Lola Montez and Henry Seekamp as published in Melbourne Punch,1856
|Died||19 January 1864 (aged 34)|
|Known for||Seditious libel|
Henry Erle Seekamp (1829 - 19 January 1864) was a journalist, owner and editor of the Ballarat Times during the 1854 Eureka Rebellion in Victoria, Australia. The newspaper was fiercely pro-digger, and he was responsible for a series of articles and several editorials that supported the Ballarat Reform League while condemning the government and police harassment of miners. After the Rebellion was put down, he was charged, found guilty of seditious libel, and imprisoned.
Seekamp was born in England, in 1829. After achieving a degree in Bachelor of Arts from an unknown university, and arriving in Victoria in 1852, he had reached the Ballarat goldfields by 1853. He tried prospecting for gold, presumably meeting with some success as he was able to afford a printing press and the not inconsiderable cost of its transport to Ballarat in 1854. During December 1853 he began living with another recent arrival, Irish born actress Clara Maria Duvall. She and two of her three children adopted his surname, but there is no record of a marriage.  The Ballarat Times was run in their household, on Bakery Hill, close to Gravel Pits. The newspaper was successful, more land was purchased, and the small building they started with grew into a compound consisting of a printing office, stables, kitchen, separate residence, office and coach-house.
He served as secretary to the committee that planned to build a hospital for the miners of Ballarat, and was a great supporter of The Ballarat Reform League in their lobbying to improve conditions for the men working at the diggings.
His fellow rebel, Raffaello Carboni described him as "a short, thick, rare sort of man, of quick and precise movements, sardonic countenance" and that he was "Of a temper that must have cost him some pains to keep under control, he hates humbug and all sort of yabber-yabber", and wrote "his energy never abated, though the whole legion of Victorian red-tape wanted to dry his inkstand".
At first Seekamp was hopeful of change from the new Governor Sir Charles Hotham, who had told the miners he would not "neglect their interests" when visiting Ballarat, and wrote an approving editorial. But by September 1854 he was suggesting that despite protestations, Hotham had secretly ordered the police to invigorate the search for unlicensed miners. (Ballarat Times, 30 September 1854)
- "This league is nothing more or less than the germ of Australian independence. The die is cast, and fate has cast upon the movement its indelible signature. No power on earth can now restrain the united might and headlong strides for freedom of the people of this country ... The League has undertaken a mighty task, fit only for a great people – that of changing the dynasty of the country." (Ballarat Times 18 November 1854).
He was also responsible for printing the Ballarat Reform Charter and the many flyers advertising speakers and dates for the "monster meetings" organising support prior to the rebellion.
Arrest and trial
On the day after the massacre at the Eureka Stockade, on 4 December 1854, Governor Hotham declared Martial law in Ballarat. Seekamp was arrested in his office, all copies of the newspaper were confiscated, and he was charged with sedition for a series of articles published in the Ballarat Times. The articles may actually have been written by George Lang, son of prominent politician the Reverend John Dunmore Lang, or James Manning; historian Clare Wright theorizes that his wife Clara may have been the author. Certainly Seekamp claimed that he had not written them, and had been away from Ballarat on business when they were printed as part of his defence. He was tried and convicted of seditious libel on 23 January 1855, with a recommendation for mercy, after the judge directed the jury that as a point of law, an editor was liable for the contents of his newspaper, and stated that in his opinion, the articles were seditious. After a series of appeals, the Chief Justice, Sir William à Beckett, sentenced him to six months imprisonment on 23 March 1855. The thirteen men brought to trial after him were found either not guilty, or had their charges dropped. He was released from prison on 28 June 1855, three months early, after public outcry and a petition organised by Clara Seekamp. He was the only man to spend time in prison as a result of actions during the rebellion.
During his imprisonment, his wife took over the editorial duties on the newspaper and proved similarly outspoken. He returned to Ballarat after he was released and continued to edit the Ballarat Times. Seekamp was present at the 2nd-anniversary celebrations of the Eureka Stockade that were held in 1856.
In 1856 Seekamp wrote a scathing review in the Ballarat Times of visiting actress Lola Montez and her erotic Spider Dance. After taunting him onstage, Montez accosted him while he was drinking at a local hotel, chasing and beating him with her riding whip; Seekamp responded in kind, and the pair had to be separated by onlookers. Montez sued him for slander, and he sued her for assault. Both of these claims were dismissed, but Mr. Lewis, solicitor to Montez, personally sued for libel and was awarded 100 pounds.This widely publicized, embarrassing incident and the consequent loss of popularity combined with Seekamp's failing health, led to the final sale of the Ballarat Times in October of 1856. In 1860 he was editor of The Telegraph in Twofold Bay, although that position ended in charges of embezzlement which were later dismissed. Seekamp eventually moved to Brisbane, where he advertised as a French language teacher in 1862. Clara and the children remained in Melbourne.
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- "Mr. Seekamp and the Governor". Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 - 1954). 5 June 1855. p. 7. Retrieved 14 December 2018.
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- "Police Intelligence". Twofold Bay Telegraph (NSW : 1860). 23 October 1860. p. 2. Retrieved 30 January 2019.
- Elkner, Cate. "Seekamp, Henry Erle - Biographical Entry". Electronic Encyclopedia of Gold in Australia. Retrieved 13 March 2018.
- "Melbourne Press Club's Hall of Fame honours significant contributions to journalism". Herald Sun. 9 December 2012. Retrieved 22 August 2018.