William Denovan

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William Denovan, 1853. State Library of Victoria (H96.160/391)
Near Edinburgh, Scotland, 2016. Ballarat Heritage Services Picture Collection
William Denovan's Grave in the Bendigo Cemetery,' 2018. Ballarat Heritage Services Picture Collection.
Diggers Flag of 1853, 2013, From Bendigo Monument in Rosalind Park.

Sacred to the memory of William Dixon Campbell Denovan who entered the new life on the 18th July 1906, aged 77 years.
"And with the morn those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since and liste awhile"]]


William Dixon Campbell Denovan was born on 20 December 1829 at Edinburgh in Scotland, the son Francis Garden and Margaret Denovan.[1] When news of the 1851 gold rush in Australia reached Scotland, he closed his Fifeshire school that he had set up as an 18 years old. He boarded the Mobile at Liverpool arriving in Melbourne in October 1852.[2] William Denovan was buried in the Bendigo Cemetery on 23 November 1906.[3]

E.N. Emmett, along with Dr John Owens, George Thomson, William Denovan, Captain Edward Browne, Captain John Harrison, Robert Benson, Captain Baker, R.R. Haverfield, took a leading part on the anti-license agitation in Bendigo in 1853.[4]

William Dixon Campbell was a gold miner at Bendigo and was a witness at the 1855 Goldfields Commission.

Pre-Eureka 1853

Dr Alfred Yates Carr (Alfred Carr) and Henry Silvester formed the Ballarat Gold Diggers Association, a body which, on 6 September 1853 sent a Petition to the Legislative Council. This was signed by Ballarat diggers who objected to the high licence fees, and the manner in which the fees were collected. They were ‘alarmed’ by the poor administration of the goldfields and were disgusted by the way men were chained to the logs for not paying their licence fees. Richard Brown in commenting on the agitation in Ballarat in the latter months of 1853 posted that: Silvester also requested that a deputation should be heard at the bar of the House in support of the petition. In mid-September, he and Carr gave evidence to the Legislative Council Select Committee on the Goldfields dwelling on the injustices that stemmed from the license fee with Carr pointing to increasing opposition to the fee and the semi-military manner in which it was enforced. Silvester maintained there were some in Ballarat who anticipated the establishment of a republic in Victoria and Carr later concluded that dissatisfaction in 1853 was greater than in the weeks leading up to Eureka a year later. On 26 October, Silvester wrote to John Foster, the Colonial Secretary seeking the introduction of a bill to enfranchise diggers. Almost a month later on 21 November, he expressed his concern to Foster at the failure of the government to carry out its promises to the Diggers’ Association concerning the police in Ballarat. Eight days later, a petition from the Association was forwarded to Foster that opposed proposed legislation for managing the goldfields but added that the Ballarat miners had no sympathy with the ‘lawless and unjustifiable proceedings…at Bendigo’. Although the Ballarat diggers were unsympathetic to the nature of the protests in Bendigo, meetings on 19, 21 and 26 November and 17 December all expressed widespread support for immediately enfranchising the mining population. (Argus 22, 25, 29 November 1853; 20 December 1853.) The Anti-Gold License Association was disbanded on October 1853, near the site of the first mass meetings at View Point, Bendigo and twelve months before the two Monster Meetings were held in 1854 on Bakery Hill, Ballarat. Its message had spread throughout the goldfields of Victoria and beyond. The speakers on this final occasion in Bendigo were Dr David Griffith Jones (David Jones), George Edward Thomson (George Thomson), William Edmonds, William Dixon Campbell Denovan, and Henry Thomas Groves Holyoake (Henry Holyoake).

Goldfields Involvement, 1854

Denovan first headed for the Mt Alexander diggings, then to Bendigo where he in February 1853. He was aware that the miners deeply resented the license fee. By day, Denovan worked his claims but by night often engaged in activities seeking to redress local grievances by writing to newspapers and speaking at public meetings. On the 26 August 1854, Denovan convened a large meeting of the diggers. 3,000 people gathered near Bendigo's Criterion Hotel to consider forming a league aiming to abolish the license tax and to have elected representative in Parliament. This agitation of the Bendigo miners was known as the Red Ribbon Rebellion.[5]

Reforms were slow in coming so another larger meeting was held at Bendigo on 14 October 1854. Denovan was appointed delegate representing the Bendigo diggers. On 03 December 1854 , he set out on foot for Ballarat to attend a general meeting of the Goldfields Reform League. He stayed the first night in Castlemaine and the following morning heard of the Eureka Stockade. On reaching Creswick, he learned martial law had been proclaimed within a 10-mile radius of Ballarat and considering that discretion was the better part of valour, returned to Castlemaine. [6]

Denovan returned to Bendigo wearing a red ribbon, a black armband out of respect for the Eureka casualties and a red shirt. [7] By 1854 his zeal for reform had won him prominence as a goldfields leader and election as a diggers' representative at the Gold Fields Commission.[8]

Post 1854 Experiences

New Houses of Parliament, 1854. State Library of Victoria Collection, Designed under the general instructions of Captn Charles Pasley, R.E. Commissioner of Public Works. Architects Messrs Lynght & Kerr (H18179)

Towards the end of 1855 Denovan moved to Ballarat becoming involved in journalism at the Ballarat Times and then the Ballarat Star. He launched his own weekly newspaper called the Nation and Ballarat Advertiser, which, although quite successful at first, put an untenable demand on his personal finances. After ten months he returned to Bendigo with less than £1 in his pocket.[9]

In 1856 Denovan returned to his mining pursuits after a short stint as a gold buyer for the Bank of Victoria. He was one of the original members of the land league, formed in 1857, that was influential in unlocking the lands of Victoria from the monopoly of the squatters. In 1861 he was elected to represent the Sandhurst Boroughs in the Legislative Assembly. The mining community, holding him in high regard, paid his election expenses of £147 and subscribed an honorarium of £280. He found that life in Parliament was no place for a person of limited means and had to resign. However, while in Parliament he was instrumental in securing a grant of £2,000 for the purpose of surveying and reporting the feasibility of diverting water from the Coliban River to the goldfields.[10]

After Parliament Denovan returned to mining for a few months and then edited the Bendigo Evening News for two years. In 1867 he became a stock and share broker and one of the original members of the Bendigo Stock Exchange. During the next few years he made and lost a lot of money through mining speculation.[11]

In 1877, Denovan was elected to the Bendigo City Council and would have automatically become a Trustee of the Bendigo Cemetery, which was under Council’s control. In September 1879 he was appointed Town Clerk. D[12]

Denovan always had a leaning towards literary pursuits and in 1882 published a book entitled The Evidences of Spiritualism, a subject in which he was deeply interested. [13]

Denovan also wrote many articles for local and metropolitan newspapers on a wide range of topics and was a prominent member of the Masonic fraternity. Denovan was a man of unblemished character and possessed a reputation for dignity and integrity. He had experienced the rigours and fortunes of the early pioneers and certainly had an influence in the development of the first fifty years of Bendigo.[14]


Mr W. D. C. Denovan, one of the foremost of Bendigo pioneers, passed away shortly after noon to-day, aged 76. The cause of death was senile decay.
The late Mr Denovan, who was born in Scotland, settled on the Bendigo diggings shortly after reaching Victoria in 1852. He took a leading part in the “Ribbon Agitation,” which was set on foot as a protest against the heavy license fees miners were required to pay. Later, he led an agitation to prevent the wholesale influx of Chinese on to the field. In 1854 a monster meeting of diggers was convened to be held on the 29th November, on Bakery Hill Ballarat, at which some thousands of men were expected from Creswick, besides delegatee from all the other gold-fields. Emissaries had been sent all over the colony to enlist sympathy and procure help. Henry Holyoake, brother of the famous English secularist, had been sent to rouse the diggers there, and Mr Denovan was delegated to come to Ballarat. On reaching Creswick, however, the Bendigo party learnt of the fate of Lalor’s force at the Stockade, and Mr Denovan retraced his steps. In 1856, however, he came to Ballarat. In 1855 he was elected a member of the Sandhurst Mining Court, which subsequently became the Mining Board. He was correspondent of the Ballarat Times, and when the editor of that paper was arrested in connection with the Eureka disturbances, he came to Ballarat to take his place, and afterwards started the Ballarat "Nation. He was subsequently a member of the staff of the “Ballarat Star. Returning to Bendigo, he was in 1861 elected representative of Sandhurst Boroughs in the Legislative Assembly, but soon resigned, as he considered that his means were not sufficient. After retiring from Parliament, he edited the Bendigo “Evening News” for two or three years. In 1879 he was appointed town clerk of Bendigo, and held office for 13 years. Latterly, he has has been engaged as a member of the Bendigo Stock Exchange. The news of Mr Denovan's death was received during the noon sitting of the Stock Exchange today and the room immediately adjourned as a token of respect to the memory of a man who was described by members as one of the sturdiest and bravest pioneers of Bendigo.[15]


(To the Editor of the Bendigo Advertiser.)
Sir,-Your Melbourne correspondent in his letter which appeared in your issue of to-day, gives a short account of the career of the late Captain Harrison on Bendigo during the anti licence agitations of the period, which, let me say, is incorrect in several particulars, and which, in justice to the deceased gentleman's memory, I wish to correct. Captain Harrison never entered into an engagement to hold meetings at the Black Swan in opposition to the digger's meetings conducted by the late Robert Benson and myself in front of the Shamrock. The facts are these: We only held two or three meetings there, and on the same days "Captain" Brown - with whom we would have nothing to do - held opposition meetings at the Black Swan, and which were better attended than ours for a time or two, until the novelty of his appearance wore off. The "bullock dray" too, must be pure imagination, as on the two or three occasions we met near the Shamrock, we had a platform erected. The last time I remember hearing Captain Harrison address the diggers, was at one of our meetings held where All Saints' Church now stands, and at a subsequent meeting I distinctly remember my making a collection for him, he being in poor circumstances at the time. Captain Harrison never had much to do with the anti-licence movement started by G.E. Thompson, Captain Brown, Dr Wall, Mr Hopkins, and myself, he having retired from the field after his efforts were successful in preventing the licence tax being raised from 30s to L3.
I am sir, yours truly,
Golden-square, 24th July, 1869.[16]

Monument to the Eureka Victims.— A meeting of the friends and members of the committee for the purposo of raising funds to erect the monument so gene rously presented by Mr Legget, was held in the Eureka Hotel last evening. Patrick Curtain was called to the chair, find briefly stated the purpose of the meeting. Mr Donovan said that Mr Leggat had kindly offered to place at the disposal of the committee a very handsome monument, on condition of their paying tho expense of carriage from Geelong, and of erecting it at the grave yard. Mr Fahey moved, and Mr Harrington seconded, " That the secretary be instructed to write to Mr Leggat, and thank him for his Handsome offer of a monument to the victims of the Eureka massacre; and, in acccpting it, to express to him the high sense entertained by the committee of his liberal and patriotic gift.' Car ried. It was resolved, " That a public meeting for the purpose of erecting a monument to the Eureka victims be held on Saturday next, at four o'clock, on the site of the Eureka Stockade.' ' That a public meeting be held at Frenchman's Lead, near the All Nations Hotel, for the same purpose, on Saturday next, at four o'clock. 'That subscription lists be printed, for the purpose of collecting money to defray the necessary expenses con nected with the objects of the foregoing resolutions." 'That Mr James Oddie be appointed treasurer of the committee. " And " That Messrs Sam Irwin, J.P., T. D. Wanliss, and W. D. C. Denovan, be appointed a sub-committee to draw up a suitable inscription for the monument, and also to communicate on the subject with Peter Lalor, Esq., M.L.C." After a vote of thanks to the Chairman, the meeting separated. — Star.[17]

Fifty years ago to-day was Red Ribbon Day' in Bendigo. That day witnessed the gathering, on Hospital Hill, now the site of All Saints' Pro-Cathedral, of 20,000 diggers to protest against tlie gold license, says the 'Argus' of Wednesday.
Every man who agreed not to pay t!he licence pledged himself to wear a piece of red ribbon, and so unanimous was the pro test that the stocks of red ribbon ran out, and the diggers had to cut up their red shirts for badges. Of the speakers who addressed that me morable meeting, the only survivor is Mr. W. D. C. Donovan, one of the present mem bers of the Bendigo Stock Exchange. The 'Sunday Times' has more readers in the State of N.S.W. than any other paper. Half-a-crown a Quarter, post free.[18]

See also

Bendigo Cemetery


George Harrison

George Thompson

Red Ribbon Rebellion

Further Reading

GREAT ANTI-LICENSE DEMONSTRATION AT SIMSON’S DIGGINGS – A monster meeting was held on Saturday week, at Simson’s Diggings near the Golden Age Hotel, Main St, called by Mr Denovan delegate form the Anti-License Association, Bendigo for the purpose of adopting a memorial to the Government, and a petition to the Legislative Council, for the entire abolition of the License tax and other grievances, and also to elect an anti-license committee. [19]


External links