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The Young George Higinbotham: 1826 – 1856
thesisposted on 15.02.2017, 03:30 by Geraldine Mary Moore
George Higinbotham was a highly influential Victorian colonial politician whose character and legacy are fiercely debated. Some historians admire him for his determination to achieve a just political system for Victoria based on his vision for a democratic and sovereign nation within the British Empire. Others regard him as a flawed character whose legacy was turmoil. The destruction of his papers after his death has left many gaps in our knowledge about his life. This thesis builds upon recent new research about his early life in Ireland, and by identifying his anonymous writing in the Melbourne Herald of 1854-56, discovers further significant life events that occurred during his first two years in Victoria. The thesis argues that the formative influences in Higinbotham’s life to age thirty explain his distinctive religious and political philosophy and the reforming agenda that underpinned his subsequent political career. While a journalist in London 1848-53, Higinbotham encountered the Philosophical Radical party and adopted their distinctive view about the devolution of power to colonial legislatures. The thesis reveals that, long before the commencement of his Parliamentary career, Higinbotham influenced the course of events in Victoria through his anonymous journalism. This happened with respect to the battle at Eureka, and a year later when a political storm erupted following Governor Hotham’s claim to unconstitutional powers. The thesis argues that Eureka and the Governor’s Minute – rather than the constitutional struggles of the 1860s – launched Higinbotham’s seventeen-year-long campaign to enshrine the principle of responsible government in the conduct of Victorian politics.