The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Duffy, Hon. Sir Charles Gavan

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Duffy, Hon. Sir Charles Gavan, K.C.M.G., sometime Premier of Victoria, was born in Monaghan, Ireland, where his father was a farmer, in 1816. In his twentieth year Mr. Duffy became sub-editor of the Dublin Morning Register, and entered as a law student at King's Inn. In 1839 he became editor and proprietor of the Belfast Vindicator. He returned to Dublin in 1842, and, in conjunction with John Dillon and Thomas Davis, established the Nation. In 1844 Mr. Duffy was tried and convicted of sedition along with O'Connell; the conviction, however, was set aside on appeal by the House of Lords. In 1846 O'Connell quarrelled with the Young Ireland party, of which the Nation was the organ, and they established the Irish Confederation, of which Mr. Duffy was one of the leaders. The famine in Ireland in 1848 and the example of the Continental revolutions of that period constrained Young Ireland to the advocacy of extreme courses. An Act was passed to control the Irish press, and under its provisions Mr. Duffy, John Martin, John Mitchell, and Dr. O'Doherty, now of Queensland, were indicted for treason felony. In Mr. Duffy's case, after he had been four times successively arraigned, it was found impossible to procure a conviction, the juries disagreeing at each trial. Subsequently, in 1852, he revived the Nation, which had been suppressed, conducting it on constitutional and anti-physical force lines. He also joined in starting the Tenant League, in which the Protestants of Ulster co-operated with the Catholics of the south, and which succeeded in sending fifty members to the Parliament elected in 1852. Amongst the latter was Mr. Duffy, who was returned for New Ross, after a notable contest with Sir Thomas Redington, Under-Secretary for Ireland in the Government that had prosecuted him. He now worked in the House of Commons in association with Frederic Lucas and George Henry Moore, the founder of the independent Irish party in the House of Commons which sprang out of the Tenant League. After four trying sessions, the defection of a large section of that party induced him to resign his seat in Parliament; and in Nov. 1855 he emigrated to Australia. Mr. Duffy was received with extraordinary enthusiasm by his fellow-countrymen at the Antipodes. At a banquet in Melbourne, presided over by his subsequent opponent Mr. (afterwards Sir John) O'Shanassy, he made his famous declaration that he was still an Irish rebel to the backbone and spinal marrow. Mr. Lang, the veteran Sydney publicist, pressed him warmly to take up his abode in New South Wales, but he adhered to his decision in favour of Victoria, where property valued at £5000 was purchased and presented to him by his admirers in order to give him a qualification either for the Upper or Lower House of the Legislature. So great was the popular enthusiasm that the diggers at Ballarat pledged themselves to contribute an ounce of gold apiece to the presentation fund. He was elected to the first Parliament of Victoria for Villiers and Heytesbury, his experience of the House of Commons enabling him to aid materially in introducing the practice of that body into the new Assembly. In the first session he was chairman of a select committee on a federal union of the colonies, whose labours gave the original impulse to Mr. Darcy MᶜGee in Canada some years later in founding the new Dominion; and he passed, against the determined resistance of the Government, the first Act of Parliament of Victoria, being one abolishing the property qualification for the popular branch of the Legislature. In the same session (March, 1857) he became Commissioner of Public Works and chairman of the Central Road Board in the second responsible Government, Mr. (afterwards Sir John) O'Shanassy being Chief Secretary and Premier. This administration only lasted till April 29th, but in March 1858 Mr. O'Shanassy resumed office, with Mr. Duffy as Minister of Lands. In about a year a dispute arose with Mr. O'Shanassy and some of his colleagues on the policy and management of the public estate, and Mr. Duffy resigned office in March 1859. On the defeat of the O'Shanassy Government in October of the same year, Mr. Nicholson, who succeeded him, offered Mr. Duffy and any one political friend he thought proper to select places in the new administration, but he declined to accept these terms unless a majority of the Cabinet were of his own way of thinking on the question of land law reform. In 1860, on the defeat of the Nicholson Government, a new administration was proposed by a coalition between Mr. Heales and Mr. Verdon with Mr. Brooke and Mr. Aspinall, of which Mr. Duffy was designed to be Premier; but as the Governor, Sir Henry Barkly, refused to promise a dissolution in certain contingencies, Mr. Duffy declined to proceed, and the former Government were recalled. He returned to office, however, in Nov. 1861, as Minister of Lands in a coalition Ministry of which Mr. O'Shanassy, Mr. Haines, and Mr. Nicholson, each of whom had been Premier, were members, and next year he passed the well-known Land Act of 1862. He wrote a pamphlet illustrating the new Act, entitled "Guide to the Land Law," of which three publishers issued separate editions in the colony, and three others published separate editions in London. But the industrious classes whom the new law was intended to benefit hired themselves to the pastoral tenants to defeat it, and it was widely evaded, with the result of still further assisting the aggregation of large estates. On an attempt to amend the Act the Government were defeated, and Sir James MᶜCulloch came into office in June 1863, but Mr. Duffy, though displaced, supported all the land reforms proposed by the new administration. In 1864 he visited Europe for two years, and on his return speedily re-entered Parliament (in 1867) as member for Dalhousie. The Darling grant controversy was then commencing, and he took at the hustings the grounds which were finally adopted by nearly all parties—that the grant ought never to have been made, but that having been made, it ought to be sanctioned if sent in a separate Bill to the Council, on which it had been attempted to be forced in the shape of a tack to the Appropriation Bill. While a private member, Mr. Duffy was chairman of a Royal Commission which brought up a report that led to the experiment of payment of members being tried in Victoria, and chairman of a Royal Commission on the subject of federation of the Australian colonies, which recommended a permissive Act (which would enable two or more of the colonies to join together at their discretion), a principle which was applied to the Cape of Good Hope and the South African colonies by the Imperial Government. In 1869, the MᶜCulloch Government having been defeated on the motion of Mr. Robert Byrne, that gentleman invited Mr. Duffy to become Premier and form the new administration; but the state of parties at the moment made the time inopportune, and, after a lengthy consultation with political associates, he declined to proceed. In 1870 Mr. Duffy ventilated a project for the neutralisation of the colonies in case of the mother country being involved in war, but it met with no very definite encouragement from any contemporary Australian statesman. In June of the next year, on the defeat of the fourth McCulloch Government, Mr. Duffy at length became Premier. During his administration the whole country was for the first time thrown open for selection by the abolition of the reserves made in favour of the pastoral tenants, and the tariff was made more protective. In 1872 Mr. Duffy was chairman of a conference of Cabinet Ministers from all the Australian colonies to press on the Imperial Government the repeal of the law limiting inter-colonial legislation on fiscal subjects, an object which has since been effected in pursuance of that remonstrance. After a year the Government were defeated by a narrow majority nominally on an amendment moved by Mr. Ramsay, but really in consequence of certain alleged abuses of patronage, including the appointment of Mr. Cashel Hoey to the position of Secretary to the Agent-General's office in London. Lord Canterbury having refused him an appeal to the country, Mr. Duffy resigned in June 1872. A few months afterwards he was offered a companionship of St. Michael and St. George, which he respectfully declined. In May 1873 he was knighted by patent, and in 1874 he made a second visit to Europe, his eldest son being elected for Dalhousie in his father's place. On his visit to Ireland he was invited to re-enter the House of Commons, a county member making way for him; but he declined on the ground that he disapproved of the programme which had been substituted for the policy of the repeal party. On his return to Australia in 1875 Sir Charles was elected for North Gippsland, one of the largest constituencies in Victoria, without his presence at the election being required. In returning thanks he stated the remarkable fact that during the twenty-four years since he first entered Parliament he had never lost an election. On the assembling of Parliament in May, he was unanimously chosen Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, and discharged the duties of the post till Feb. 1880. In the meantime it was suggested that Sir Charles Duffy should accompany the embassy to England on the subject of reform of the Upper House in 1879. In the end, however, the project was abandoned, as it met with little popular favour, and Messrs. Berry and Pearson went alone. In 1880 Sir Charles Duffy, who had been created K.C.M.G. in 1877, returned to Europe, and has since resided in the south of France. He is in receipt of a pension of £1000 a year from the colony of Victoria under an early act for the benefit of ex-Ministers which was quickly repealed. It is understood that Mr. Parnell was not favourable to the return of Sir Charles Duffy to public life as a member of the House of Commons and of the Irish Parliamentary party. It is to be doubted also whether Sir Charles Duffy could have rendered that unquestioning obedience to his leadership which he desired in his subordinate colleagues. Sir Charles Duffy was chairman of the Trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria, and took an active share in projects for encouraging art, literature, and industrial enterprise in that colony. Since his return to Europe in 1880, he has published "Young Ireland: a Fragment of Irish History, 1840-50" (London, 1880); "Four Years of Irish History, 1845-49" (London, 1883), being a sequel to "Young Ireland": the "League of the North and South" (London, 1886), which contains a trenchant refutation of John Mitchell's personal charges against him; and written on colonial and Irish questions in the Contemporary Review, Nineteenth Century, National Review, Freeman's Journal, and other periodicals. Sir Charles Duffy married first, in 1842, Emily, daughter of Francis McLaughlin, of Belfast (who died in 1845); secondly, in 1846, Susan, daughter of Philip Hughes, of Newry, who died in 1878; and thirdly, in 1881, Louise, eldest daughter of George Hall, of Rockferry, Cheshire, who died in 1890.