Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Wekey, Sigismund (1825–1889)

by E. F. Kunz

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

Sigismund Wekey (1825?-1889), solicitor, pamphleteer and man of affairs, was born in Hungary, son of Paul Vékey and his wife Pauline, née Szilvasy. His father's family were landed gentry in the famous vine-growing area of Tokaj. He was admitted to the Bar in 1847, became attorney of the County of Sáros, and later a solicitor of Eperjes, where he was known as a speaker at liberal political rallies. At the outbreak of the Hungarian revolution in 1848 Vékey joined the insurgents as a first lieutenant. Promoted to captain, he was wounded at the battle of Rákosmezö in April 1849 and, on recovery, was aide-de-camp to Lajos Kossuth. After the defeat of the revolutionary forces Vékey escaped to Hamburg. He arrived in London in 1851 where he became an active member of the Committee of Emigrants and, after Kossuth's arrival, its secretary. He also completed a volume of Hungarian grammar (1852), styling his name as Sigismund Wekey.

As an assisted migrant Wekey arrived in Melbourne in the Midas early in 1854. He went to the diggings where it is said he dug alone for gold, but he soon returned to Melbourne. As 'A Hungarian', from 22 April he wrote a series of articles in the Argus on the advantages of the cultivation of vines in Australia, soon revised and published under his own name as The Land, Importance of its Culture to the General Prosperity of Victoria … In it a prospectus announced the formation of the Victoria Vineyard and Fruit Growing Co. with Wekey as a provisional director; the trustees included J. P. Fawkner. Financial support proved insufficient and the company was wound up on 29 January 1856.

In 1854 at the second meeting of the Philosophical Society in Melbourne, Wekey was appointed its honorary secretary. When it amalgamated with the Victorian Institute for the Advancement of Science to become the Philosophical Institute of Victoria, Wekey became secretary of the new body. As funds were unavailable, Wekey had published the transactions of the Philosophical Society at his own expense for two years. The question of whether the new institute should pay the debt was debated bitterly and resulted in Wekey's resignation on 19 June 1856.

Wekey later lived at Sandhurst (Bendigo) where on 23 September 1861 he married the 16-year-old Agnes Florence Warden at All Saints Church. About July next year the couple visited New Zealand where he was a correspondent for the Otago Times; he wrote Otago; Its Gold-fields & Resources (Melbourne, 1862). Returning to Victoria in 1863 he lived in 1866 at Lauraville, at the mining town, Gaffney's Creek, in the Mansfield district, where he was deputy-registrar of the Mansfield electoral division, and of births and deaths for Gaffney's Creek, as well as postmaster. In 1859 and 1864 he had applied for patents for mining machinery, and in 1869 he applied again for his velox-ore-crusher and amalgamator. He became manager and a director of the Aladdin and Try-Again United Gold Mining Co. but by 1870 wrangles culminated in criminal proceedings against Wekey and two of his co-directors on a charge of conspiracy. With one of his partners he was convicted and sentenced to a year's gaol. Irregularities in the prosecution prompted Wekey to attack colonial justice in a pamphlet entitled The Institutions of the Land we Live in … (1870).

After serving his sentence Wekey left Australia with his wife, daughter and four sons, visiting America before arriving in Europe in 1876. They travelled several times between London and Budapest before settling in Hungary. He lectured on his voyages and in 1885 published a volume of his travels in which he impartially praised Australian administrators and the spirit of development in Victoria, and extolled the charitable institutions of the Australian colonies. He died in Budapest on 23 March 1889. Agile, acute and active, Wekey was essentially a convincing purveyor of ideas, well versed in two cultures. Although overbearing and opportunist he contributed to the emergence of a colourful intellectual life in Melbourne.

Select Bibliography

  • E. F. Kunz, Blood and Gold: Hungarians in Australia (Melb, 1969)
  • Examiner (Melbourne), 5 July 1862
  • Argus (Melbourne), 23 July 1869
  • Australasian, 24 Sept 1870.

Related Thematic Essay

Citation details

E. F. Kunz, 'Wekey, Sigismund (1825–1889)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wekey-sigismund-4828/text7105, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 24 November 2017.

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

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2017

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Vékey, Zsigmond
Birth

1825
Hungary

Death

23 March 1889
Budapest, Hungary

Cultural Heritage
Occupation