George Higinbotham was a highly influential politician in colonial Victoria. One of his contemporaries described him as a man of ‘dash and daring’ who ‘won from privilege and class ground that they have never since been able to recover.’ Even today debate rages about his character and his legacy. Some see him as a visionary who fought for responsible government free of Colonial Office interference and obstruction by an undemocratically elected Legislative Council. Others see him as a flawed character whose legacy was turmoil.
As a journalist with the Melbourne Herald, Higinbotham influenced the course of events as agitation mounted on the goldfields and culminated in the battle at Eureka. A year afterwards, in the storm that erupted following Governor Hotham’s claim to unconstitutional powers, he led a press campaign of opposition. Later, as Attorney General of Victoria, his daring leadership of the Legislative Assembly’s struggle against the Legislative Council led to constitutional crises in 1865 and 1867. And as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, his public donation to the strike fund during the Great Maritime Strike of 1892 created controversy, even outrage. Despite humiliations and defeats, he championed democracy and the public interest as he saw it.
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