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Lancel Victor de Hamel (1849–1894)

by Donald S. Garden

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Lancel Victor de Hamel (1849-1894), solicitor and politician, was born on 16 September 1849 at Stoke Newington, London, son of Felix John de Hamel, solicitor, and his wife Eliza, née Bond. The family had fled from France to England about 1792. De Hamel trained in law and in 1874-86 was solicitor to the Board of Trade, at Newcastle upon Tyne. His work mainly involved wreck inquiries and shipping cases. He was an active member of the Conservative Party, a founder of the Newcastle Conservative Club, and captain of the 3rd Volunteer Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers. In the early 1880s he initiated and went on an unsuccessful expedition to search for buried treasure on a Pacific island.

Small, weak and delicate, he was yet full of nervous energy and inclined to overwork. De Hamel migrated to Albany, Western Australia, for his health's sake in 1886, a year after his father death. Although wealthy, he was too energetic to remain inactive and soon became embroiled in local politics. An excellent orator, persuasive and something of a demagogue, he rose rapidly to prominence using local resentment of the Perth centred colonial government to good effect. One opponent conceded that he thawed out iciness, destroyed apathy and quickened local patriotism. In May 1888 he established the Australian Advertiser (later Albany Advertiser) and, with its assistance, was elected mayor in November 1888 and next year defeated Sir Thomas Cockburn-Campbell for the Albany seat in the Legislative Council. In December 1890 he won the same seat in the new Legislative Assembly. About 1892 he established a legal firm with J. M. Speed.

De Hamel was seen as an agitator and trouble-maker by the Perth establishment, newspapers and Governor Broome. An attempt in 1889-90 to have the south-west remain a Crown colony when Western Australia achieved its independence, reinforced this view. De Hamel's abilities, however, soon won him repute, if not popularity. A constant thorn in the side of Sir John Forrest, De Hamel rose by 1893 to be leader of the few diverse elements in opposition to Forrest's government. He displayed a strange mixture of liberalism and toryism in parliament, especially over franchise reform, but was credited with having been a major factor in forcing Forrest to widen electoral suffrage.

De Hamel drifted away from the parochial issues of his Albany electorate, especially after his wife Marion Eugenie, née Hammond, whom he had married in 1877, and one of their twin infants, died there in 1891, leaving him with three young children. In the July 1894 elections he stood unsuccessfully for the goldfields seat of Yilgarn. A few weeks later he contracted typhoid and, sapped by his electoral defeat and failed mining speculations, died intestate at Coolgardie on 25 November. The township of Hamel was gazetted in 1898 on land bought by the colonial government from de Hamel’s estate; it is the site of the oldest surviving nursery and first arboreta in Western Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • D. S. Garden, Albany (Melb, 1977)
  • Albany Mail, 19 Nov 1887, 31 Mar 1888, 2 Feb 1889
  • Daily News (Perth), 24 Jan 1889
  • Australian Advertiser, 17 June 1889, 2 Dec 1891, 28 Nov 1894
  • West Australian, 27 Nov 1894
  • Geraldton Express, 30 Nov 1894
  • British Australasian, 3 Jan 1895.

Citation details

Donald S. Garden, 'de Hamel, Lancel Victor (1849–1894)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 14 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


16 September, 1849
London, Middlesex, England


25 November, 1894 (aged 45)
Coolgardie, Western Australia, Australia

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