Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Vosper, Frederick Charles Burleigh (1869–1901)

by E. Jaggard

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Frederick Charles Burleigh Vosper (1869-1901), by unknown photographer, c1890

Frederick Charles Burleigh Vosper (1869-1901), by unknown photographer, c1890

State Library of Western Australia, 000954D

Frederick Charles Burleigh Vosper (1869-1901), journalist and politician, was born on 23 March 1869 at St Dominick, Cornwall, England, son of Charles Walter Vosper, prison warder, and his wife Emma, née Lane. Educated at Truro, he served briefly in the Royal Navy before migrating to Maryborough, Queensland, in 1886. After working for the Eidsvold Reporter and the Maryborough Chronicle, he was sub-editor of the Charters Towers Northern Miner until 1890 when he became editor of the Australian Republican. He adopted the name Burleigh and later added two years to his age.

A professed atheist, he fought for causes such as republicanism, political separation for the goldfields and miners' safety; he also opposed Asian immigration. Vosper defended working men's rights in the press and on public platforms, and was the author of two pamphlets, A Social Armistice and Legalised Robbery (1891). As editor of the Republican, he wrote the inflammatory 'BREAD or BLOOD' editorial which condoned 'revolution throughout Australasia' in the course of the 1891 shearers' strike. After two trials he was acquitted of seditious libel, but was convicted in 1892 of inciting a riot during a miners' dispute and sentenced to three months hard labour. On his release Vosper considered entering the Queensland parliament, then moved to Sydney and Melbourne where he worked on Truth and Workman.

Next year he reached the Western Australian goldfields town of Cue and joined the Murchison Miner. In 1893-94 he was employed by several newspapers at Cue, Geraldton and Perth (where he began the short-lived Miner's Right), before editing the influential Coolgardie Miner. He was, as well, a correspondent for the Mining Journal and the West Australian Review, and wrote a guidebook, The Prospector's Companion (1894). Vosper joined several political movements in 1894-97, proving himself a bold platform speaker with a gift for repartee. He was prominent in the National League, the Gold Diggers' Union, the Goldfields Protection and Advancement League, and the Electoral Registration League. In mid-1895, while touring the colony as delegate of the Anti-Asiatic League, he edited the Geraldton Express and used it to attack Sir John Forrest's policies.

Because of his popularity in the eastern goldfields, in 1897 Vosper turned to parliamentary politics. Rebuffed by the Political Labor Party, as he had been in Queensland, he ran as an Independent for the Legislative Assembly seat of North-East Coolgardie and won easily. He supported votes for women, compulsory arbitration, a minimum wage, payment of members, liberalization of the electoral laws and triennial parliaments. Although he lived in Perth, he regularly visited the goldfields. On 11 November in St John's Anglican Church, Perth, Vosper married a widow, Venetia Ann Nicholson, née Finn; they were to remain childless. Using their combined capital, he joined Edward Ellis in establishing the Sunday Times. After Ellis's death in 1898, Vosper became editor and consolidated his reputation for scathing attacks on Forrest and his party. An Adelaide journalist regarded Vosper in 1901 as unstable and vain, seeing him as an editor who overloaded his newspaper with references to himself. Vosper was tall and thin, with a sallow complexion, prominent jaw, and black, shoulder-length hair. A dramatic figure, he was far more than a political showman: contemporaries agreed that he was courageous, intelligent, well-read and that he had a magnetic personality; but he also made many enemies.

From 1897, in parliament and outside it, he devoted time to goldfields' disputes, to the government's mental health policies and to Federation. In each area he revealed his attachment to principle, albeit in opposition to popular opinion. With regard to Federation, he thought that Western Australia should join, though only on the best possible terms, and eventually campaigned for a 'No' vote. His oppositionist stand estranged him from the goldfields-based 'Separation for Federation' movement. Vosper achieved more success in promoting penal reforms, including changes to the Lunacy Act. He sat on six select committees: one in 1899 reported favourably on the bill to establish the Commonwealth of Australia. An admirer of Cecil Rhodes, Vosper supported the South African War. He was a member of the Australian Institute of Mining Engineers, founded the State branch of the Geological Society of Australasia and presented his collection of a thousand mineral specimens to the Western Australian Museum.

Vosper never spared himself. Although his hard drinking had ended when he married, he suffered illnesses caused by overwork. He and his wife, of necessity, lived frugally; by November 1900 he was in financial difficulty and, with the abolition of his electorate, Vosper stood for the Senate as a liberal free trader. Soon after announcing his platform, he suffered an attack of appendicitic erysipelas; having received Catholic rites, he died on 6 January 1901 and was buried in Karrakatta cemetery; his gravestone reads: 'Nevertheless I Live'. He left an estate of less than £5.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Kirwan, My Life's Adventure (Lond, 1936)
  • V. Courtney, All I May Tell (Syd, 1956)
  • Critic 15 (Adel), 12, 19 Jan 1901
  • University Studies in History, 5 (1967)
  • Westerly, 4, Dec 1977
  • Geraldton Express, 7, 21 June, 19 July 1895
  • Coolgardie Miner, 10, 17, 30 Apr 1897
  • Kalgoorlie Miner, 31 July 1900
  • Sunday Times (Perth), 13 Jan 1901
  • J. Kirwan papers (State Library of Western Australia)
  • Vosper papers (State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

E. Jaggard, 'Vosper, Frederick Charles Burleigh (1869–1901)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/vosper-frederick-charles-burleigh-8933/text15695, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 22 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Frederick Charles Burleigh Vosper (1869-1901), by unknown photographer, c1890

Frederick Charles Burleigh Vosper (1869-1901), by unknown photographer, c1890

State Library of Western Australia, 000954D

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Burleigh, Frederick Charles
Birth

23 March 1869
St Dominick, Cornwall, England

Death

6 January 1901
Western Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation