Coombe Ephraim Henry

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COOMBE Ephraim Henry 1858 – 1917

The Late Mr E H COOMBE, M P

It is no easy task to compress within the limits of a newspaper article the biographical sketch of a life so full of events and achievements worth recording as that of the late Mr Ephraim Henry Coombe, M.P. Our late esteemed townsman would, we are sure, if he could, make his wishes known, prefer that statement of the chief features of his life should be brief and unvarnished for he shrank from embellishment that savoured in the slightest degree of extravagance or excessiveness-he was a natural, practical, warm-hearted, and kindly dispositioned man. By his death the town and the State have suffered an irreparable loss. He stood notably in that bright succession of remarkable and intellectual men who won for Gawler the proud distinction of the Colonial Athens. Mr Coombe possessed an enviable gift which enabled him to entertain his fellow-beings by tongue and pen. His readiness of utterance and expression, always in a kindly mien, enabled him to express in unmistakable manner the dictates of his conscience. His kindly disposition never allowed him to think harshly of his fellow-beings, his cheery disposition allowed him to overlook the foibles of mankind, and his kindly word, wreathed with smiles, radiated like sunshine – he was singularly charged with the classical spirit in its happiest and most electric expression. Upon Mr Coombe leaving Gawler. And consequently our Editorial chair, we remarked that he had been “thorough in research, profound in thought, clear, terse, and forceful in reasoning, logical and practical in conclusion, stoical under reverse, cheerful and helpful always, was admired and respected by all, and by not a few loved with a love a little short of idolatry.” Mr Coombe was a “self-made man,” that is to say that he did not enjoy the educational facilities in his youth that are now available to all. He was a plodder, and he took every opportunity to improve himself, and was filled with laudable ambition to attain a high degree of effective citizenship, consequently he rose step by step in knowledge, social service, and public confidence, and unlike a majority of typical self-made men, he retained till his death the modesty, and freshness, and the zest of the simple student, the learner. Foremost in his thoughts he placed education, and, as he had felt the want of it, he naturally displayed great enthusiasm in this cause to justify its contribution to social efficiency. His efforts in this connection to build up the Institute and the Gawler School of Mines, and through their agency to promote technical education, is well-known to residents. And with what glowing pride did he refer again and again to the achievements of the industrial students of Gawler.


Mr Coombe was an effective citizen during his residence in the town. There was not a movement or society that promised to promote the prosperity of the town or district and the welfare of the residents that had not felt his influence beneficially, and the consummation of his indefatigable labours in his “History of Gawler,” a work that will remain a monument to him as long as Gawler shall exist. In the preface of the book he remarks: - “As a native of Gawler I am proud of its history, and am delighted to have been able to record in authentic and enduring fashion for the benefit of the Athenians and the future an approximately consecutive and accurate narrative of the development of this neighbourhood from the days of the white pioneers up to the present.”

-Early Life-

Ephraim Henry Coombe was born at Gawler South, on August 26, 1858. He was a son of the late Mr Ephraim Coombe who arrived in the State from Goodleigh, Devon, England, in 1855, and came to Gawler the same year, and in 1873 started storekeeping in Willaston, a northern suburb of Gawler. He was educated at the late Mr L S Burton’s school, Gawler, and upon attaining the age of 11 years, he secured employment in the grocery department of Mr Jas Harris, Gawler Stores. Subsequently he retired from that establishment in order to assist his father in the management of the store at Willaston, to which had been added the responsibility of postmaster of Willaston. After a few years he being of an ambitious turn of mind, and seeking to better himself, Mr Coombe sought that betterment in a confectionery business which he opened in Murray Street, Gawler, and by a close application and unflagging industry during that time he succeeded in surmounting every difficulty which confronted him, and attained the then zenith of his ambition – a footing in journalism.


Mr Coombe had no regular academic training, but presswork came to him in a perfectly natural manner. In his youth he set himself the task of becoming proficient in shorthand, and as a reporter, had few equals in the States. Early in 1888, whilst conducting his confectionery business, he was appointed the correspondent to “The Register,” a position he ably filled until his removal from Gawler nearly three years ago. In 1890 he received the appointment of editor of “The Bunyip,” and for nearly a quarter of a century he championed every cause for the good of the town and district, and was scrupulously fair to opponents, and faithful to friends. He severed his connection eith “The Bunyip” in April 1914, in order to take the editorial chair of “The Daily Herald,” a position he relinquished early last year, after noted efficient administration and unswerving industry for that papers benefit. When the Federal Convention sat in Adelaide in 1897 he was the only country journalist appointed to the “Hansard” staff, but he had previously had experience of “Hansard” work as a reporter for “The Register.” From August 1904, to July 1908, he was also the editor of “The Institutes’ Journal, an interesting publication issued in the interest of South Australian Institutes.


In 1896 Mr Coombe, who was the President of the Barossa Political Reform League, contested the District of Barossa as a Liberal unsuccessfully, and again essayed the task with a like result in 1899, but in 1901 upon the retirement of the late Sir John Downer, K C, was successful. During 1904 he acted as Opposition Whip, and after he was returned to Parliament again in 1905 he was appointed Chairman of Committees. This position he resigned in 1910, when he became Minister of Agriculture and Commissioner of Crown Lands in the Peake Government, carrying out the important duties with conspicuous ability from December 22, 1909, to June 3, 1910. He was unsuccessful in contesting the seat at the 1912 general election, but the esteem in which his supporters held him resulted in a large overflowing social gathering being tendered to him in the Institute when a large purse of sovereigns and an address was presented to him. However, after he had left Gawler, he was again successful in again being returned as a member for Barossa in March, 1915, as a labour candidate. He then became a vigorous supporter of the Labour interests, and worked hard right up to his final dramatic exit from public affairs with the activity that had characterised his whole life. During his Parliamentary career he acted as chairman of a Royal Commission which enquired into the handling and marketing of wheat, and he was ever ready to give the House the benefit of the knowledge he gained by his investigations and study of the subject. As a member of Parliament he was recognised as a worthy opponent in debate, honest, straight-forward, and one whose opinions called for consideration. He never hesitated to give expression to his convictions of social, State, and national importance. He was ever courteous and was easy of approach by his constituents, and requests and enquires made either by his opponents or supporters always received his attention.

-A Sportsman-

The deceased legislator was interested and encouraged all sport that tended to improve the mind and develop the physique. He was an enthusiastic cricketer, and one of the founders of the Union Cricket Club, and for 10 years out of 13 years, was at the head of the batting averages in Gawler Association, and was generally near the top of the list in the other years of his activity. In 1887-88 he regularly went to the city and played for the South Adelaide Club on the Adelaide Oval, and secured second average with 39.4 and was so successful that year that he represented South Australia in the intercolonial team. In bowling he had always a fine average, and in the year 1885-6 season he captured 152 wickets at a cost of eight runs a wicket. In November 1880 he bowled five wickets for no runs, and in September, 1890 secured eight wickets for no runs. Upon his retirement from the club in 1905 Mr Coombe was presented with a gold pendant to mark his twenty five years’ connection with the club. At chess he had few equals, and was champion of the Gawler Chess Club for a number of years and represented South Australia in intercolonial matches; in 1894 he was the runner-up for the State championship.

-Other Interests-

Amongst the public institutions and other affairs in which Mr Coombe was interested and held office at various times, may be mentioned the following: - Resident of the Liberal and Democratic Association of S.S., Vice-President of the S.A. Proportional Representative Society, Vice-President of the S.A. Institutes’ Association, President and other offices connected with the Gawler Institute, a committeeman of the Gawler D.T.N.S. (District Trained Nursing Society), one of the founders and secretary of the School of Mines and its kindred societies, Speaker of the Institutes; Union Parliament, also the premiership at another period, President of Gawler Chess Club, President of the Gawler Institute Literary Societies Union, founder and first teacher of the institute shorthand, book-keeping, and typewriting classes, President of Gawler Technical Education Vigilance Committee, President of Gawler Theatrical Club, and a Governor of the Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery of S.A.. At the time of his death he was an auditor of the Gawler-Starr-Bowkett Society, a member of the Gawler and Barossa Starr-Bowkett Society, a member of the Gawler Institute, a member of the Klemzig branch of the United Labour Party, and a member of the Sons of Temperance, and also a member of the Rose of Gawler Tent I.O.R., of which order he has been connected with for the past 38 years.

-Removal From Gawler-

It was May 1, 1914, that Mr Coombe commenced duties in Adelaide, and the movement was quickly on foot to recognise the good work accomplished by both Mr and Mrs Coombe. Subscriptions flowed in voluntarily and on June 1 a social gathering was held in the Institute Hall, the room limiting the number of persons anxious to be present. The gathering was a fine tribute to the departing gentleman and Mrs Coombe. Presentations were made of a purse of sovereigns, a silver tea and coffee service, a case of silver spoons, and silver revolving dish, also two enlarged framed photographs of himself, so that one should hand on the walls of the Institute reading room, and the other in the School of Mines building. Mr Coombe in replying stated in his remarks, “he was fully aware of their goodwill and needed no presentation as an indication. The knowledge that he bore their goodwill and esteem was far more precious to him than any gift. The remarks of all the speakers had all been too generous, and had been: - ‘To my virtues ever kind. To my faults a little blind.’ His mind was full of happy thoughts of his life in Gawler…. He learned the lesson long ago that the more you could give to your fellows and to the town and the State the better you were yourself. The secret of happiness was giving out the best you had. The greatest asset to the country was its manhood and womanhood, and the capacity for good in them. They are apt to malign their human nature, and it was in the development of that good that lay the finest work they could be engaged in…. He was pleased to see that the gathering was so representative, and he appreciated the fact that many of his political opponents had assisted to send him off. It was gratifying to him to know that political differences made no difference to mutual friendships of many years standing.”

-The Obsequies-

The remains of the late legislator were brought to Gawler to the scene where the late gentleman spent his happy boyhood, the residence of his brother, Mr Thomas Coombe, J P., Willaston. The funeral took place on Saturday, and it was of a semi-State character. The cortege was a long one, comprising over 100 vehicles including five which contained his fellow-legislators. All societies and public bodies in Gawler were represented, the members of the local branch of the United Labour Party and the Sons of Temperance and Rechabite Lodges formed a procession, two members from each acting as pall-bearers. At the graveside a large gathering assembled representative of all classes of the community, and the service was conducted by the Rev J C Richmond, who also delivered a short address, and Bro Geo Bright and Bro E Gwyn read the burial services of the Rechabite Order and the Sons of Temperance respectively. The legislators present comprised the Premier (Hon Crawford Vaughan), the Attorney-General (Hon J H Vaughan), the Speaker of the House of Assembly (Hon F W Coneybeer), Hon F S Wallis M L C, Hon J Bice M L C, Sir Richard Butler, and Mr Wm Hague (colleagues of the deceased), and Mr W D Ponder, and the staff of Parliament House was also well represented.

-The Family-

Mr Coombe married in 1880 Miss Sarah Heyward, of Willaston (who survives), and leaves a family of four sons and two daughters – Lieut H H (in camp), J B (Saddleworth), Lieut S W (at the front) and Ernest (recently returned injured); and Mrs G A Ash (whose husband is at the front) and Miss Nellie Coombe (North Adelaide).

We thanks Margaret Howse for this excellent compilation.

Please click here to see photos of EH Coombe.

Please Click Here to read Mayor Karen Redman's Speech on the Centenary of EH Coombe's death.

Also Click Here to view the EH Coombe Walking Tour.

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Coombe E H (Ephraim Henry)
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Coombe E. H. - 24 Aug 1901

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