Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Duffy, Charles Gavan
DUFFY, Sir CHARLES GAVAN (1814–1903), Irish nationalist and colonial politician, born in the town of Monaghan on 12 April 1816, was son of John Duffy, a shopkeeper, by his wife, who was the daughter of a gentleman farmer, Patrick Gavan. Save for a few months at a presbyterian academy in Monaghan, where there were then no catholic schools, he was self-educated; but a passion for reading was born in him; he devoured all the books on which he could lay his youthful hands, and early developed a talent for journalism. When he was nearly eighteen he began to contribute to the 'Northern Herald,' a Belfast paper, whose founder, Charles Hamilton Teeling, an old United Irishman, had visited Monaghan for the purpose of promoting the interests of the journal. The 'Herald' urged the union of Irishmen of all creeds and classes in the cause of Irish nationality. Among the contributors was Thomas O'Hagan [q. v.], Duffy's lifelong friend, afterwards the first catholic lord chancellor of Ireland since the revolution. In 1836 Duffy left Monaghan for Dublin, where he joined the staff of the 'Morning Register' (founded by the Catholic Association); of this journal he finally became sub-editor. About the same time he became Dublin correspondent of Whittle Harvey's 'True Son' and wrote occasional articles for the 'Pilot.' In 1839 he left Dublin to edit the 'Vindicator,' a bi-weekly newspaper established in the interests of the northern catholics in Belfast. In the same year, while still editing the 'Vindicator,' he entered as a law student at the King's Inns, Dublin. In the autumn of 1841, while keeping his term in Dublin, he first met John Blake Dillon [q. v.], then a writer on the 'Morning Register.' Dillon introduced him to Thomas Davis [q. v.], also a writer on the 'Morning Register,' and the friendship which ultimately bound the three men together was soon cemented. Duffy suggested to his friends a new weekly journal, which should impart to the people sound political education based on historical study. The result was the 'Nation,' of which Duffy was proprietor and editor. The first number appeared on 15 Oct. 1842. Its motto was 'to create and foster public opinion in Ireland and to make it racy of the soil.' The creed of the Young Irelanders (as the writers of the 'Nation' came to be called) was to unite all Irishmen for the purpose of re-establishing the Irish parliament, by force of arms, if necessary.
Duffy gathered round him a brilliant staff, including Thomas Davis, Clarence Mangan, Denis Florence McCarthy, John Cornelius O'Callaghan, John Mitchell, John O'Hagan, and Lady Wilde. The articles in both verse and prose revealed a fervent, well-informed, and high-minded patriotism which captivated Ireland. They recalled memories which made the people proud of their country and filled them with detestation of the power which had destroyed its freedom. Liberal and tory publicists in both islands recognised that a new force had entered politics. Lecky wrote later: What the "Nation" was when Gavan Duffy edited it, when Davis, McCarthy, and their brilliant associates contributed to it, and when its columns maintained with unqualified zeal the cause of liberty and nationality in every land, Irishmen can never forget. Seldom has any journal of the kind exhibited a more splendid combination of eloquence, of poetry, and of reasoning.' The Young Irelanders supplemented the newspaper propaganda by publishing books in prose and verse, to instruct and inspire the people. 'Their first experiment' (made in 1843), Duffy tells us, 'was a little sixpenny brochure printed at the "Nation" office, and sold by the "Nation" agents a collection of the songs and ballads, published during three months, entitled "The Spirit of the Nation." Its success was a marvel. The conservatives set the example of applauding its ability, while they condemned its aim and spirit.' The next scheme was a collection of the speeches of the orators of Ireland. But the speeches of Curran, edited with a brilliant memoir by Davis, alone appeared. To the same series belonged popular editions of Macgeoghegan's 'History of Ireland' (1844), MacNevin's 'Lives and Trials of A. H. Rowan and other Eminent Irishmen' (1846), Barrington's 'Rise and Fall of the Irish Nation' (1853), and Forman's 'Defence of the Courage, Honour and Loyalty of the Irish,' edited by Davis. Duffy also produced 'The Library of Ireland,' a series of shilling volumes of biography, poetry, and criticism, which included among other anthologies Duffy's 'Ballad Poetry of Ireland' (1845, fifty editions). No effort was spared to base political agitation on historical knowledge.
In the beginning the Young Irelanders were the devoted adherents of O'Connell. When in January 1844 O'Connell was indicted for seditious conspiracy, Duffy (with others) stood by his side in the dock. The prisoner's conviction by a packed jury on 30 May 1844 was quashed by the House of Lords [see O'Connell, Daniel]. Afterwards the relations between O'Connell and the Young Irelanders became strained. In 1844 the leader showed some disposition to substitute a federal plan for simple repeal of the union. Duffy attacked the plan in the 'Nation,' and O'Connell ultimately returned to repeal; but the controversy left some bitterness behind. In 1845 there were more serious causes of difference. O'Connell resisted, and the Young Irelanders approved, Peel's disposed new Queen's University in Ireland with affiliated colleges in Galway, Cork, and Belfast, which were to be open to both catholics and protestants.
In Michaelmas term, 1845, Duffy was called to the Irish bar, but he never practised. In the same year he made the acquaintance of Thomas Carlyle, to whom he was introduced by Frederick Lucas [q. v.]. An intimacy sprang up between them which lasted until Carlyle's death. Carlyle took some interest in the doings of the 'Young Ireland' party. He welcomed Duffy's gift of copies of the 'Nation,' and expressed sympathy with the cry 'Justice to Ireland justice to all lands, and to Ireland first as the land that needs it most.' In 1846 Carlyle visited Ireland and spent some time with Duffy and his friends.
In the same year there was a final breach between O'Connell and the young men. O'Connell supported a resolution adopted by the Repeal Association to the effect that moral force furnished a sufficient remedy for public wrong in all times and in all countries, and that physical force must be abhorred. The young men declined to admit that physical force could never be justifiable. Open war followed between O'Connell and the 'Nation.'
Duffy and his associates formed a new association the Irish Confederation which disclaimed alliances with English parties and repelled O'Connell's moral force theory. In January 1847 the first meeting of the confederation was held. O'Connell's death in May and the outbreak of the famine caused fresh divisions in the national ranks. Mitchel, assistant editor of the 'Nation,' accepted Fenton Lalor's view that the direct demand for repeal of the union should be suspended, and that there should be a general strike against the payment of rent. Duffy allowed discussion of the proposal in the journal; but he declined to adopt it as the policy of the party. Mitchel then, towards the end of 1847, left the 'Nation' and started a new weekly paper, the 'United Irishman.' A report prepared by Duffy for the confederation in 1848 suggested that an independent Irish party should be sent to the English House of Commons independent of English parties and governments, and pledged not to accept office from any government until repeal was conceded. The report was adopted by 317 to 188. Mitchel, who had no faith in a parliamentary agitation, opposed it, and leaving the confederation preached insurrection in the 'United Irishman.' The revolution in Paris in February 1848 inspired the leaders of the confederation with revolutionary projects, to which Duffy in the 'Nation' lent support. Many of his associates were at once arrested.
The confederates began preparations for a rising in August. But before anything effective was done the government intervened. On 9 July Duffy was arrested. On the 28th the 'Nation' was suppressed. Between July 1848 and April 1849 Duffy was arraigned five times. On three occasions the trial was postponed for one reason or another. On two occasions the juries disagreed. Finally in April 1849 Duffy was discharged.
On regaining freedom he revived the 'Nation,' which finally ceased many years later. Suspending the demand for repeal, which at the moment he believed to be inopportune, he flung himself heart and soul into the question of land reform. The evictions and calamities following famine and pestilence had made land reform urgent. The Irish Tenant League, which Duffy joined, was now founded to secure reform on the basis of parliamentary enforcement of the three F's—fixity of tenure, fair rents, and free sale. In the summer of 1849 Carlyle again visited Ireland, and he and Duffy spent some weeks together travelling throughout the country. At the general election of 1852 Duffy was elected parliamentary representative of New Ross, and the party of independent opposition (which he had proposed in 1847) was formed to oppose every government which would not pledge themselves to grant the demands of the Tenant League. This party consisted of some fifty members. In November 1852 Lord Derby's government introduced a land bill to secure to Irish tenants on eviction, in accordance with the principles of the Tenant League, compensation for improvements prospective and retrospective made by them in the land. The bill passed the House of Commons in 1853 and 1854, but in both years failed to pass the House of Lords. In 1855 the cause of the Irish tenants, and indeed of Ireland generally, seemed to Duffy more hopeless than ever. Broken in health and spirit, he published in 1855 a farewell address to his constituency, declaring that he had resolved to retire from parliament, as it was no longer possible to accomplish the task for which he had solicited their votes.
On 8 Oct. 1855 he sailed for Australia, where he was received with great enthusiasm by his fellow-countrymen, and began life anew as a barrister in Melbourne. But he soon glided into politics, and his admirers in the colony presented him with property valued at 5000l. to give him a qualification to enter the parliament of Victoria. In 1856 he became a member of the House of Assembly, quickly distinguished himself, and in 1857 was made minister of land and works, but resigned office in 1859 owing to a difference with the chief secretary, Mr. O'Shanassy, in respect of the management of public estates. It was Duffy's ambition to prove that one whose public life in Ireland had led to an indictment for treason could rise to the highest position in the state in a self-governing colony of England. After some years in opposition, he again became minister of land and works in 1862. He carried an important land bill which was known as Duffy's Land Act. Its main object practically was to facilitate the acquisition of the land by industrious inhabitants of the colony and by deserving immigrants, and to check the monopoly of the squatters. In 1865 he returned to Europe, visited England and Ireland (where he was feted by his friends), and spent some months on the continent. On going back to Victoria he took up the question of the federation of the colonies and obtained the appointment of a royal commission to consider the question, anticipating in his action subsequent events. In 1871 he became chief secretary or prime minister of the colony; in 1872 he resigned on an adverse vote which left him in a minority of five. He advised the governor, Viscount Canterbury, to dissolve, but the governor refused. The refusal was regarded as a departure from constitutional usage, and was discussed in the imperial parliament.
In 1873 Duffy was made K.C.M.G. in recognition of his services to the colony. In 1874 he again returned to Europe, spending some time in England, Ireland, and the continent. He went back to the colony in 1876, and was unanimously elected speaker of the House of Assembly in the next year. He held the office till 1880, and in that capacity was an interested but independent observer of the struggle between the two branches of the legislature in 1876 over the question of payment of members [see Berry, Sir Graham, Suppl. II]. The legislative assembly, which supported the payment, appealed to the home government against the council, which resisted the payment, and the prime minister, Sir Graham Berry, named Duffy as the representative of the assembly in the mission sent to London to Lay its case before the imperial government; but objection was taken to Duffy's appointment on the ground of his position as speaker, and he resigned his place to Charles Henry Pearson [q. v.]. In 1880 Duffy resigned the office of speaker and left the colony for good. He spent the remainder of his life mainly in the south of Europe. During this period he devoted himself to literary work, and took the keenest interest in all that went on in Ireland. He published valuable accounts of his own experiences in 'Young Ireland, a Fragment of Irish History, 1840-50' (2 vols. 1880-3; revised edit. 1896); 'The League of North and South: an episode in Irish History, 1850-4' (1886); 'The Life of Thomas Davis' (1890; abridged edit. 1896); 'Conversations with Thomas Carlyle' (1892; new edit. 1896); and 'My Life in Two Hemispheres' (1898). He also projected and edited 'A New Irish Library,' based on the principles of the old. He died at Nice on 9 Feb. 1903, and was buried in Glasnevin cemetery, Dublin. He was married thrice: (1) in 1842 to Emily (d. 1845), daughter of Francis McLaughlin, of Belfast; (2) in 1846 to Susan (d. 1878), daughter of Philip Hughes of Newry; and (3) in 1881 to Louise, eldest daughter of George Hall of Rock Ferry, Cheshire (who died in 1890). Ten children survive him six sons and four daughters.
A small portrait in oils from a daguerreotype is in the National Gallery of Ireland, together with a terra-cotta plaque with a life-sized head in profile.
[Duffy's works; The Times, 11, 16, 17 Feb., 9 March 1903; Heaton's Dict. Austral. Dates; private information.]