Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Daniel Henderson (1834–1892)

by Andrew Brown-May

This article was published:

Daniel Henderson (c.1834-1892), newspaper vendor, orator and commission agent, was born in Kingston, Jamaica, son of Thomas Henderson, cabinet-maker, and his wife Elizabeth, née Ross. Of African ancestry, Daniel possibly sojourned in England and acquired an education there before migrating to Melbourne about 1865. He came to notice with the publication of his pamphlet Our Imbroglio: (The Crisis) and the Way Out of It (1868). Citing extensive Imperial and Victorian precedents and recommending ultimate arbitration by the governor in the matter of appropriation bills, it was a response to the blocking of supply by the Legislative Council in 1865 and three times in 1867. The pamphlet's preface included a studio photograph of the elegantly attired author.

He was most famous, however, for his role as 'Henderson Africanus' during the political crisis a decade later. The council had again blocked supply in 1877, resulting in the dismissal of public servants, judges and magistrates on 8 January 1878, 'Black Wednesday'. In an attempt to resolve the deadlock, a deputation comprising Charles Pearson and (Sir) Graham Berry went to London late in 1878 to petition the British government to reform the Victorian Constitution. As a political joke, Berry's opponents proposed Henderson as the third ambassador, and his nomination furnished Melbourne with one of its most celebrated episodes of political burlesque. Henderson took the joke more seriously than his sponsors; it was reported that he attempted to secure an interview with the governor, who was unfortunately stag-hunting at Werribee. Recounting the episode in 1939, A. B. Paterson suggested that Henderson had embarked for England but was intercepted 'somewhere in America'; there is no evidence, however, that Henderson ever went.

At public meetings, by letters to the press—under his own name or under the pseudonym 'Snowball'—and as a Yarra bank orator, Henderson continued to publicize his political views opposing free trade. He worked by serving summonses for the city court or selling newspapers in Bourke Street near the Eastern Market. On 3 July 1880 at the registry office, Fitzroy, giving his occupation as commission agent, he married Aphra ('Affy') Emily Lightbourne, née Odell, an English-born widow. It was her fourth marriage.

Henderson customarily wore 'a very tall white hat' and was 'remarkably shabby in appearance'. He had a habit of writing to the police on matters as diverse as the social evils of prostitution, the behaviour of his stepdaughter, the ruses of rival news vendors, or thefts from his household. His letters included a complaint accusing the local butcher of stealing his spaniel Hector, which he had been training to save human life. To his critics, Henderson was a windbag, 'intermeddler' and buffoon. As an educated, independent and opinionated man of colour, however, he was a contradiction in a colonial society. He died of peritonitis on 24 December 1892 in Melbourne Hospital and was buried in the Anglican section of the new cemetery, survived by his wife.

Select Bibliography

  • Argus (Melbourne), 23 Dec 1878, p 4, 27 Dec 1892, p 5
  • Age (Melbourne), 24 Dec 1878, p 5
  • Herald (Melbourne), 3 Jan 1879, p 3, 16 July 1879, p 3
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 31 Dec 1892, p 1284
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 4 Mar 1939, p 21
  • VPRS 3181, unit 852, 1889/1073, VPRS 937, units 298, 311, bundles 1 & 3, 314, bundle 1, 320, bundle 4, 321, bundles 1 & 3, 325, bundles 3 & 4, 330, bundle 7, & 337, bundle 6 (Public Record Office Victoria).

Citation details

Andrew Brown-May, 'Henderson, Daniel (1834–1892)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 25 February 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Henderson Africanus
  • Snowball

Kingston, Jamaica


24 December, 1892 (aged ~ 58)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.