George Higinbotham and Eureka is the biography of a man of liberal and democratic views who devoted his life to the goal of building the Colony of Victoria into a democratic nation within the British Empire. As a youth he had seen at close range the horrors of the famine of the late 1840s in his native Ireland, and as a journalist in Victoria he had borne witness to the causes of the dissatisfaction that culminated in the dawn attack on the Eureka stockade at Ballarat in December 1854. But as the grandson of an aide-de-camp of George Washington who had fought in the American War of Independence, Higinbotham was inspired by democratic principles. He became convinced that widespread reform of the system of government was essential in Victoria.
In the decades following Eureka, the Colony struggled with an undemocratic and barely workable constitution. During the interval between the gold rushes of the early 1850s in Victoria, and the Federation of the Australian colonies in 1901 Victoria suffered from recurrent constitutional deadlocks and crippling political instability. From his arrival in Victoria in 1854 until his death in 1892, Higinbotham ‘bore his part in the strife’, steadfastly promoting his democratic vision for the Colony against the opposition of the squatters, the Legislative Council, the Colonial Office in London and some sections of the press. He did so firstly as a journalist with the Melbourne Morning Herald and as editor of the Argus, then as a Member of the Legislative Assembly, next as Attorney-General and finally as Chief Justice of Victoria.
This site accompanies the book George Higinbotham and Eureka: The Struggle For Democracy in Colonial Victoria by Geraldine Moore. Here you will find additional information about some of the people, places and events described in the book.
Over the past century and a quarter a number of historians have researched and written about Higinbotham. Their opinions vary widely and are as much a part of the story as Higinbotham himself. Theirs has been a difficult task for Higinbotham insisted that, after his death, all of his personal papers were to be destroyed, and his family carried out his wish. The story of Higinbotham is therefore also the story of successive historians who have striven to reconstruct his life from the fragments that remain, to understand what motivated him, to assess his legacy and to find out why he was ‘the most loved and the most hated’ man of his day.