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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Benson, John Robinson (1836–1885)

by Jacqueline Bell

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

John Robinson Benson (1836?-1885), medical practitioner and politician, was born probably at Armagh, Ireland, the son of Henry William Benson, gentleman, and his wife Mary, née Wilson (Wison). At an early age he went to Canada, where he attended Queen's University, Ontario (B.A., 1853; M.D., 1858). He migrated to Queensland and in 1867 began a medical practice at Rockhampton. In April 1870 he was nominated to represent Clermont. Despite squatter opposition he was elected to the Legislative Assembly by this small electorate of under two hundred voters with a majority of twenty-one. 'Dr. Benson', commented the Brisbane Courier, 'appears to be a favourite of the townspeople'. In his maiden speech he declared his belief that he was 'the first to secure the return of a member to represent the working class in the House, and now he himself had been returned by the same class of men'.

Insistent that a government should represent more than one interest, Benson sat on the Opposition benches facing the squatter-dominated Lilley government. He proposed that crown lands, then largely held by squatters under lease, should be thrown open for free selection which, he thought, would attract immigrants with some capital. Benson had seen railways built cheaply in North America to open vast tracts of land for the small selector, and he advocated the same policy for Queensland. Believing that North Queensland would receive no justice until it was separated from South Queensland, Benson quickly roused the ire of squatting interests in the Darling Downs and Moreton Bay Districts who dominated parliament. He was defeated by a squatter, Oscar de Satgé, in the September 1870 elections after a carefully organized campaign against him.

In November 1870 Benson was appointed government medical officer at Gympie at a salary of £30. His varied activities in the district indicated his wide interests and sympathies and he built up a large private practice. He was appointed to the Commission of the Peace in 1876 and acted as returning officer for Gympie in the 1877 elections. When an Agricultural Society was formed at Gympie the Brisbane Courier, 21 April 1877, commented, 'Dr. Benson who, like Oliver Goldsmith, is overflowing, not with vanity, but with energy and perseverance, was elected president of the society'. He resigned from government service in 1884 and left for Melbourne, where he died at St Kilda on 25 July 1885. His probate was sworn at £6800.

At St Paul's Church of England, Rockhampton, on 24 December 1866 Benson married Bertha, daughter of William Francis D'Arcy of Newton Abbot, Devon, England. His wife, sister of William Knox D'Arcy, a founder of the Mount Morgan Gold Mining Co., was a shareholder in the company on its formation in 1886.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 1870
  • Queensland Government Gazette, 1870, 1885
  • Brisbane Courier, 9, 26 Apr, 5 May 1870
  • Queenslander, 10 Sept 1870
  • Colonial Secretary, letters 1870, 1872, 1877 (Queensland State Archives)
  • Executive Council, Proceedings, 30 June 1884, 10 July 1884 (Queensland State Archives)
  • Mt Morgan Gold Mining Co., share register, 1887 (Queensland State Archives).

Citation details

Jacqueline Bell, 'Benson, John Robinson (1836–1885)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 15 August 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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