Charles Gavan Duffy

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Sir Charles Gavan Duffy

Charles Gavan Duffy (Autobiography, 1880).jpg
Duffy in 1880
8th Premier of Victoria
In office
19 June 1871 – 10 June 1872
Preceded bySir James McCulloch
Succeeded byJames Francis
Personal details
Born12 April 1816
Monaghan Town, County Monaghan, Ireland
Died9 February 1903(1903-02-09) (aged 86)
Nice, France
NationalityIrish, Australian
Spouse(s)Emily McLaughlin, Susan Hughes, Louise Hall

Sir Charles Gavan Duffy KCMG (12 April 1816 – 9 February 1903), Irish-Australian nationalist, journalist, poet and politician, was the 8th Premier of Victoria and one of the most colourful figures in Victorian political history.

The suburb of Duffy in the Australian Capital Territory is named after him.

Duffy was born in Dublin Street, Monaghan Town, County Monaghan, Ireland, 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 Castleblayney, became his guardian for a number of years.


He was educated at St Malachy's College in Belfast. Duffy edited The Vindicator from its foundation in 1839 until 1842, while editing the Belfast-based paper he studied law at the King's Inns in Dublin, and was 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.[1] Duffy became a leading figure in Irish literary circles. He edited Ballad Poetry of Ireland (1843)[2] and contributed works on Irish literature and political history, including Young Ireland: a fragment of Irish history, 1840-1850, [3] and The league of north and south. An episode in Irish history, 1850-1854.[4]

Birth of The Nation

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, who would later become Young Irelanders.[5] All three were members of Daniel O'Connell's Repeal Association. This paper, under Gavan Duffy, transformed from a literary voice into a "rebellious organisation".[6]

Duffy in 1846

As a result of The Nation's support for Repeal, Gavan Duffy, as owner, was arrested and convicted of seditious conspiracy in relation to the Monster Meeting planned for Clontarf, just outside Dublin, but was released after an appeal to the House of Lords.[7]

In 1849 Duffy toured Ireland with Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle to record the ongoing Great Hunger in Ireland. It seems Duffy had invited Carlyle - a staunch Calvinist and Unionist, to record the happenings of the time as he was a well respected writer in Britain at that time. When their journey concluded Duffy wrote a damning editorial about the political establishment in 'The Nation'. While Carlyle showed little sympathy to the destitute Irish.

In August 1850, Gavan Duffy formed the Tenant Right League to bring about reforms in the Irish land system and protect tenants' rights, and in 1852 he was elected to the House of Commons for New Ross.

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.[8]

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.[9]


In 1842, he married Emily McLaughlin, who died in 1845. He married Susan Hughes in 1846, with whom he had six children.[8]

Emigration and political career[edit]

In 1856, despairing of the prospects for Irish independence, he resigned from the House of Commons and emigrated with his family to Australia. After being feted in Sydney and Melbourne, Duffy settled in the newly formed Colony of Victoria.[10]

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).[11]

He later represented Dalhousie and then North Gippsland. With the collapse of the Victorian Government's Haines Ministry, during 1857, another Irish Catholic, John O'Shanassy, unexpectedly became Premier and Duffy his second-in-charge. Duffy was Commissioner for Public Works, President of the Board of Land and Works, and Commissioner for Crown Lands and Survey. Irish Catholics serving as Cabinet Ministers was hitherto unknown in the British Empire and the Melbourne-based Protestants "were not prepared to counternance so startling a novelty".[12]

In 1858–59, Melbourne Punch cartoons linked Duffy and O'Shanassy with images of the French Revolution to undermine their Ministry. One famous Punch image, "Citizens John and Charles", depicted the pair as French revolutionaries holding the skull and cross bone flag of the so-called Victorian Republic.[13]

The O'Shanassy Ministry was defeated at the 1859 election and a new government formed. Like other radicals, Duffy's main priority was to unlock the colony's lands from the grip of the squatter class, but his 1862 lands bill was amended into ineffectiveness by the Legislative Council. Historian Don Garden commented that "Unfortunately Duffy's dreams were on a higher plane than his practical skills as a legislator and the morals of those opposed to him."[14]

Premier of Victoria[edit]

In 1871 Duffy led the opposition to Premier Sir 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, an example being the appointment of John Cashel Hoey to a position in London. In June 1872 his government was defeated in the Assembly on a confidence motion allegedly motivated by sectarianism. He was succeeded as premier by the conservative James Francis and later resigned the leadership of the liberal party in favour of Graham Berry.[8]

Speakership and retirement[edit]

Grave of Charles Gavan Duffy, Glasnevin, Dublin.

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 France. Duffy remained interested in the politics of both his adoptive country and his native Ireland.

In exile in France, Duffy was an enthusiastic supporter of the Melbourne Celtic Club, which aimed to promote Irish Home Rule and Irish culture.[15] His sons also became members of the club.

In recognition of his services to Victoria, he was knighted in 1873 and made KCMG in 1877. He married for a third time in Paris in 1881, to Louise Hall, and they had four more children.[8]

Notable children[edit]

Additionally, a grandson, Charles Leonard Gavan Duffy, was a judge on the Supreme Court of Victoria, Australia.[19]


Sir Charles Gavan Duffy died in Nice, France in 1903, aged 86.[8]


Texts on Wikisource:


  1. ^ Smith, G.B., 'Godkin, James (1806–1879)', rev. C. A. Creffield, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (Oxford University Press, 2004)
  2. ^ Duffy, Charles Gavan (1845). The Ballad Poetry of Ireland. Dublin: J. Duffy.
  3. ^ Duffy, Charles Gavan (1880). Young Ireland: a fragment of Irish history, 1840-1850. London: Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co.
  4. ^ Duffy, Charles Gavan (1886). The league of north and south. An episode in Irish history, 1850-1854. London: London.
  5. ^ Young Ireland, T.F. O'Sullivan, The Kerryman Ltd. 1945, p. 6
  6. ^ McCarthy, History of Our Own Times, Vol.1, p. 331.
  7. ^ Young Ireland and 1848, Dennis Gwynn, Cork University Press 1949, pp. 15-16
  8. ^ a b c d e Anton, Brigitte; O'Brien, R. B. (2008). "Duffy, Sir Charles Gavan". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  9. ^  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainO'Brien, Richard Barry (1912). "Duffy, Charles Gavan". Dictionary of National Biography (2nd supplement). London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  10. ^ Dictionary of Irish National Biography
  11. ^ [1], Accessed 2018-03-21, Also see O'Brien, Shenangians, p. xi.)
  12. ^ McCaughey, Victoria's Colonial Governors, p. 75
  13. ^ Punch, 7 January 1859, p. 5
  14. ^ George Gavan Duffy papers,; accessed 6 March 2016.
  15. ^ D.J. O'Hearn, Erin go bragh – Advance Australia Fair: a hundred years of growing, Melbourne: Celtic Club, 1990, p. 67.
  16. ^ Balmford, Peter (2004). "Duffy, Sir Frank Gavan". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  17. ^ Kotsonouris, Mary (2004). "Duffy, George Gavan". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  18. ^ Irish Law Times Report vol. 86 (1952), pp. 49–73.
  19. ^ Francis, Charles (1981). "Biography - Sir Charles Leonard Gavan Duffy". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  20. ^ "Review: My Life in Two Hemispheres by Charles Gavan Duffy". The Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art. 85: 209–210. 12 February 1898.


  • 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.
  • Keatinge, Patrick, ‘The Formative Years of the Irish Diplomatic Service’, Éire-Ireland, 6, 3 (Autumn 1971), pp. 57–71.
  • 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.

Further reading[edit]

  • 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 Colleges 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 0850341140. (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

Books by Young Irelanders (Irish Confederation)

  • An Apology for the British Government in Ireland, John Mitchel, O'Donoghue & Company 1905, 96 pages
  • Jail Journal: Commenced on Board the "Shearwater" Steamer, in Dublin Bay ..., John Mitchel, M. H. Gill & Sons, Ltd 1914, 463 pages
  • Jail Journal: with continuation in New York & Paris, John Mitchel, M. H. Gill & Son, Ltd
  • The Crusade of the Period, John Mitchel, Lynch, Cole & Meehan 1873
  • History of Ireland, from the Treaty of Limerick to the Present Time, John Mitchel, Cameron & Ferguson
  • History of Ireland, from the Treaty of Limerick to the Present Time (2 vols.), John Mitchel, James Duffy 1869
  • Life of Hugh O'Neil John Mitchel, P. M. Haverty 1868
  • The Last Conquest of Ireland (Perhaps), John Mitchel (Glasgow, 1876 – reprinted University College Dublin Press, 2005, ISBN 9781904558361)
  • The Felon's Track, Michael Doheny, M. H. Gill & Sons, Ltd 1951 (Text at Project Gutenberg)
  • The Volunteers of 1782, Thomas Mac Nevin, James Duffy & Sons. Centenary Edition
  • Thomas Davis, Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co, Ltd 1890
  • My Life In Two Hemispheres (2 vols.), Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, T. Fisher Unwin. 1898
  • Young Ireland, Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co 1880
  • Four Years of Irish History 1845–1849, Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co. 1888
  • A Popular History of Ireland: From the Earliest Period to the Emancipation of the Catholics, Thomas D'Arcy McGee, Cameron & Ferguson (Text at Project Gutenberg)
  • The Patriot Parliament of 1689 (Third Edition), Thomas Davis, T. Fisher Unwin, MDCCCXCIII
  • Charles Gavan Duffy: Conversations with Carlyle (1892)
  • Davis, Poem’s and Essays Complete, introduction by John Mitchel, P. M. Haverty, P.J. Kenedy, 9/5 Barclay St. New York, 1876.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
James McCulloch
Premier of Victoria
Succeeded by
James Francis