Story: Jones, Shadrach Edward Robert

Page 1 - Biography

Jones, Shadrach Edward Robert

1822?–1895

Doctor, auctioneer, hotel-owner, impresario

This biography was written by George Griffiths and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 1, 1990

Shadrach Edward Robert Jones was born in England, and baptised at Gravesend, Kent, on 14 June 1822, the son of John Jones and his wife, Elizabeth Hind Pocock. He qualified MRCS in 1843, LSA in 1844, and in the same year MD from St Andrews University, Scotland. He married Louisa Onions in Shropshire on 28 May 1845 and there were eight children of the marriage.

After practising medicine for several years at the Wellington dispensary on the Shropshire coalfields and, in the late 1840s, contributing articles to the Lancet, Jones emigrated to Australia, soon after the Victorian gold diggings opened. He was established as an auctioneer and stabler in Sandhurst (Bendigo) by early 1854. He stood unsuccessfully for the Legislative Council of Victoria in 1855, but was elected to the first municipal council of Bendigo in 1856. He returned for a time to England, but resumed business in Australia with Charles E. Bird as partner, before both followed the goldrush to Otago in 1861.

In Dunedin, where his star fairly blazed for the next three years, Jones was the acknowledged leader in bringing to New Zealand the attractions and entertainments already known on the Victorian goldfields. Taking over the Provincial Hotel in October 1861, Jones made it prosperous and famous, adding the Princess Theatre. He then enlarged the Commercial Hotel by building on the Theatre Royal, in which rowdy and delighted audiences cheered the witty songs of Charles Thatcher.

Other leading entertainers to enjoy success in Jones's theatres included the San Francisco Minstrels and the Christy Minstrels, the Australian comedian Charles Young, the noted American actor Joseph Jefferson and the English Opera Company. Jones's most notable promotion was to persuade George Parr's professional English cricket eleven, touring Australia in 1863–64, to come to New Zealand. A storm-wrecked grandstand, a fire and ground enclosure problems caused the tour to be a financial failure despite widespread public interest, and Jones, who had borrowed on his property holdings to promote the tour, lost heavily. He had to abandon his promotion of the Lyster Opera Company, which, ironically, drew big audiences.

Between 1862 and 1864 Jones had acquired property, including a hotel, in various Otago townships, but much depended on mortgage. After the failure of the cricket tour, he was forced to quit his hotel interests and return briefly to auctioneering, but he could not restore his fortunes. Always restless, he left New Zealand in 1865–66 and roamed the world for the next 16 years.

In 1882 Jones returned to Dunedin, and from 1883 to 1887 practised medicine in Tapanui. He then moved to Australia, where he died at Raymond Terrace, New South Wales, on 12 July 1895. His wife and adult family had remained in England.

The reputation Jones earned in his Otago goldrush heyday lasted long after his money had gone. A short (5 feet, 5 inches), stoutish, ruddy faced man, with side whiskers and curly, dark hair, he was remembered in Dunedin for his chequerboard waistcoat, fat cigar, lavish jewellery and bulldog at heel. He had vigorously supported racing, sport and the hunt, bet freely and lived for the moment. He had promoted everything from billiards to grand opera, taken over Dunedin's Vauxhall Gardens from H. C. Farley, sponsored Dunedin's first voluntary fire brigade, been surgeon to the Otago Light Horse, and a guarantor for the New Zealand Exhibition of 1865. A gregarious, generous and resilient man, Jones has been described as 'New Zealand's first true entrepreneur'.