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Brooke, John Henry (1826–1902)

by Michael Migus

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

John Henry Brooke (1826-1902), politician and journalist, was baptized on 15 May 1826 at Boston, Lincolnshire, England, the son of John Brooke and his wife May Ann, née Wright. His father was a journalist and sometime editor of the Stamford Mercury, a long-standing and well-known weekly. Although Brooke's father had literary attainments, he gave little attention to the education of his son, who was apprenticed to a printer for six years and used his spare time in self education. He became a reporter and was soon promoted editor and general manager of the Lincolnshire Times which was then conspicuous in the Liberal cause.

Brooke arrived in Melbourne in April 1853 and was first engaged as a reporter on the Melbourne Morning Herald. When a club was formed to provide accommodation for country members of the Legislative Council, Brooke was employed to furnish the supplies. While he was contractor for the club, the idea of the Victorian exhibition of 1854 was originated. Brooke was by his position brought into daily connexion with its chief promoters and the general superintendence of the work was placed in his hands.

In 1856 Brooke was elected to the Legislative Assembly as member for Geelong. A Nonconformist and consistent democrat, Brooke steadily became more prominent. In 1858, although promised a post, he was not included in the O'Shanassy ministry, but by now had claims to be considered the leader of the democratic group. He became closely associated with the Land Convention and was prominent in the 'Corner' group in 1859-60. In November 1860 William Nicholson's ministry fell on an amendment moved by Brooke to the address-in-reply; he proceeded to form the Heales ministry in which he was president of the Board of Land and Works and commissioner of crown lands until the government was defeated in November 1861. Brooke's granting of annual occupation licences under clause 68 of the Nicholson Land Act, though against its intention, was immensely popular and helped to carry the ministry through the election of 1861. Nearly nine hundred licences were granted and, although later ruled illegal, their occupants were protected by legislation. In June 1863 Brooke brought down the O'Shanassy ministry. However, the governor sent for (Sir) James McCulloch, who had been a supporter of the government. He omitted Brooke from his ministry; according to James Casey, 'the man of ability who gave the opposition weight and enabled that weight to make itself felt … was cut to the quick'. Brooke's disillusion was complete when he won only third place at the 1864 elections. On 26 February 1867 Brooke left Victoria in the Bombay for Ceylon; he then went to Japan where he became proprietor and editor of the Daily Herald. He died at Yokohama on 8 January 1902. In 1849 he had married Harriet Williamson; they had three sons and three daughters.

In general Brooke was sound and well informed. As a politician he was resolute and practical. He was not eloquent but spoke logically, forcefully and convincingly. However, he had an irascible temper and other marked traits not uncommon with the self taught. Prone to deprecate others, he was acutely sensible of any innuendo touching his own rectitude. Instead of disarming his opponents by a candid and familiar manner he repelled foes and often friends by an unsympathetic severity. Yet he was one of the ablest democrats and land reformers of his time.

Select Bibliography

  • C. G. Duffy, My Life in Two Hemispheres, vol 2 (Lond, 1898)
  • G. Serle, The Golden Age (Melb, 1963)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Victoria), 1856-64
  • Leader (Melbourne), 6 Sept 1862
  • Argus (Melbourne), 31 Mar 1883
  • Casey to Parkes, 3 Nov 1875 (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Michael Migus, 'Brooke, John Henry (1826–1902)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/brooke-john-henry-3065/text4521, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 22 September 2017.

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

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