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Hamilton, John (1841–1916)

by G. C. Bolton

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

John Hamilton (1841-1916), politician, was born on 19 August 1841 in Melbourne, son of John Dinwoodie, saddler, and his wife Janet, née McFarlane. According to his own account, he was educated in Melbourne and by a private tutor in England, and then went to Rockhampton planning to enter the pastoral industry. Instead he was attracted in 1862 to the Calliope gold rush and in 1867 to Gympie where next year, as John Hamilton, he became a magistrate. He later claimed to have offered the New Zealand government one hundred picked men who had seen active service to fight in the Maori wars but was rejected because they ended in 1872. He also claimed to have been offered the commissionership of the Palmer diggings opened in 1873. Although not formally qualified, he practised as a doctor and in 1877 at the Hodgkinson gold rush in North Queensland was surgeon to the hospital. There he quarrelled interminably with the local warden and won damages of £150 from an editor who accused him of seducing a friend's daughter, but became popular enough to go into politics.

Elected for Gympie to the Legislative Assembly in 1878, Hamilton supported (Sir) Thomas McIlwraith's Conservative party next year, and after leaving the Gympie district became a member for Cook in 1883. He and his running-mate, F. A. Cooper, were returned after a hectic election in which ballots were alleged to have been rigged in their favour at one or two mining camps. On appeal Cooper was unseated but Hamilton held his seat until 1904. He spoke consistently and often in favour of northern interests and supported the North Queensland separation movement, the use of Pacific Islanders in the canefields and a succession of Conservative leaders from McIlwraith to (Sir) Robert Philp. Appointed whip to the Griffith-McIlwraith coalition of 1890, he was an influential back-bencher but at times rebelled, leading a successful revolt in 1893 against the reduction of parliamentary salaries and supporting in 1899 the successful move to oust (Sir) Alfred Cowley, the ministerialist nominee, as Speaker. In 1902 Hamilton denounced the protector of Aborigines, Walter Edmund Roth, whom he accused of undue interference in the exploitation of a half-caste girl. He lost his post as government whip in 1903 when the Philp ministry was overthrown by a 'Lib-Lab' coalition.

Defeated by a Labor candidate for Cook in 1904, Hamilton lived quietly in retirement. After several weeks' illness he died unmarried on 7 December 1916 at the Brisbane hospital. Renowned in his earlier years as an all-round athlete, especially as boxer, swimmer and crack shot, he was respected by his contemporaries as 'a man's man'. As a goldfield doctor he was reputed to treat any down-and-out miner without fee but to thrash any malingerer who took advantage of his generosity. In the Legislative Assembly, busy with the minutiae of parliamentary work and increasingly dependent on its camaraderie, he seemed almost pathetic but was saved by his obvious delight in the cut and thrust of debate at its keenest and most aggressive.

Select Bibliography

  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Queensland), 1879 (2nd session), 2, 1179, 1883-84, 449
  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 1902
  • Bulletin, 8 May 1880
  • Brisbane Courier, 8 Dec 1916.

Citation details

G. C. Bolton, 'Hamilton, John (1841–1916)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hamilton-john-3702/text5805, published in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 29 July 2014.

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

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