Joseph Abbott

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Signature of Joseph Abbott adjacent to that of Henry Holyoake from the 1853 Bendigo Goldfields Petition. Both these men worked on the Diggers Advocate newspaper in the early 1850s.
Bendigo Goldfields Petition Cover, August 1853. State Library of Victoria (MS 12440) and Condemned them to hard labor on the Public Roads of the Colony - A proceeding Your Petitioners maintain to be contrary to the spirit of the British Law which does not recognise the principle of the Subject being a Criminal because he is indebted to the State
That the impost of Thirty Shillings a Month is unjust because the successful and unsuccessful Digger are assessed in the same ratio
For these reasons and others which could be enumerated Your Petitioners pray Your Excellency to Grant the following Petition
* First. To direct that the Licence Fee be reduced to Ten Shillings a Month
* Secondly To direct that Monthly or Quarterly Licenses be issued at the option of the Applicants
* Thirdly To direct that new arrivals or invalids be allowed on registering their names at the Commissioners Office fifteen clear days residence on the Gold Fields before the License be enforced
* Fourthly To afford greater facility to Diggers and others resident on the Gold Fields who wish to engage in Agricultural Pursuits for investing their earnings in small allotments of land
* Fifthly To direct that the Penalty of Five Pounds for non-possession of License be reduced to One Pound
* Sixthly To direct that (as the Diggers and other residents on the Gold Fields of the Colony have uniformly developed a love of law and order) the sending of an Armed Force to enforce the License Tax be discontinued.
Your Petitioners would respectfully submit to Your Excellency's consideration in favour of the reduction of the License Fee that many Diggers and other residents on the Gold-fields who are debarred from taking a License under the present System would if the Tax were reduced to Ten Shillings a Month cheerfully comply with the Law so that the License Fund instead of being diminished would be increased
Your Petitioners would also remind your Excellency that a Petition is the only mode by which they can submit their wants to your Excellency's consideration as although they contribute more to the Exchequer that half the Revenue of the Colony they are the largest class of Her Majesty's Subjects in the Colony unrepresented
And your Petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray etc.
Red Ribbon Movement Monument in Rosalind Park, Bendigo [detail], 2013. Ballarat Heritage Services Picture Collection


Joseph Henry Abbott arrived on the goldfields in 1853. He died on 10 November 1904 and is buried at White Hills Cemetery.[1]

Joseph Henry Abbott (1830-1904), businessman, civic leader and politician, was born on 1 February 1830 in Birmingham, England, son of Joseph Abbott, millwright, and Mary Ann, née Signet. He was educated at King Edward Free Grammar School in Birmingham, left at 12 and worked for his father until he was 21. Excited by news of the gold rushes in Australia, he sailed in the Earl of Derby and arrived at Cole's wharf, Melbourne, on 17 November 1852. He went directly to Forest Creek where he was moderately successful digging for gold near Wesley Hill and Moonlight Flat.

Early in 1853 Abbott went to Bendigo with two friends and opened a general store, J.H. Abbott & Co. combining business with mining; in 1854 they erected a puddling machine. At this time Abbott first showed an interest in local affairs, and with Ebenezer Syme and George Thomson started a newspaper, the Diggers Advocate, which the Bendigo Advertiser, 9 January 1858, described as 'the champion of the diggers in the opposition to the license fee'. Thomson was editor and Syme a contributor, while Abbott acted as agent and reporter at Bendigo. This first goldfields newspaper appeared weekly, sold for 2s. and ran for two years. In order to give everyone an opportunity to see it, Abbott opened a reading room. In 1858 he extended his business and converted a large store in Pall Mall, Bendigo, into a hotel and a theatre which was replaced later by the Lyceum. In that year he was elected to the Sandhurst Borough Council and in 1860 became chairman of the municipality and a justice of the peace. In 1862 he opened a boot factory and store in Pall Mall, which he later coupled with a tannery at Strathfieldsaye.[2]

Goldfields Involvement, 1853-1854

J.H. Abbott signed the 1853 Bendigo Goldfields Petition. Agitation of the Victorian goldfields started with the Forest Creek Monster Meeting in 1851, but what became known as the Red Ribbon Movement was centred around the Bendigo goldfields in 1853. The Anti-Gold License Association was formed at Bendigo in June 1853, led by George Thomson, Dr D.G. Jones and 'Captain' Edward Browne. The association focused its attention on the 30 shillings monthly licence fee miners were required to pay to the government. They drew up a petition outlining digger grievances and called for a reduced licence fee, improved law and order, the right to vote and the right to buy land. The petition was signed by diggers at Bendigo, Ballarat, Castlemaine, McIvor (Heathcote), Mount Alexander (Harcourt) and other diggings. The 13 metre long petition was presented to Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe in Melbourne on the 01 August 1853, but their call for a reduction in monthly licence fees and land reform for diggers was rejected. The diggers dissatisfaction erupted into the Red Ribbon Rebellion where agitators wore red ribbons on their hats symbolising their defiance of the law and prohibitive licence fees.

Post 1854 Experiences

Abbott was active in education; after the Education Act of 1872 he was elected first chairman of the Sandhurst Board of Advice and held office for seven years. Always interested in charity work he claimed, with several other Victorians, to have instituted in 1873 the Hospital Sunday Movement, an idea copied from Birmingham. He was also a member of the Congregational Church and a Freemason. In 1876 he contested the vacancy for the North-west Province in the Legislative Council. Although he was elected, a successful petition was lodged against him on the grounds of insufficient property qualification. In 1883 he went to England and the Continent where he represented Victoria at the Amsterdam Exhibition. After a defeat on his first attempt to re-enter the Bendigo council he was elected in 1888 and became mayor in 1891.

In 1889 Abbott was elected to the Legislative Council for the Northern Province and held his seat until beaten at the 1904 election. He was returned almost immediately at a by-election for the Bendigo Province. During his parliamentary career he was appointed a member of the standing committee on railways; from 23 January 1893 to 27 September 1894 he was an honorary member of (Sir) James Patterson's ministry and was also a member of the royal commission on law reform which began in 1897. As a politician he was essentially conservative. According to the press, 'he was imbued with the single idea of doing his duty. He never sought to enter the domain of party conflict but believed in that quieter and steadier form of representation which under some circumstances is to be regarded as desirable'.

In 1894 Abbott again returned to England where he represented the colony at the Royal Agricultural Show. On his return he continued to lead a busy life until he died on 10 November 1904 at his home, Edgbastonia, Bendigo. He was survived by his wife, Ann, née Deague, two daughters, a son and a stepson.[3]


Mr. Joseph Henry Abbott, M.L.C., a well-known Bendigo pioneer, died at Bendigo on Thursday morning, aged 74. He arrived on the Victorian goldfields in 1853, and entered public life in 1855. In 1876 he obtained a seat in the Victorian Legislative Council. His name will be best remembered for his establishment of the Hospital Sunday movement in Australia.[4]

Mr J. H. Abbott [Jnr]
The death has occurred of Mr Joseph Henry Abbott, of Barkly place, Bendigo. Mr Abbott was a leading business and sporting identity of the town. His late father was a member of the Legislative Council and a Mayor of Bendigo. Mr Abbott had an association with the Sandhurst and Northern District Trustees, Executors, and Agency Co. for many years. Over the last 30 years he was chairman of directors.[5]

See also

Bendigo Goldfields Petition

Ballarat Reform League Inc. Monuments Project

Further Reading


  1. The Argus, 12 November 1904.
  2. Susanne Keating, 'Abbott, Joseph Henry (1830–1904)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 7 October 2019.
  3. Susanne Keating, 'Abbott, Joseph Henry (1830–1904)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 7 October 2019.
  4. Western Mail, 19 November 1904.
  5. The Argus, 10 June 1946.

External links

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