Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Seekamp, Clara Maria (1819–1908)

by Anne Beggs Sunter

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

This is a shared entry with Henry Seekamp

Henry Seekamp (c.1829-1864), newspaper editor and nationalist, and Clara Maria Seekamp (c.1819-1908), actress and newspaper editor, were born in England and Dublin respectively. Henry claimed to have an 'Arts Bachelor'. He came to Victoria in August 1852, among the earliest gold-seekers. A dapper little man with a fierce temper, he launched Ballarat's first newspaper, the Ballarat Times, Buninyong and Creswick Advertiser, in March 1854.

His journal proclaimed a radical and civic-minded programme and Seekamp became a forceful advocate of reform of the goldfields administration, votes for diggers, and improvements in education and local government. He served on a committee for a national school and convened a meeting in September 1854 to found a hospital for sick and destitute diggers. Raffaello Carboni described him as a 'short, thick, rare sort of man' who hated humbug and 'yabber yabber'. Soon Clara Maria Du Val (Duval), née Lodge, infatuated Seekamp. An Irish actress with three children by George William (Claud) Du Val, a teacher of languages, Clara had arrived in Victoria about 1847 and conducted a theatrical company. She had taken Seekamp's name by early 1854.

The Ballarat Times became the mouthpiece of the diggers in their protests at government corruption. In November 1854 Seekamp proclaimed the Ballarat Reform League to be the 'germ of Australian independence'. On the morning after the battle at Eureka, police raided the newspaper office, arrested Seekamp and confiscated all copies of his newspaper. He was incarcerated with those who had been captured after the battle, including his reporter John Manning.

On 23 January 1855 Seekamp was tried in the Supreme Court in Melbourne for seditious libel. The jury found him guilty, but recommended mercy. He was sentenced to six months gaol, starting on 26 March, reduced to three months following the presentation of a monster petition to Governor Hotham from the citizens of Ballarat on 29 May. During his time in custody, Clara became editor and she kept the newspaper, briefly known as the Ballarat Times and Southern Cross, afloat. Henry was released on 28 June 1855, the only man to serve a prison term as a result of the Eureka Stockade.

Seekamp gained further notoriety in February 1856 when he turned his vitriolic pen upon the Irish-born actress Lola Montez, accusing her of immorality. They took to each other with whips in the main street of Ballarat, and accused each other of assault and libel, creating a public sensation. The court cases were dismissed, but public sympathy went to Lola, and the fiery editor lost much of his popularity.

In October 1856 the Seekamps sold their newspaper and left Ballarat. Henry headed north, to Sydney and then to Queensland. He died of 'natural causes accelerated by intemperance' at the Drummond diggings, Clermont, on 19 January 1864. His age was shown as 35 and his occupation as journalist. Clara remained in Melbourne and died on 22 January 1908. She was buried in the Church of England section of Melbourne general cemetery with her son Oliver (d.1884). Another son survived her. The two leading Melbourne papers carried obituaries and praised her intellect and determination. Carboni best characterized Henry Seekamp, writing that 'his energy never abated, though the whole legion of Victorian red-tape wanted to dry his inkstand'.

Select Bibliography

  • W. B. Withers, History of Ballarat (Ballarat, Vic, 1870)
  • R. Carboni, The Eureka Stockade (Melb, 1975)
  • W. Bate, Lucky City (Melb, 1978)
  • I. MacFarlane (compiler), Eureka: From the Official Records (Melb, 1995)
  • Ballarat Times, 18 Nov 1854, p 2
  • Argus (Melbourne), 24 Jan 1855, p 5, 27 Jan 1855, p 5, 27 Mar 1855, p 5, 25 Jan 1908, p 15
  • Herald (Melbourne), 9 Feb 1864, p 2
  • Age (Melbourne), 25 Jan 1908, p 10
  • Henry Seekamp (typescript, no date, Ballarat Public Library)
  • VPRS30/P, unit 40, case no 23 (Public Record Office Victoria).

Citation details

Anne Beggs Sunter, 'Seekamp, Clara Maria (1819–1908)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/seekamp-clara-maria-13282/text23875, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 24 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Du Val, Clara
  • Lodge, Clara
Birth

1819
Dublin, Dublin, Ireland

Death

22 January 1908
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation