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Griffith, Charles James (1808–1863)

by Carole Woods

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Charles James Griffith (1808-1863), pastoralist and politician, was born in August 1808 at Kildare, Ireland, the fifth son of Richard Griffith (1752-1820) and his second wife Mary Henrietta, daughter of Walter Hussey Burgh, barrister. Charles studied at Trinity College, Dublin (B.A., 1829; M.A., 1832), and was admitted to the Irish Bar. In 1840 he migrated to the Port Phillip District and with James Moore took up Glenmore run near Melton. In 1848 Moore sold his share to Griffith who, with his nephew, Molesworth Greene, bought Mount Hope and Mount Pyramid near Echuca. Hours of solitude in the Australian bush prompted Griffith to write The Present State and Prospects of the Port Phillip District of New South Wales (Dublin, 1845), a guide for intending migrants and a denunciation of insecure squatting tenures. He finished this book in 1844 while visiting Dublin and in 1846 he married Jane Catherine Magee.

Griffith was nominated to the new Victorian Legislative Council on 31 October 1851 but became the elected representative of Normanby, Dundas and Follett in June 1853. His steely attitude towards the gold diggers' agitations and his advocacy of an imported aristocracy and the representation of interests rather than population in debates on the constitution in 1854 branded him a Tory but he showed foresight in warning against too many parchment checks on constitutional amendments. As a commissioner of sewerage and water supply from April 1853 and president from January 1854, Griffith proved competent and in his pamphlet Observations on the Water Supply of Melbourne (Melbourne, 1855) refuted criticisms of the Yan Yean reservoir project. He was appointed a magistrate for Bacchus Marsh in 1852, acted as a commissioner to organize the transfer of Victorian exhibits to the Paris Exhibition in 1855 and became a director of the Bank of Victoria. In 1856 as a candidate for Dundas and Follett in the new Legislative Assembly he outlined his political creed: state aid for religion specially in country districts, land sales by auction and the protection of squatting licences, a combined education system and increased government aid to country schools. He won narrowly from his sole opponent on 21 October but in November was defeated by Francis Murphy for Speaker in the assembly. He supported the Haines ministries but resigned from the assembly in February 1858 to visit Britain. He returned in 1862 and became chairman of the common schools board and commissioner of lands titles.

Griffith was a devout Anglican, even alienating some electors by insisting on Sunday observance. He helped to persuade his relation, Rev. Hussey Macartney, to migrate to Victoria in 1848 and in January 1849 was honoured when Bishop Charles Perry visited his station near Bacchus Marsh. Perry respected Griffith's principles and religious zeal and in 1854 made him chancellor, the highest lay office in the Melbourne diocese. Griffith was a prominent founder of the bishopric endowment fund and helped to establish the Melbourne Church of England Grammar School. He died without issue on 31 July 1863 at his home in Dandenong Road, South Yarra, leaving a legacy of £1000 to the Anglican Church.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Goodman, The Church in Victoria During the Episcopate of the Rt Rev. Charles Perry (Melb, 1892)
  • R. V. Billis and A. S. Kenyon, Pastoral Pioneers of Port Phillip (Melb, 1932)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 22 Nov 1853, 19 Jan, 18 Mar 1854
  • Portland Guardian, 15, 17 Oct, 5 Nov 1856
  • G. R. Quaife, The Nature of Political Conflict in Victoria 1856-57 (M.A. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1964).

Citation details

Carole Woods, 'Griffith, Charles James (1808–1863)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/griffith-charles-james-3671/text5733, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 26 March 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

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