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Walsh, John Joseph (1819–1895)

by J. H. Rundle

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

John Joseph Walsh (1819-1895), land reformer, journalist and political agitator, was born on 24 June 1819 at Langhill, East Galway, Ireland, son of Patrick John Walsh, farmer, and his wife Catherine, née Callogy. Migrating to New South Wales in the late 1830s, Walsh moved to Singleton on the Hunter River in 1841 where he was secretary to the local total abstinence society. He met Charles Harpur whose poetry he admired and encouraged. Returning to Sydney in 1844 he joined J. J. Moore, Dublin-born bookseller in George Street, and supported the local protest and petition against the exclusion of Catholic jurors from the 1843 Dublin state trials of Irish nationalist leaders. On 18 June 1849 at St Patrick's Church, Parramatta, he married Sarah Ellen, third daughter of James P. Russell of Glashare Castle, Kilkenny, Ireland. He moved to Melbourne in June 1852 and, closely associated with John Fawkner, managed a newsagency at 239 Elizabeth Street in 1853-59; they were also involved in the Diggers Advocate campaign in 1854 for a miner's vote and in the Victorian Liquor Law League Council, 1855-56. Fawkner cared for Walsh's children following Sarah's death in September 1855. On 17 September 1857 at St Francis's Church Walsh married Anne O'Shea, aged 24, daughter of a farmer.

As secretary of the Victoria Land League, which he had begun in December 1856 with Thomas Loader, Walsh invited 'a Congressional Assembly of Delegates' on 20 June 1857 to formulate a programme of constitutional and land reform. The response, especially from the goldfields, vindicated his initiative. Secretary to the subsequent Victorian Convention (July-August) and its standing council, he published Resolutions, Proceedings, and Documents of the Victorian Convention in Melbourne that year and sent 400 copies to the New South Wales Land League in Sydney; he also edited single issues of the Freesoil Papers for the People (1857) and The Freeholder and Convention Expositor (1858), and published and edited The Convention and True Colonizer, February-June, 1859. When an attempt to convene a second convention failed that year he organized the Land Bill Central Committee's support in 1860 for the 'Convention Corner' members of the Victorian Legislative Assembly.

Failing to win the seats of West Bourke in 1860 and Castlemaine in 1861, Walsh moved to Fitzroy where he worked as a law clerk, supported protection for local industry and published parliamentary voting lists; as 'Agricola' he produced in Melbourne in 1864 the Elector's Hand-book & Guide … and in 1868 The Black and White List; or, Electors' Handbook & Guide; new editions appeared under his own name in 1871 and 1877. On 13 December 1870 at both Holy Trinity Church, Kew, and St Ignatius's Church, Richmond, he married Fawkner's widow Eliza, aged 53; her estate enabled him to continue reading for the Bar, to which he was called in 1873, and to resume his political activities.

Standing for East Melbourne in 1871, Walsh favoured an Australian protective policy, a land system based on the United States of America's Homestead Act, equal electoral districts, payment of members, Upper House reform, non-sectarian public education, mining on private property, the eight-hour system, and absentee income and property taxes. Defeated again, he revived his tactics of the 1850s, initiating the Constitution Reform League in January 1874, and the Progressive Land Tax League in April 1875, supported by old convention associates and younger urban radicals. With F. Longmore and J. Mirams he drafted petitions and organized demonstrations on behalf of the Victorian Protection League in July-December and the National Reform League in January-June 1876 to unite popular support behind (Sir) Graham Berry's opposition to Sir James McCulloch's ministry. A committee-man of the National Reform and Protection League (February 1877), he was a vice-president in 1878-80, and chairman of the executive committee in 1879, publishing his proposed Amended Programme. The Policy of the Future for league delegates to a Melbourne conference in the same year.

More concerned with drafting political briefs Walsh did not follow his profession. In 1876 he drew up an abortive workman's and miner's lien bill for William Smith and James Munro. He was appointed a magistrate for the Central District in 1878. He was ignored by Irish Catholic political leaders and his studied platform manner discouraged the electors of Rodney in 1874, North Melbourne in 1877, Dalhousie in 1880, Richmond in 1880 and 1883, and West Gippsland in 1889. Too jealous of his own contributions to reform, he alienated those whose support might have realized his political ambitions. In 1886 he retired to his Drouin property, Walshvale, in Gippsland. His last political gesture shortly before his death there on 15 October 1895 was a five-guinea donation to the Irish Parliamentary Fund.

After his third wife's death on 8 July 1879, Walsh had married on 9 October 1884 at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Hawthorn, Elizabeth Anne Lucas, aged 39, Fawkner's grand-niece. He was survived by her and a son and a daughter of his first marriage, a son and a daughter of his second and two sons of his fourth. He was buried in Drouin cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Age (Melbourne), 7 Aug 1857, 28 Aug 1860, 2 Oct 1866, 7 May 1874, 7 May 1875, 9 Aug, 27 Dec 1878, 10 Nov 1879, 18 Apr 1882, 11 Feb 1885, 16 Oct 1895
  • Herald (Melbourne), 9 Nov 1870
  • Daily Telegraph (Melbourne), 13, 21 July 1874, 25 Dec 1875, 28 Apr 1876
  • Argus (Melbourne), 22 June 1875, 22, 27 Jan 1876
  • Warrnambool Examiner, 3 May 1876
  • Bendigo Advertiser, 23 Sept 1876
  • Geelong Advertiser, 29 June 1888
  • Advocate (Melbourne), 13, 27 Apr 1889, 19 Oct 1895
  • Gippsland Independent and South Gippsland Express, 16 Oct 1895
  • G. R. Bartlett, Political Organization and Society in Victoria 1864-1883 (Ph.D. thesis, Australian National University, 1964)
  • Fawkner papers (State Library of Victoria)
  • J. J. Walsh papers (State Library of Victoria).

Citation details

J. H. Rundle, 'Walsh, John Joseph (1819–1895)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/walsh-john-joseph-4794/text7985, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 25 November 2017.

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

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