Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Vogel, Sir Julius (1835–1899)

by B. E. Kennedy

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

Sir Julius Vogel (1835-1899), journalist and premier, was born on 24 February 1835 in London, son of Albert Leopold Vogel, a Jew of Dutch origin, and his wife Phoebe, née Isaac. Educated at home and at the University College School, London, at 16, on the death of both parents, he was employed by his grandfather, a merchant trading with South America and the West Indies. Attracted to Australia by the gold rush, he studied chemistry and metallurgy at the Royal School of Mines; he arrived in Victoria in late 1852.

In partnership with a London friend A. S. Grant he opened an assaying agency in Flinders Lane, but after a business depression moved to Maryborough as the rush began there late in 1854. He sold wine and spirits before setting up as an apothecary in a small canvas den complete with 'large, colored bottles, a number of empty boxes and a stuffed iguana'. Turning to journalism, as correspondent for the Argus in 1856 he reported the Dunolly rush and from that year to 1859 edited the Maryborough and Dunolly Advertiser. He was also associated with the Talbot Leader in 1860-61 and owned and edited the Inglewood Advertiser from 1859 to February 1861. His sparkling leading articles, although disparaged for their 'low and vulgar style', identified with local needs and interests. He speculated in mining and was for a time director of a gold reef company. He was also a cricketer, an inveterate gambler and an aspiring bon vivant.

In the Legislative Assembly elections of August 1861 Vogel stood for the mining seat of Avoca. While largely agreeing with the Heales ministry, he attacked its Melbourne-based protectionism and supported free trade and the abolition of the export duty on gold. He also wanted a Bendigo-Ballarat railway, to be financed either by land grants or by government guarantee. He lost to J. M. Grant and B. G. Davies, both of whom had ignored protection.

This set-back and declining opportunities caused Vogel to move in October 1861 to Dunedin, New Zealand, which was booming as a result of the Otago gold rush. While editor of the Otago Daily Times he was returned to the Otago Provincial Council in 1863 and in September entered the House of Representatives. He led the Provincial Council from February 1867. His success was based at first on his opposition to the expensive Maori wars fought on behalf of the North Island, but from 1869 as colonial treasurer in William Fox's ministry in Wellington, he initiated a national policy of 'public works, in the shape of roads and railways and immigration'. Vogel not only launched the massive, developmental programme of the 1870s but also went to England to float two of the required loans. His public life oscillated between the fashionable world of London and New Zealand, and his close British links may have been the basis of his commitment to imperial federation.

As premier intermittently from 1873 Vogel was also one of the first Australasian statesmen to see the Pacific as an area for British expansion. He failed to persuade the Colonial Office to annex Fiji and Samoa and turned to the idea of informal empire — the creation of a joint stock company with a monopoly of trade with Polynesia. He welcomed the occupation of Fiji by Britain in 1874 and the annexation of eastern New Guinea by Queensland in 1883, and was prepared to contribute over £2500 for three years towards the administration in New Guinea.

Created K.C.M.G. in 1875, Vogel became agent-general in London in 1876-81. His period of greatest influence in London and in New Zealand coincided with Disraeli's conversion to imperialism, and in 1880 Vogel stood unsuccessfully as the Conservative candidate for Falmouth. Returning to New Zealand in 1884, he formed a ministry with Robert Stout from that year to 1887. He opposed moves towards Australasian Federation and the Federal Council on the grounds that they would deflect attention from imperial federation, an attitude bequeathed to later New Zealand politicians. He returned to London early in 1888 suffering from gout and deafness, and lived in comparative poverty at East Molesey where he died on 12 March 1899.

At Dunedin on 19 March 1867 Vogel had married Mary, eldest daughter of William Henry Clayton, an architect; she survived him with two of their three sons and a daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • R. M. Burdon, The Life and Times of Sir Julius Vogel (Christchurch, 1948)
  • J. Flett, Dunolly (Melb, 1956)
  • A. Ross, New Zealand Aspirations in the Pacific in the Nineteenth Century (Oxford, 1964)
  • R. Blackstock, ‘Sir Julius Vogel, 1876-1880: from politics to business’, New Zealand Journal of History, Oct 1971.

Citation details

B. E. Kennedy, 'Vogel, Sir Julius (1835–1899)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/vogel-sir-julius-4780/text7955, published in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 3 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

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