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Image of Sir Charles Gavan Duffy

Sir Charles Gavan Duffy
Speaker: 1877-1880
Legislative Assembly: 1856-1864, 1867-1874, 1876-1880

Charles Gavan Duffy, although a politician in Victoria, was not exactly a Victorian politician, as he began life in Ireland and ended it in Nice. He came to Australia with his wife and children in 1855, already prominent in the Irish nationalist movement as the founder of the magazine Nation, the Member for New Ross in the House of Commons, from 1852 until 1855, a leading Young Irelander and a man who had been tried five times for treason under the Treason Felony Act and freed after five jury disagreements. Duffy had planned to practice as a barrister in Melbourne, but was soon persuaded to stand for the first parliament under responsible government. A sum of 5,000 was raised by public subscription in Victoria and New South Wales to provide him with freehold qualification for either House, and he was elected to the Legislative Assembly for Villiers and Heytesbury. His first political action was to sponsor a bill to abolish the property qualification for Members; as the only Member who had also been a Member of the House of Commons, he also became an arbiter of parliamentary procedure.

During the O'Shanassy Ministries of 1858-59 and 1861-63 Duffy was in charge of the Lands Department, and when the Ministry resigned in 1863 he had been in office long enough to qualify for a life pension of 1,000. This pension enabled him to live comfortably, buy property, and travel twice to Europe before he finally left Victoria in 1880. When he was in Victoria he took a prominent part in organising Catholic opposition to education legislation and in supporting Catholic emancipation, and chaired several select committees (between 1857 and 1862) and a Royal Commission (in 1870) on federation. He was Premier for a year, between 19 June 1871 and 10 June 1872, at the head of a Ministry which combined free traders and protectionists.

Duffy was Speaker between 1877 and 1880 but found the monotony of the chair and the tone of the Legislative Assembly uncongenial. He left Victoria in 1880 and settled in France, at Nice, where he wrote several books and numerous articles before his death on 9 February 1903. In 1873 he had been knighted, and in 1877 he was also appointed K.C.M.G.

Duffy was married three times - to Emily McLauglin in 1842, to Susan Hughes in 1846, and to Louise Hall in 1881. At his death he was survived by one son of his first marriage, John Gavan Duffy, who also became a Member of the Legislative Assembly, four children of his second marriage, and four children of his third marriage.