Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Edward Langton (1828–1905)

by Jean Cooksley

This article was published:

Edward Langton (1828-1905), by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co., c1900

Edward Langton (1828-1905), by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co., c1900

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H4703

Edward Langton (1828-1905), politician, was born on 2 January 1828 at Gravesend, Kent, England, youngest son of David Elland Langton, butcher, and his wife Mary, née Payne. Educated at a private school, he helped to establish schools and was secretary of the local Mechanics' Literary Institute before migrating to Melbourne at 24. On 7 March 1854 he married Jane Eliza Pettifer. From about 1859-65 Langton was in partnership with his brother in a butcher's shop at Collingwood. He then made a career as accountant and average adjuster.

Langton first became involved in politics in the late 1850s, joining the committee which agitated for the separation of Fitzroy Ward from the City of Melbourne. When this was granted he served in 1859-60 as one of the new borough's first councillors. From 1859 he made several attempts to enter colonial politics and was elected for East Melbourne in January 1866 and in 1868 for West Melbourne. His initial political impetus was provided by the Free Trade League of which he was secretary from April 1865 to about March 1866. The league gave him a salary of £750 and paid his election expenses. A tireless worker he was also proprietor of the Spectator, a free-trade weekly which ran from July 1865 to March 1867.

In the constitutional crisis which ended in 1868 Langton led the conservatives in the assembly. When (Sir) Charles Sladen was asked to form a government, Langton became treasurer but the ministry lasted only from May to July. When (Sir) Charles Gavan Duffy became premier in June 1871 Langton was again offered a portfolio but refused. In 1872-74 he was treasurer and postmaster-general in the Francis administration and distinguished himself in a ministry that was often turbulent and inefficient. He was responsible for the reform of public book-keeping, the replacement of multiple loans by a single loan system and the change of the financial year from January-December to July-June. When Francis resigned in 1874 Langton hoped to become premier, but he had made many enemies. They included James Casey who refused to serve under him. When George Kerferd was chosen to lead the government Langton joined (Sir) Graham Berry and (Sir) James McCulloch in the Opposition and contributed to Kerferd's defeat on his first budget. As the general election of 1877 approached, radical influence again dominated the political scene. West Melbourne had ceased to be a free-trade stronghold and despite a vigorous campaign and the revival in 1876 of the Free Trade League, Langton was defeated. Further attempts to re-enter parliament failed, chiefly because of his virulent tongue, his uncompromising attitude on free trade, his hatred of Gladstone and the legal battle which he initiated with the Age before the 1877 election. Although he had two victories in court, the publicity was politically ruinous.

In private life Langton had unostentatious but educated tastes. He was a director of several companies, a regular contributor to the press and sometime member of the literary staff and leader writer for the Argus. In 1874 he became an honorary member of the Cobden Club and for many years was vice-president of trustees of the Melbourne Public Library and Museum, and sometime president of the Institute of Accountants. Among his publications were Bicentenary Celebration. The Act of Uniformity: Its Antecedents and Results (1862), A Lecture on Free Trade (1865) and The Fiscal System of Victoria (1880). He died of pneumonia at his home in Toorak on 5 October 1905, survived by a daughter and one of his two sons.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. Sayers, David Syme: A Life (Melb, 1965)
  • Ovens and Murray Advertiser, 4 Apr 1874
  • Age (Melbourne), Jan-June 1877
  • Argus (Melbourne), Jan-June 1877, 25 Mar 1903, 5 Oct 1905, 7 Apr 1913
  • Table Talk, 14 Apr 1892
  • J. E. Parnaby, The Economic and Political Development of Victoria, 1877-1881 (Ph.D. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1951)
  • G. R. Bartlett, Political Organization and Society in Victoria 1864-1883 (Ph.D. thesis, Australian National University, 1964)
  • Haddon papers (State Library of Victoria).

Citation details

Jean Cooksley, 'Langton, Edward (1828–1905)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Edward Langton (1828-1905), by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co., c1900

Edward Langton (1828-1905), by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co., c1900

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H4703

Life Summary [details]


2 January, 1828
Gravesend, Kent, England


5 October, 1905 (aged 77)
Toorak, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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