Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Jones, Charles Edwin (1828–1903)

by Geoffrey Bartlett

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

Charles Edwin Jones (1828-1903), by unknown engraver, 1868

Charles Edwin Jones (1828-1903), by unknown engraver, 1868

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, IAN08/08/68/4

Charles Edwin Jones (1828-1903), politician, was born at Devonport, England, son of John Jones, a Welshman, and his wife Elizabeth, née Tucker. He followed his father's trade and became a tailor, active in radical and temperance causes and vehement against Roman Catholics. In 1850 at Devonport he married Anne Letitia Angear; next year they sailed for Melbourne where he worked as a tailor until 1862 when he made a composition with his creditors. In 1861 he had a sensational but successful battle to enter the City Council and shake the dominant Irish faction. He remained a councillor until October 1865. Sporadic campaigns against 'the Irish ministry' of John O'Shanassy brought associations with the protectionist left which made him forget earlier free-trade activities.

In 1864 the Orange order persuaded him to stand for Ballarat East as a supporter of the moderate coalition of James McCulloch who had overthrown O'Shanassy. After a rowdy campaign, long remembered for his description of the local Irish as 'savages of Bungaree', he was elected in November. He immediately became government whip, so relieving his chronic poverty. Otherwise he lived by writing for the Collingwood Observer until 1867 when he became literary editor of the Ballarat Evening Post. His parliamentary services and creation of the successful ministerial organization for the 1865-66 elections raised hopes of office. Disappointed, he defected to the protectionist Opposition in October. Despite his return to McCulloch in the Darling grant crisis the defection cost him his seat at the general election in February 1868. At the climax of the crisis in May, during the minority Sladen ministry, he dramatically defeated the lands minister at the Ballarat West ministerial by-election, and excelled in the Opposition's anti-Catholic agitation. His reward came in July when he was made commissioner of roads and railways and vice-president of the board of lands and works in McCulloch's second ministry, but previous intrigues with the conservative Opposition and involvements in corrupt land operations emerged in a series of accusations, court cases and parliamentary inquiries. He gambled by resigning office and seat in March 1869 and won the ensuing by-election. Expelled from the Legislative Assembly in April, he was commonly regarded by his constituents as innocent, or no worse than others, and was re-elected. He was narrowly defeated in 1871 only because the large number of candidates split the voters and he had accidentally annoyed the temperance interest.

Jones turned itinerant lecturer, but after a marital upheaval he left in 1872 for America. He lectured and worked as a journalist, spending much time with the Mormons in Utah and in Wisconsin, and returned to Victoria late in 1881. He lost a by-election at Geelong in April 1882; at the 1883 general election he missed Ballarat West by only the returning officer's casting vote, and won it easily in 1886. Meanwhile he had established in Melbourne the lively People's Tribune, which ran from November 1883 to November 1886; in the speculative boom of the 1880s he became a land agent.

His membership of a group of Opposition freelances, noted for abuse and obstruction, led to a crushing defeat at Windermere in 1889. After a senseless attempt for East Bourke Boroughs in April 1892 he left for Western Australia where he was first a librarian and then a 'teacher of memory culture'. His attempts to enter parliament failed and in April 1901 he almost lost his deposit standing for Fremantle as a protectionist in the first federal elections. Returning to Ballarat he sought Reform League preselection in 1902 but failed and did not poll. He died poor at Korumburra on 18 March 1903. His wife had died on 3 June 1863, leaving three sons and three daughters, and on 17 February 1865 he married Charlotte Ryan who bore him two sons and three daughters. He also appeared from a court case in 1873 to have become the husband of Rebecca Einley.

Jones was brisk and energetic; he delighted in notoriety and intrigue, eventually to his own destruction. Although no grand orator, his command of audiences and especially of hecklers was outstanding. Although no model citizen, his impudence gives him a curious attraction.

Select Bibliography

  • M. L. Kiddle, Men of Yesterday (Melb, 1961)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Victoria), 1886, 270
  • Argus (Melbourne), 6, 13, 17 Sept 1861, 9 Nov 1866, 5-8 Mar 1869, 30 Sept 1870, 5-8 Oct 1870, 9, 10 Apr 1873, 24 Feb, 6 Oct 1887, 4 Feb 1889
  • Ballarat Star, 3 Nov 1864, 19 Mar 1903.

Citation details

Geoffrey Bartlett, 'Jones, Charles Edwin (1828–1903)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/jones-charles-edwin-3868/text6157, published in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 20 September 2014.

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

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