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Vincent Pyke (1827–1894)

by G. R. Quaife

This article was published:

Vincent Pyke (1827-1894), politician, public servant and writer, was born on 4 February 1827 at Shepton Mallet, Somerset, England, son of James Pyke, ironmonger. At Bristol in 1846 he married Frances Elizabeth Renwick. With his wife and two sons he migrated in the Candahar, arriving in South Australia on 1 December 1851. He walked to the Victorian goldfields and after mining for two years used the proceeds to open a store near Forest Creek (Castlemaine). Joined by his family, the business grew slowly and his political activity increased. He opposed the government's mining policy and in 1855 was elected one of the digger representatives in the enlarged Legislative Council. His extreme views led to accusations of communism but his advanced democracy brought some order and realism to the radical opposition and won him respect. The Argus applauded his election in 1856 to the new Legislative Assembly, proving 'that the possession of the most decided political sentiments is quite compatible with the spirit of the gentleman'. Unable to afford his unpaid seat, he resigned as a member for Castlemaine Boroughs in February 1857 to become an immigration agent in England under Hugh Childers. This hasty decision was motivated in part by his wish to return to Somerset but more by the prospect of future advancement. The decision was disastrous; he sold his store at a loss and embarked on the first ship out of Melbourne before the legislation creating his post had been passed. The government fell and its successor did not implement the office.

Stranded in England without income until part of his salary arrived to enable him to pay his debts, Pyke returned with his family to Victoria in 1858. From old political allies now in office, he sought a place in the public service and £600 for the money he had lost, but a select committee awarded him only £450. He had been appointed a warden and magistrate at Sandhurst in circumstances that the premier, John O'Shanassy, refused to divulge in a later parliamentary inquiry. Pyke's eagerness to accept political honours was frustrated by the absence of a suitable vacancy in Castlemaine and he had to wait until late 1859 before winning re-election for that borough. It coincided with the fall of O'Shanassy's ministry and Pyke became commissioner of trade and customs and in September 1860 president of the Board of Land and Works under William Nicholson. He held his seat in the Legislative Assembly and in 1862 went with a parliamentary delegation to New Zealand.

In Dunedin Pyke accepted an offer from the Otago Provincial Government to be secretary and organizer of its goldfields department. When that office was abolished in 1867 he served as warden and resident magistrate for the Dunstan and Tuapeka District until 1873 when he was elected to the New Zealand House of Representatives for Wakatipu until 1875, Dunstan in 1876-90 and Tuapeka in 1893-94. A competent democrat he was above all a powerful journalist.

In Victoria Pyke had published a lecture on Australian exploration in 1861 and in New Zealand wrote two novels, The Story of Wild Will Enderby (1873) and The Adventures of George Washington Pratt: A Story of the New Zealand Goldfields (1874). He published a volume of verses in 1881, Handy Book of Local Government Law (1882), The History of the Early Gold Discoveries in Otago (1887), Gold Miner's Guide (1892) and other works. He promoted railways, explored, was captain in the volunteers, a Freemason and grand master for Otago under the Scottish Constitution, started the Southern Mercury at Dunedin in 1874, edited the Guardian and the Dunedin Punch, and as a devout churchman often acted as a lay reader. An accomplished elocutionist and an entertaining lecturer, he won a prize from the Ayrshire Association for his story, 'Craigielinn', in 1884, and wrote a series on old identities in the Tapanui Courier. Though inflexibly just on the bench, he was generous to a fault and a genial companion, using his abilities without stint, but fortune eluded him. He died at Lawrence, Otago, from chronic nephritis and asthenia on 4 June 1894. He was survived by his wife, who died on 7 May 1898, and by four sons and a daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • E. H. McCormick, New Zealand Literature (Lond, 1959)
  • G. Serle, The Golden Age (Melb, 1963)
  • A. H. McLintock (ed), An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, vol 2 (Wellington, 1966)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 23-24 Feb 1857, 28 Feb 1888
  • New Zealand Mail, 8 June 1894.

Citation details

G. R. Quaife, 'Pyke, Vincent (1827–1894)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 22 May 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

Life Summary [details]


4 February, 1827
Shepton-Mallet, Somerset, England


4 June, 1894 (aged 67)
Lawrence, Otago, New Zealand

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