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Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, KCMG (12 April 1816 – 9 February 1903) Irishmarker nationalist and Australian colonial politician, was the 8th Premier of Victoria and one of the most colourful figures in Victorian political history. Duffy was born in Dublin Street, Monaghan Town, County Monaghanmarker, Irelandmarker, the son of a Catholic shopkeeper. Both his parents died while he was still a child and his uncle, Fr James Duffy who was the Catholic Parish Priest of Castleblayneymarker, became his guardian for a number of years.


He was educated at St Malachy's College in Belfastmarker and admitted to the Irish bar in 1845.

Even before being admitted to the bar, Duffy was active on the Irish land question, and in that connection in 1842 he became an ally of James Godkin.

In 1842 he married Emily McLaughlin, Emily died in 1845. He married Susan Hughes in 1846, with whom he had six children.

Duffy became a leading figure in Irish literary circles. He edited Ballad Poetry of Ireland (1843) and other works on Irish literature.
Birth of the Nation
Charles Gavan Duffy was one of the founders of The Nation and became its first editor; the two others were Thomas Osborne Davis, and John Blake Dillon. All three were members of Daniel O'Connell's Repeal Association, and would later become to be known as Young Ireland. This paper, under Duffy, transformed from a literary voice into a 'rebellious organization'. As a result of The Nation's support of Repeal Duffy as Proprietor was arrested and convicted of seditious conspiracy in relation to the Monster Meeting planned for Clontarf, just outside Dublinmarker, but was released after an appeal to the House of Lordsmarker.In August 1850 Duffy formed the Tenant Right League to bring about reforms in the Irish land system and protects tenants' rights.

In 1852 Duffy was elected to the House of Commonsmarker for New Ross. In 1856, despairing of the prospects for Irish independence, he resigned from the House of Commons and emigrated with his family to Australia.

Main article: Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848

Main article: Young Ireland

Emigrates to Australia

After being feted in Sydneymarker and Melbournemarker Duffy settled in Victoria. In early colonial Victoria, Duffy, with his political and literary reputation, was an exotic and romantic figure, particularly for the colony's large Irish community. For this reason he was feared and hated by many in the Englishmarker and Scottishmarker Protestant establishment, especially when he indicated his intention of entering Victorian politics.

A public appeal was held to enable him to buy the freehold property necessary to stand for the colonial parliament. He was immediately elected to the Legislative Assembly for Villiers and Heytesbury in the Western District in 1856. A Melbourne Punch cartoon depicted Duffy entering parliament as a bog Irishman carrying a shillelagh atop the parliamentary benches.(Punch, 4 December 1856, p. 141. Also see O'Brien, Shenangians, p. xi.)He later sat for Dalhousie and for North Gippsland.

With the collapse of the Victorian Government's Haines Ministry, during 1857, unexpectedly another Irish Catholic, John O'Shanassy, became Premier and Duffy his second-in-charge. Duffy was Commissioner for Public Works and was President of the Board of Land and Works and Commissioner for Crown Lands and Survey. Nothing like this had occurred anywhere in the British Empire, with Irish Catholics serving as Cabinet Ministers and the Melbourne based Protestants 'were not prepared to counternance so startling a novelty.'(McCaughey, Victoria's Colonial Governors,p. 75; also O'Brien) Melbourne Punch cartoons linked Duffy and O'Shanassy with images of the French Revolution in an attempt to undermine their Ministry, during 1858-59. One famous Punch image 'Citizens John and Charles' showed the pair as French revolutionaries holding the skull and cross bone flag of the Victorian Republic. (Punch, 7 January 1859, p. 5; also see O'Brien)The O'Shanassy Ministry was defeated at the 1859 election and a new government formed. (O'Brien)

Like other radicals, he regarded unlocking the colony's lands from the grip of the squatter class as his main priority, but his 1862 lands bill was amended into ineffectiveness by the Legislative Council. The historian Don Garden writes: "Unfortunately Duffy's dreams were on a higher plane than his practical skills as a legislator and the morals of those opposed to him."

Premier of Victoria

In 1871 Duffy led the opposition to Premier James McCulloch's plan to introduce a land tax, on the grounds that it unfairly penalised small farmers. When McCulloch's government was defeated on this issue, Duffy became Premier and Chief Secretary (June 1871 to June 1872). Victoria's finances were in a poor state and he was forced to introduce a tariff bill to provide government revenue, despite his adherence to British free trade principles.

An Irish Catholic Premier was very unpopular with the Protestant majority in the colony, and Duffy was accused of favouring Catholics in government appointments. in June 1872 his government was defeated in the Assembly on a confidence motion allegedly motivated by sectarianism. He resigned the leadership of the liberal party to Graham Berry.

Later political career

When Berry became Premier in 1877 he made Duffy Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, a post he held without much enthusiasm until 1880, when he quit politics and retired to the south of Francemarker. Duffy remained interested in both the politics of his adoptive country and of Ireland. From his exile in France, Duffy was an enthusiastic supporter of the Melbourne Celtic Club, which aimed to promote Irish Home Rule and Irish culture. His sons also became members of the club.

He was knighted in 1873 and made KCMG in 1877. He married for a third time in Parismarker in 1881, to Louise Hall, and had four more children in his 70s. One of his sons, John Gavan Duffy, was a Victorian politician between 1874 and 1904. Another, Frank Gavan Duffy, was Chief Justice of the High Court of Australiamarker 1931 - 1935.

Yet another son, George Gavan Duffy (born 1882) was an Irish politician and later (from 1936) a judge of the Irish High Court, becoming its President from 1946 until his death in 1951.

His grandson, Charles Leonard Gavan Duffy, was a judge on the Supreme Court of Victoriamarker, Australia.

Sir Charles Gavan Duffy died in Nicemarker in 1903, aged 86.

(Note: Both Charles and Frank Gavan Duffy are sometimes referred to as though their surname was Gavan Duffy. There is no doubt that the family surname was Duffy, but the family tradition of giving all males the middle name Gavan has led to some confusion about this.)


Additional Reading
  • The Politics of Irish Literature: from Thomas Davis to W.B. Yeats, Malcolm Brown, Allen & Unwin, 1973.
  • John Mitchel, A Cause Too Many, Aidan Hegarty, Camlane Press.
  • Thomas Davis, The Thinker and Teacher, Arthur Griffith, M.H. Gill & Son 1922.
  • Brigadier-General Thomas Francis Meagher His Political and Military Career,Capt. W. F. Lyons, Burns Oates & Washbourne Limited 1869
  • Young Ireland and 1848, Dennis Gwynn, Cork University Press 1949.
  • Daniel O'Connell The Irish Liberator, Dennis Gwynn, Hutchinson & Co, Ltd.
  • O'Connell Davis and the Collages Bill, Dennis Gwynn, Cork University Press 1948.
  • Smith O'Brien And The "Secession", Dennis Gwynn,Cork University Press
  • Meagher of The Sword, Edited By Arthur Griffith, M. H. Gill & Son, Ltd. 1916.
  • Young Irelander Abroad The Diary of Charles Hart, Edited by Brendan O'Cathaoir, University Press.
  • John Mitchel First Felon for Ireland, Edited By Brian O'Higgins, Brian O'Higgins 1947.
  • Rossa's Recollections 1838 to 1898, Intro by Sean O'Luing, The Lyons Press 2004.
  • Labour in Ireland, James Connolly, Fleet Street 1910.
  • The Re-Conquest of Ireland, James Connolly, Fleet Street 1915.
  • John Mitchel Noted Irish Lives, Louis J. Walsh, The Talbot Press Ltd 1934.
  • Thomas Davis: Essays and Poems, Centenary Memoir, M. H Gill, M.H. Gill & Son, Ltd MCMXLV.
  • Life of John Martin, P. A. Sillard, James Duffy & Co., Ltd 1901.
  • Life of John Mitchel, P. A. Sillard, James Duffy and Co., Ltd 1908.
  • John Mitchel, P. S. O'Hegarty, Maunsel & Company, Ltd 1917.
  • The Fenians in Context Irish Politics & Society 1848-82, R. V. Comerford, Wolfhound Press 1998
  • William Smith O'Brien and the Young Ireland Rebellion of 1848, Robert Sloan, Four Courts Press 2000
  • Irish Mitchel, Seamus MacCall, Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd 1938.
  • Ireland Her Own, T. A. Jackson, Lawrence & Wishart Ltd 1976.
  • Life and Times of Daniel O'Connell, T. C. Luby, Cameron & Ferguson.
  • Young Ireland, T. F. O'Sullivan, The Kerryman Ltd. 1945.
  • Irish Rebel John Devoy and America's Fight for Irish Freedom, Terry Golway, St. Martin's Griffin 1998.
  • Paddy's Lament Ireland 1846-1847 Prelude to Hatred, Thomas Gallagher, Poolbeg 1994.
  • The Great Shame, Thomas Keneally, Anchor Books 1999.
  • James Fintan Lalor, Thomas, P. O'Neill, Golden Publications 2003.
  • Charles Gavan Duffy: Conversations With Carlyle (1892), with Introduction, Stray Thoughts On Young Ireland, by Brendan Clifford, Athol Books, Belfast, ISBN 0 85034 1140. (Pg. 32 Titled, Foster's account Of Young Ireland.)
  • Envoi, Taking Leave Of Roy Foster, by Brendan Clifford and Julianne Herlihy, Aubane Historical Society, Cork.
  • The Falcon Family, or, Young Ireland, by M. W. Savage, London, 1845. ( An Gorta Mor)Quinnipiac University


  • Browne, Geoff. A Biographical Register of the Victorian Parliament, 1900-84, Government Printer, Melbourne, 1985.
  • Duffy, Charles Gavan. Four Years of Irish History 1845-1849, Robertson, Melbourne, 1883. (autobiography and recollections)
  • Garden, Don. Victoria: A History, Thomas Nelson, Melbourne, 1984.
  • McCarthy, Justin. History of Our Own Times, Vols 1-4, 1895.
  • McCaughey, Davis. et al. Victoria's Colonial Governors 1839-1900, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 1993.
  • O'Brien, Antony. Shenanigans on the Ovens Goldfields: the 1859 election, Artillery Publishing, Hartwell, 2005, (p. xi & Ch.2)
  • Thompson, Kathleen and Serle, Geoffrey. A Biographical Register of the Victorian Parliament, 1856-1900, Australian National University Press, Canberra, 1972.
  • Wright, Raymond. A People's Counsel. A History of the Parliament of Victoria, 1856-1990, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1992.

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