Charles Gavan Duffy, Irish nationalist, journalist, poet, and Australian politician, is born on April 12, 1816 in Dublin Street, Monaghan Town, County Monaghan. Duffy is the 8th Premier of Victoria and one of the most colourful figures in Victorian political history.
Both of his parents die while he is still a child and his uncle, Fr. James Duffy, who is the Catholic Parish Priest of Castleblayney, becomes his guardian for a number of years. He is educated at St. Malachy’s College in Belfast and is admitted to the Irish Bar in 1845. Duffy becomes a leading figure in Irish literary circles.
Duffy, along with Thomas Osborne Davis and John Blake Dillon, founds The Nation and becomes its first editor. Davis and Dillon later become Young Irelanders. All three are members of Daniel O’Connell‘s Repeal Association. This paper, under Duffy, transforms from a literary voice into a “rebellious organisation.”
In August 1850, Duffy forms the Tenant Right League to bring about reforms in the Irish land system and protect tenants’ rights, and in 1852 is elected to the House of Commons for New Ross. By 1855, the cause of Irish tenants seems more hopeless than ever. Broken in health and spirit, Duffy publishes a farewell address to his constituency, declaring that he has resolved to retire from parliament, as it is no longer possible to accomplish the task for which he has solicited their votes.
In 1856, emigrates with his family to Australia, settling in the newly formed Colony of Victoria. A public appeal is held to enable him to buy the freehold property necessary to stand for the colonial Parliament. He is immediately elected to the Legislative Assembly for Villiers and Heytesbury in the Western District in 1856. 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 becomes Premier with Duffy his second-in-charge.
In 1871, Duffy leads 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 is defeated on this issue, Duffy becomes Premier and Chief Secretary. The majority of the colony is Protestant, and Duffy is accused of favouring Catholics in government appointments. In June 1872, his government is defeated in the Assembly on a confidence motion allegedly motivated by sectarianism.
When Graham Berry becomes Premier in 1877, he makes Duffy Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, a post he holds without much enthusiasm until 1880, when he quits politics and retires to the south of France. Duffy remains interested in both the politics of his adoptive country and of Ireland. He is knighted in 1873 and is made KCMG in 1877. Sir Charles Gavan Duffy dies in Nice, France, at the age of 86 in 1903.