on back. From Ballaranal, where he remained for sixteen weeks, a period of hard, incessant toil, he went on a long journey to Wilcannia in New South Wales. He arrived safely, but unenviably fatigued and exhausted, and obtained work on a station. For three years he remained at this outlying post, but finally he set out for Silverton, where he arrived after many struggles and vicissitudes. A silver lining seemed now to gradually guild the circle of his life. Hitherto, it had been one long stretch of rough experiences in the bush, and of hard unremunerative toil. Now with the scanty earnings he had gleaned he started business in Silverton with incredible success. The world was on the eve of the advent of Broken Hill, with its argentiferous richness, and Mr. De Baun forsook his business in Silverton on the first news of the discovery, and went out to Broken Hill, and was one of its earliest pioneers. His capital had now become sufficiently large to enable him to build the Grand Hotel. Soon miners came rushing into Broken Hill, which became a township, flowing with money. The Grand Hotel turned out to be a profitable investment, though Mr. De Baun bestowed a great deal of attention on the shares and stocks of the mines. He added up wealth, and soon left Broken Hill to pursue his speculative career in Adelaide, where a larger field was open for Broken Hill ventures. In an amazingly short time he amassed a fortune of £100,000. He was one of the most prominent and familiar figures on the Adelaide Stock Exchange, and his run of luck became proverbial. He invested extensively in real property in Broken Hill and Adelaide, and entered into many lucrative commercial concerns. But, such is the irony of nature, the tide turned, and a perfect maelstrom of disaster followed. In that whirlpool many were submerged, and the pulse of Adelaide and Broken Hill beat feebly in the havoc of the reaction.

Mr. De Baun, like many others, lost his all, and the scales of his fortune now presented a deficit of £5,000. Far from falling beneath this burden of woe, he roused himself as energetically as in the former days of his travel and adventure in the back-blocks, and resolved to try his fortune once more, and pay off his numerous debts. Reaching Coolgardie in October, 1892, he travelled over the surrounding country with Warden Finnerty, critically examining its auriferous indications. It was on the conclusion of that early trip that Mr. De Baun, convinced of the vast gold-bearing resources of the country, penned a letter to Adelaide predicting that Coolgardie would be the greatest field in the world within ten years. Half the decade has passed, and it is probable that ere a few years elapse Mr De Baun's prediction will have come true.

Mr De Baun embarked once more on commercial enterprises. The essential requirements of a goldfield population were provided by him, and within a short time he had four separate businesses flourishing lucratively in the town. Again he ventured deeply in mining shares, and again he won. Fortune seemed to favour his worthy pluck and bravery, and as soon as he had made the nucleus of his second fortune he sent it off to pay his outstanding debts in Adelaide. His courage and his honesty were admired by all, and this one instance of his sense of duty and justice evoked great respect, and caused all who knew his past and present to esteem and honour his integrity. His old score erased, he proceeded to build up another fortune. For three years he was actively engaged in commercial pursuits, and, in carefully investing and speculating, his fortune was again large, and he retained his belief in the country. He visited the capital, and was so satisfied with its potentialities that he invested extensively in the city, and now Perth boasts of one of the most beautiful and elegant hotels in Australasia. The Palace Hotel, luxuriously and comfortably equipped, is the strongest evidence of his faith in the future of this colony. Mr. De Baun is the fortunate possessor of much real estate in Perth. A large section of the principal street belongs to him, and the Melbourne Hotel, a new and costly edifice, has recently been erected by him. On the fields his mining interests are extensive. Thousands of shares in different claims and concerns are held by him, and at the present moment he has a prospecting party in Cue, equipped and paid by himself. He has been repeatedly invited on the directorate of mines, but pressure of business has compelled him to refuse. He is proud of Western Australia, and has made his permanent home in this part of the continent. Mr. De Baun's generosity is unbounded, and his sympathy is equalled only by his charitable tendencies. Strong of will, tenacious in purpose, and consistent in duty, he is a man of solid character, full of striking individuality. With all this there is also a fund of modest reserve in his disposition. Ill-starred fortune he has borne like a man and fought like a hero, and now in his prosperous and felicitous moments he accepts the favours of smiling morn with a placid equanimity which at once despises conceit and condemns pride.