After leaving school at an early age I was apprenticed to a draper. I arrived in Melbourne in 1852 but after a short time returned to England. I came back to Australia in 1857 and in 1860 I bought the Collingwood Observer. In the same year I was elected to the legislative assembly for East Melbourne. Later I changed to the seat of Collingwood.
I lost my seat in the 1866 election and went to Geelong and bought an interest in the Geelong Register. I was elected for Geelong West in 1868 and became treasurer in the Macpherson ministry in January 1870. Macpherson resigned in the following April and in 1871 I became treasurer and commissioner of trade and customs in the C. G. Duffy ministry and succeeded in increasing the small protective duties of the time. In May 1872 I resigned over an incident that involved my father-in-law.
I gained the office of Premier again in 1877 and immediately reformed land tax. While that legislation went through the upper house in the Victorian Parliament, they blocked my budget and Victoria faced ruin. On 8/1/1878 I acted to reduce costs. I dismissed all the judges of county courts, courts of mines and insolvency; all police magistrates, coroners and wardens of goldfields; the engineer in chief of railways; a large number of heads of departments; and other highly paid officials. Others called it 'black Wednesday'. They say that this is what caused the break down of law and order in north eastern Victoria and led to the raise of the KellyGang. There was no similar problem in other parts of the Colony.(Age9/1/1878)
After negotiations between the houses in the Victorian Parliament the budget was finally passed. I wanted to reform the upper house to make it more democratic but the English government would not agree. Early in 1880 my vast majority in the Parliament had disappeared and James Service came into power for a few months. There was a second election in 1880, at which I again obtained a majority and was premier from August 1880 to July 1881.
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My government responded quickly to the atrocity of the Mansfield Murders. As soon as information reached Melbourne of the Wombat murders, I, as the Chief Secretary, gave the Chief Commissioner carte blanche, as regarded expense, to enable him to cope with the situation. Some Spencer repeating rifles that were in store were forwarded, and reinforcements were dispatched to the scene of operations. Mr. Nicolson, the Assistant Commissioner of Police, who had done good service in the capture of bushrangers in the early days of the gold diggings, was specially selected to take charge of the pursuit.(RC 2nd report V)
We also passed through Parliament the Felons Apprehension Act on 30/10/1878.
The Act came into effect on 4/11/1878. That meant that the KellyGang
were outlaws. It called upon them to surrender at Mansfield by 12/11/1878.
From 1879 police we increased the number of police in North Eastern Victoria by December to 100.
In November 1878 I replied to Donald Cameron MLA that I would call an inquiry into the police if there was evidence of a want of proper organisation amongst the police. Some people suggest that statement probably led to the KellyGang to write the Cameron letter. Cameron gave the letter to me and I did nothing about it.
After being replaced as premier in early 1880 I won the election and started my third Government on 3/8/1880 at the time when Ned Kelly's committal started.
My Legislative Council Reform Act was finally passed. That made government in Victoria more democratic. It increased the number of members in Parliament and reduced the qualification for franchise to all freeholders of £10 annual value.
I had to deal with another deputation (Age11/11/80)
I was finally replaced as Premier in July 1881.
In 1883 I was Chief Secretary in the Service government. That ministry lasted for nearly three years. In 1883, with Service, I represented Victoria at the federal convention, and was again a representative at the federal council of Australia in January 1886. I was then appointed agent-general for the colony of Victoria in London, and was created a K.C.M.G. soon after my arrival in England. I returned to Melbourne at the end of 1891 and was elected as member for East Bourke Boroughs in 1892. I was treasurer in the Shiels ministry from April 1892 to January 1893, and was then elected speaker. I lost my seat at the election of 1897.
I died on 25 January 1904.