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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Abbott, Joseph Henry (1830–1904)

by Susanne Keating

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

Joseph Henry Abbott (1830-1904), businessman, civic leader and politician, was born on 1 February 1830 in Birmingham, England, son of Joseph Abbott, millwright, and Mary Ann, née Signet. He was educated at King Edward Free Grammar School in Birmingham, left at 12 and worked for his father until he was 21. Excited by news of the gold rushes in Australia, he sailed in the Earl of Derby and arrived at Cole's wharf, Melbourne, on 17 November 1852. He went directly to Forest Creek where he was moderately successful digging for gold near Wesley Hill and Moonlight Flat.

Early in 1853 Abbott went to Bendigo with two friends and opened a general store, combining business with mining; in 1854 they erected a puddling machine. At this time Abbott first showed an interest in local affairs, and with Ebenezer Syme and George Thomson started a newspaper, the Diggers Advocate, which the Bendigo Advertiser, 9 January 1858, described as 'the champion of the diggers in the opposition to the license fee'. Thomson was editor and Syme a contributor while Abbott acted as agent and reporter at Bendigo. This first goldfields newspaper appeared weekly, sold for 2s. and ran for two years. In order to give everyone an opportunity to see it, Abbott opened a reading room. In 1858 he extended his business and converted a large store in Pall Mall, Bendigo, into a hotel and a theatre which was replaced later by the Lyceum. In that year he was elected to the Sandhurst Borough Council and in 1860 became chairman of the municipality and a justice of the peace. In 1862 he opened a boot factory and store in Pall Mall, which he later coupled with a tannery at Strathfieldsaye.

Abbott was active in education; after the Education Act of 1872 he was elected first chairman of the Sandhurst Board of Advice and held office for seven years. Always interested in charity work he claimed, with several other Victorians, to have instituted in 1873 the Hospital Sunday Movement, an idea copied from Birmingham. He was also a member of the Congregational Church and a Freemason. In 1876 he contested the vacancy for the North-west Province in the Legislative Council. Although he was elected, a successful petition was lodged against him on the grounds of insufficient property qualification. In 1883 he went to England and the Continent where he represented Victoria at the Amsterdam Exhibition. After a defeat on his first attempt to re-enter the Bendigo council he was elected in 1888 and became mayor in 1891.

In 1889 Abbott was elected to the Legislative Council for the Northern Province and held his seat until beaten at the 1904 election. He was returned almost immediately at a by-election for the Bendigo Province. During his parliamentary career he was appointed a member of the standing committee on railways; from 23 January 1893 to 27 September 1894 he was an honorary member of (Sir) James Patterson's ministry and was also a member of the royal commission on law reform which began in 1897. As a politician he was essentially conservative. According to the press, 'he was imbued with the single idea of doing his duty. He never sought to enter the domain of party conflict but believed in that quieter and steadier form of representation which under some circumstances is to be regarded as desirable'.

In 1894 Abbott again returned to England where he represented the colony at the Royal Agricultural Show. On his return he continued to lead a busy life until he died on 10 November 1904 at his home, Edgbastonia, Bendigo. He was survived by his wife, Ann, née Deague, two daughters, a son and a stepson.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Mackay, The History of Bendigo (Melb, 1891)
  • W. B. Kimberly (ed), Bendigo and Vicinity (Melb, 1895)
  • J. Smith (ed), The Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 1 (Melb, 1903)
  • G. Mackay, Annals of Bendigo, vol 1 (Bendigo, 1916)
  • Australasian, 4 Feb 1893
  • Bendigo Advertiser, 11 Nov 1904
  • Age (Melbourne), 11 Nov 1904
  • Argus (Melbourne), 11 Nov 1904.

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Citation details

Susanne Keating, 'Abbott, Joseph Henry (1830–1904)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 1 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

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