Before you start reading the history of Peter Degraves, co-founder of Hobart's Cascade Brewery, please take the time to study this photograph of Peter Degraves and have a long hard think about that face. What kind of man was he? Look at the eyes, the turn of his mouth: just what kind of man was Peter Degraves?
Obituary Hobart Courier
Monday 3rd January 1853 page three
THE LATE MR. P. DEGRAVES.-Our obituary of this
day contains the announcement of the decease of the
late Peter Degraves, Esq. Mr. Degraves arrived
about 28 years ago in a vessel called the Hope, the
family were in a highly respectable position, of French
extraction, Mr. Degraves being the son of an eminent
medical practitioner for very many years resident in
Dover, and brother of Colonel Degraves, lately
deceased at Madras. Mr. Degraves was during a
portion of his early life with the celebrated engineer
Rennie. The deceased was well known as the pro-
prietor of the extensive brewery and steam sawmills
very successful: he was highly and deservedly es-
teemed, and leaves a large family resident in the
The conventional history of Peter Degraves states that he was born in 1778 in France and was the son of a 'highly respected' doctor of French extraction who lived at Dover, England. Some histories claim he was the son of a French nobleman, Count Francios De Grave. Most histories state that after a successful career as either a civil engineer, lawyer or owner of huge factorieshe decided in 1821 to emigrate to Van Diemen's Land.
In partnership with his brother-in-law Major Hugh McIntosh, he secured the ship Hope and after many delays and vicissitudes, including arrest for overcrowding his ship and then imprisonment for debt, Peter Degraves arrived in Hobart Town with his wife and eight children in 1824. In fact that is totally untrue. Degraves was a merchant of fabric in Manchester in England who went bankrupt in 1807 and in 1810 was convicted of theft of a huge amount of goods, worth a small fortune, and as a result spent could have ended up being hung or transported to Hobart as a convict, however because of his high level social connection he instead was sentenced to only one year in jail, which sentence he served fully. On his release he fled London and his ruined reputation for the Scottish Highlands.
For a bit more of the Cascade's story read on.
Peter Degraves: Hero or Villain?
The existing histories describing the life of Peter Degraves tell of a multi-talented entrepreneur who migrated to Hobart to found what would become a vast business empire in the fledgling British colony of Hobart on the outer fringes of the civilised world. He has been variously described as a skilled architect, engineer, mathematician, lawyer, surveyor and a “pioneer industrialist” who came to Hobart Town from England in his middle life and who flourished amidst the challenges and opportunities presented by the colonial environment to found the Cascades Brewing empire. Yet there is little in the existing literature that deals with the 46 years of Degraves’ life prior to his arrival in Hobart Town and what few details there are, are generally vague or, at best, brief with little or no documentary support other than material that Peter Degraves himself wrote.
Degraves arrived in Hobart Town in 1824 with a steam engine, a sawmill and a corn mill, which he brought out from England in the Hope. As the story has it, when he arrived in Hobart Degraves’ engineer’s eye immediately saw that water power, freely available from the fast flowing streams that ran down the steep slopes of Mount Wellington, would be more efficient and cost effective than a steam engine—so he built his mill on the banks, at a place called the Cascades on the Hobart Rivulet where it joined with the Guy Fawkes Rivulet. At the Cascades he converted the mills’ drive mechanisms from steam to water in the process. There was a significant demand for sawn timber in the young colony and also in Britain so Degraves’ first action was to set up the machinery of the sawmilling plant, which he eventually extended to include a flour mill. Both these mills sourced their power from the water of the rivulet as it flowed rapidly down from Mount Wellington to Hobart Town. To utilise those waters more effectively Degraves built dams across the rivulet. In the short term this was not a problem though later, as Hobart’s population grew, it became a bone of contention between Degraves and the people of Hobart, who lived down stream. In 1832, after his release from five years in the Hobart prison, Degraves added a brewery to his Cascades domain, again utilising the clear, clean waters of the Hobart Rivulet. So began the Cascades Breweries.
After 1832 Degraves consolidated his base at the Cascades then rapidly expanded his business empire to include ship building yards at Battery Point and extensive farmlands. By the end of the 1830’s he had also designed, built and eventually come to own Hobart’s Theatre Royal, Australia’s oldest still operational theatre.
It has been claimed that by the end of the 1830’s Peter Degraves was, with an annual income of around £100,000 (at a time when a labourer’s wage was around £50 per annum), one of the richest men in Australia. When he died in December 1852, at the age of 74, his family was well poised to reap an even greater fortune by supplying the Victorian Gold Rush with flour, beer and timber .
In a booklet published in 1924 to celebrate the centenary of the Cascades Brewery (although the brewery did not actually exist at all until 1832), Cecil Allport wrote the first chapter entitled “The Degraves Centenary” dedicated to Peter Degraves, the brewery’s founder, and to the Degraves dynasty that followed him. In the first paragraph of the opening chapter of his work Allport called for the name of Peter Degraves to “ever occupy a prominent place” amongst the captains of Australian enterprise and industry. In addition to being an engineer, Degraves is also described as:
… an architect of no mean order and also an able draughtsman. He had, moreover, a knowledge of surveying… and was an experienced mathematician well versed in the science of Algebra…an authority on water boring.
Another detailed history of Peter Degraves and the Cascades Brewery was authored by Mike Bingham in 1991, “Cascade: a taste of history”. Bingham opens the book’s first chapter with the words:
“Australians have not always recognised their country’s true heroes and achievers despite professing admiration for individuals who dare to have a go, to challenge the odds and the system, and to follow a dream whatever the setbacks. It is therefore perhaps fortunate that Peter Degraves built his own memorials.”
It is true, as Bingham implies above, that, even though the Cascades Brewery flourished, Degraves was largely forgotten by the Australian public of the 20th century. But in their attempts to write a history for Peter Degraves, and to promote him as a forgotten hero, his “official” biographers do not appear to wonder at to why he was forgotten. They skip over the fact that Degraves spent five of his first seven years in Van Diemen’s Land in prison and that he was generally disliked by a large portion of Hobart’s population. Likewise they gloss over or ignore the controversy that saw Degraves arrested and imprisoned when he first attempted to leave England for Hobart on the Hope in 1821 and there is no mention of the fact that he was bankrupted in 1807 and later imprisoned for theft in 1810. Nor is there any mention of the well documented suffering he directly inflicted on the hungry men, women and children crammed on board the overloaded Hope or of his speculation with passenger’s fare money on London’s short term money market or the fact that the fare money was not returned to the passengers after the Hope was seized by the Authorities in Royal Ramsgate Harbour for being unseaworthy and overcrowded.
In fact it would appear that not only did Peter Degraves “build his own memorials”, as Bingham puts it, but perhaps he also built his own history, a history passed down through his family, his friends and his letters and upon which his biographers have been forced to rely where primary and other documentary sources were not existent or inaccessible. So who was Peter Degraves? To paraphrase Jane Austen “Who was his father? Who were his brothers and sisters?” and what did he really do with his life before he sailed to Van Diemen’s Land.
The Sins of the Father
The existing literature concerning Peter Degraves’ life before he arrived in Hobart Town in 1824 relies almost exclusively on Degraves’ own rendition of his history; either through recollections of the stories he told to his peers or from a number of letters and memorials written by Degraves, mostly from prison either in England or Hobart. These letters were generally written to promote himself or his case in some form legal dispute and are now mostly preserved in the Tasmanian State Archives.
Because, at the time, these documents represented the bulk of available information on Degraves’ pre-Hobart life Hooper, and Degraves’ other biographers, were more or less forced to rely on Degraves’ own rendition of his history. However with the recent improvements in archival finding aids and the digitalisation of historic records in Australia and overseas it has now become possible to apply a more critical eye to Degraves’ claims that he was a wealthy, highly respected member of English society who became a victim of the times when he lost his vast fortune due to the Napoleonic War and the machinations of Bonaparte the tyrant—a claim designed to extract sympathy in the post-war period.
As with much else, the sole evidence that he had lost a fortune is contained in the letters and memorials Degraves wrote to Lieutenant Governor Arthur from Hobart gaol between 1826 and 1832 or to stories he told guests after his release. Within the various versions of his tale Degraves claims that he once owned a number factories in England (Hooper says four) employing thousands of workers and that he had personally been worth more than one million pounds, which in today’s money would have made him almost a billionaire.
The facts about Peter Degraves' early life are very different. Degraves was Apprenticed through the 1790's to a mercantile house in London. Once he had finished his apprenticeship the young Degraves went into business. Between 1803 and 1805 Degraves owned, in partnership with at least two or three other people, a small cotton mill in Manchester—a business which was dissolved in late 1805 after less than three years of operation. His next business venture as a “warehouse man, dealer, and chapman”, was also a partnership. This business ended with Degraves being declared bankrupt in 1807 and from which bankruptcy Degraves was not discharged by 1809, if ever. A year later he was in jail after being convicted for theft of a valuable consignment of cloth.
Issues of debt, bankruptcy and imprisonment followed Degraves through most of his life and it was a reoccurring theme in his personal narrative that he inevitably portrayed himself as the victim of other peoples’ machinations, conspiracies or evil doings. It is a perspective which does not stand up to a close scrutiny of Degraves’ life although it can be argued that there were clear psychological causes why it was Degraves continually saw himself as a victim; those causes are to be found in the life of his father.
The Real History of Peter Degraves and Hobart's Cascade Brewery
In fact the early history of Peter Degraves is almost a complete fabrication, as is the history of Cascade Brewery, in Hobart, which he founded with Hugh Macintosh in 1832 (not 1824 as is constantly promoted by Cascade Brewery). As well as being a brilliant engineer Peter Degraves was an innovative businessman, a thief, a bully, a conman and a prolific liar.
In contrast his partner, brother-in-law and co-founder of the brewery, Major Hugh Macintosh, was an honourable man who was patron of Henry Savory enabling Savory to write Australia's first novel Qunitus Servington. A highly cultured man who spoke five languages, he also painted and played the violin. Macintosh established Tasmania's first vineyards, saved the life and reputation of the Duke of Wellington and was a hero of some of British India's most famous battles.
Macintosh was also responsible for the first three dimensional representation of a wallaby, on the famous and valuable Macintosh and Degraves silver shilling.
This page will reveal some of the hidden history of the founders of Australia's oldest brewery, the Cascade Brewery, Hugh Macintosh and Peter Degraves.
These two men were also responsible for building Hobart's Theatre Royal, Australia's oldest, still operational theatre.
The history of the founders of Cascade Brewery and Hobart's Theatre Royal is revealed in the book Heroes and Villains by Greg Jefferys now available from books shops or can be purchased on-line for $29 including postage and handling. Heroes & Villains is 238 pages and contains many interesting, never before published images.
Peter Degraves circa 1850
An Historic Time Line of Hobart's Cascades Brewery
1824 Peter Degraves surveys the Hobart Rivulet and sights The Cascades and decides it is the best place in Hobart for his mill: but the Cascades site is not included in his land grant as it is already owned by his neighbor Mr Murray.
1825 Rather than negotiate with Murray Degraves alters borders on his land grant to include the Cascades on his side of the border. Degraves begins construction of the Cascades Mills.
1826 Degraves is Imprisoned in Hobart goal for five years while the Cascades' mills are run by Hugh Macintosh. Murray disputes Degraves claim to the Cascades site in the Hobart Courts.
1831 Major Hugh Macintosh and his two nephews Henry and Charles Degraves begin building a brewery at Cascade.
1832 Degraves is released from prison and returns to his home at the Cascades. He joins in construction of the brewery to the Cascades mill. Cascade Brewery begins its Hobart operations.
1834 After the death of his partner, Hugh Macintosh, Peter Degraves begins the process of altering the history of Cascade Brewery
1835 Ownership of the site of Cascade Brewery is subject to protracted legal dispute and the court finds that Murray owns the site of the Cascades Brewery and Degraves is forced to pay Murray for the Cascades.
1836 Degraves seeks to add a distillery to Cascades Brewery but is refused.
1840's The beer brewed at Cascade Brewery becomes the most popular beer in Tasmania
1850's With the death of Peter Degraves, and his oldest son Henry Degraves, the management of Cascade Brewery passes out of the hands of the Degraves family
1860's onward The phony history of Cascade Brewery started by Peter Degraves is perpetuated by the new owners of Cascade Brewery
1880's onward the battle begins between Boag's Brewery in the north of Tasmanian and Cascade Brewery in Hobart. Cascade Brewery uses its history and its links to the history of Tasmanian as part of its promotional strategy.
A brief History of the Cascade Brewery.
The history of Cascade Brewery is as confused as the history of its founder Peter Degraves. In most histories of Cascades Brewery the Brewery is said to have begun in 1824 however this is actually when the Cascades Mill began. Cascade Brewery was not begun, or even conceived, until Peter Degraves was released from jail in 1832. It is generally believed that he decided to build a Brewery at the Cascades during his period in jail. One of the interesting questions which arises is how he was able to finance the construction of the Cascades Brewery given that he had just spent five years in jail for debts and that he never repaid those debts, amounting to a total of about 600 pound sterling. He was released on Governor Arthur's wish. If he could not repay the six hundred pounds, how was he able to pay for the construction of the Cascades Brewery, almost immediately after his release?
The true story is to be found in the memiors of Peter Degraves' grand-daughter Ada Hope Wilson. She writes that the Cascade Beer brewery was actually begun by her great Uncle Hugh Macintosh and two Uncles, Henry and Charles Degraves, Peter's sons. So we see that the real history of Cascade Brewery is nothing like what the brewery itself promotes. Indeed the true history is much more interesting.
Regardless of who began building the Cascades Brewery the reality is that the cool clear waters of the Cascades to brewed a very fine beer and the beer produced at Cascades Brewery was soon recognized as one of the finest beers in Australia and Cascades Brewery soon became the jewel in the crown of the Degraves business empire.
However the history of Cascades Brewery would not be complete without noting that the flour and timber mills at the Cascades continued to operate even as the Cascades Brewery flourished. This meant that when the Victorian Gold Rush began in the 1850's Cascades provided beer, timber and flour to the miners in Victoria and huge profits for the Degraves family..
Peter Degraves; Hobart's founder of the Cascade Brewery and Hobart's Theatre Royal and a serious historic enigma.
Cascades Brewery circa: 1880
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