Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Joseph Jones (1823–1887)

by G. J. Hough

This article was published:

Joseph Jones (1823-1887), politician, was born at Ruthin, Denbighshire, Wales, son of John Jones, shopkeeper, and his wife Ann, née Hughes. On 26 July 1853 he arrived in Victoria with his wife in the United. After a short time on the goldfields, he settled first in a tent at Ballarat East and then in Bridge Street as a spice and coffee merchant in a partnership with G. C. Clemesha, which lasted until April 1862. His own business as a merchant failed in 1876.

A founder of the Ballarat Mechanics' Institute in 1859, Jones was president three times and served on the committee of management for many years. He was vice-president of the Ballarat Chamber of Commerce when it revived in 1870. He was an active supporter of the Brown Hill Literary Institute which organized serious lectures and debates on scientific and social questions. Brought up a Quaker, he became a free-thinker and lectured to the Sunday Free Discussion Society in the 1870s. He was a foundation member of the Australian Secular Association in 1880.

Jones was a teetotaller and in the 1840s had been a Chartist. He retained his popular sympathies but his belief in free trade and orderly politics placed him, like many other liberals, on the side of the Legislative Council in the constitutional crises of the late 1860s. He was then very active in political organization and public speaking in and around Ballarat. When the excitement died down he was persuaded to stand for Ballarat West at the elections of 1871. In the campaign he reiterated that, although an ardent free trader, he was prepared to put aside his private views for the sake of the mining community and the need for mining reform. Helped by a split among the local radicals he and William Collard Smith were elected.

Jones supported the McCulloch ministry's proposals in 1871 to meet a deficit by imposing a moderate increase in duties and a new property tax as preferable to a more protectionist budget. After the government was defeated in June, Jones supported the radical and protectionist Duffy ministry of 1871-72 on all but its tariff, and was one of the few free traders and constitutionalists to oppose the moderate coalition which defeated it and ruled until July 1874. In August 1875 when (Sir) Graham Berry's radical ministry took office pledged to maintain the 1871 tariff and meet a deficit wholly by a progressive land tax, Jones supported McCulloch's amendment calling for lower duties and a more equitable distribution of direct taxation, and when the McCulloch ministry was formed in October became vice-president of the board of lands and works. Although defeated at the ministerial elections he won the Villiers and Heytesbury by-election in February 1876. In May 1877 Jones lost his seat but, after Berry's attack on the Legislative Council reached its climax in January 1878, became secretary of the National Registration Society. It was formed by Berry's leading opponents to counteract radicalism and to protect their interests in the composition of the electoral rolls; later it helped to create local constitutionalist organizations. Jones was returned for Villiers and Heytesbury to the assembly in December 1879, held his seat at the general election of February 1880 which dismissed the Berry ministry, but lost it when the defeat of Service's constitutionalist government led to another election in July. Jones was defeated again in 1883.

Jones died in Ballarat on 22 September 1887, survived by his wife Priscilla, née Greaves, two sons and one of their four daughters. He enjoyed the esteem of many friends and was solidly supported by the Welsh community in Ballarat. Sections of the city honoured his memory by flying flags at half-mast when he died. He was buried in the Society of Friends' section of Ballarat new cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • W. B. Withers, The History of Ballarat (Ballarat, 1887)
  • Ballarat Star, 8, 10 Feb 1871
  • Argus (Melbourne), 23 Sept 1887
  • Ballarat Courier, 23 Sept 1887
  • Hamilton Spectator, 1 Oct 1887
  • Liberator (Melbourne), 9 Oct 1887
  • F. B. Smith, Religion and Freethought in Melbourne 1870 to 1890 (M.A. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1960).

Citation details

G. J. Hough, 'Jones, Joseph (1823–1887)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 21 June 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]


Ruthin, Denbighshire, Wales


22 September, 1887 (aged ~ 64)
Ballarat, Victoria, Australia

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