Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Halfey (1825–1889)

by Robert A. Johnson

This article was published:

John Halfey (1825-1889), businessman and politician, was born on 16 September 1825 at Southport, Lancashire, England, son of John Halfey, boarding-house keeper, and his wife Sarah, née Nixson. On 21 February 1849 at Gretna Green he married Elizabeth Veach, servant at a Southport inn. They lived in northern England for some months and a daughter was born at Penrith early in 1850. About August Halfey left his wife and some time after February 1851 migrated to Victoria, apparently under the name of his brother-in-law, Richard Johnson. On the goldfields near Bendigo he was eminently successful. By 1855 Halfey had resumed his own name and settled in Melbourne with a substantial capital to follow commercial pursuits. Early in 1860 his wife filed a petition for divorce in England and after an undefended suit obtained the dissolution of their marriage in 1862. On 14 February 1863 at Geelong, three months after the decree was made absolute in England, Halfey married Annie, daughter of John Lane, master mariner, and his wife Lucy, née Ward.

For some years after 1861 Halfey served on the Kew Municipal Council and was second mayor in 1862-63. In 1864 he was elected for Sandhurst to the Legislative Assembly but was soundly defeated in 1868. In that year and 1870 he failed to win a seat for Southern Province in the Legislative Council and in 1871 for Richmond in the assembly. He was active in parliament only on mining questions and in advocating a strong protective tariff. He was appointed official assignee of insolvent estates in January 1872 and while in office also became official liquidator in May and commissioner of the Supreme Court in November. He resigned these posts in September 1884 to stand for the Legislative Council, but was unsuccessful then and in September 1888.

Halfey had many mining interests especially around Bendigo, valuable holdings in such firms as the Australian Alliance Assurance Co. and the Colonial Bank and was a prominent director of many important companies. In 1871 he had joined a syndicate which acquired the Melbourne Newspaper Co. Ltd, and for many years was chief partner of Samuel Winter in managing the Herald newspaper. By 1886 its circulation was over 25,000 copies daily. On 4 January 1889 Halfey died while working at the Herald office in Little Collins Street. His estate was valued for probate at over £190,000 with assets evenly divided between city property and company shares. His wife, by whom he had three sons and two daughters, left their home, Ordsall, Kew, went to England and died in 1909. She was buried beside Halfey in the Anglican section of the Boroondara cemetery where their grave was reputed to have the tallest monument.

Select Bibliography

  • H. M. Humphreys (ed), Men of the Time in Australia: Victorian Series (Melb, 1878)
  • Bendigo Advertiser, 1 Nov 1864
  • Herald (Melbourne), 4 Jan 1889
  • Argus (Melbourne), 5 Jan 1889
  • private information.

Citation details

Robert A. Johnson, 'Halfey, John (1825–1889)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 24 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


16 September, 1825
Southport, Lancashire, England


4 January, 1889 (aged 63)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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