Joseph Abbott

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J.H. Abbott, 1853. State Library of Victoria (H26099/42)
Signature of Joseph Abbott adjacent to that of Henry Holyoake from the 1853 Bendigo Goldfields Petition. Both these men worked with Thomson and Syme on the Diggers Advocate newspaper in the early 1850s.
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

Joseph Henry Abbott signed the 1853 Bendigo Goldfields Petition as J.H. Abbot & Co., Storekeepers. 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]


The Riverine Herald Friday 11 November 1904 p 2

THE HON. J. H. ABBOTT, M.L.C. Word was received in Echuca yesterday of the death of the Hon. J. H. Abbott. M.L.C., who for so many years represented this district in the Legislative Council. The deceased gentleman was well known in Echuca, more especially, apart from his public office, as for so long the popular boot emporium had been managed here for him. Wiring last evening our Bendigo correspondent says: The late Mr J. H. Abbott was born at Birmingham in 1830 and arrived at the Bendigo diggings in 1858. For some years he followed gold seeking life and in 1858 was elected a member of the Sandhurst Borough Council. He was appointed chairman of the municipality in 1860 and at the end of his term retired from the council. He failed to gain a seat in the Legislative Council in 1876 but entered the city council in 1888. In 1891 and 1892 he was Mayor of Bendigo. In 1889 he was returned unopposed to the Legislative Council and occupied the seat for the Northern Province until June last, when he was defeated by the late Mr W. B. Gray, but on Mr Gray's death was again returned unopposed. He remained in the city council till his death, and in 1893, when the Patterson Ministry was formed, he was elected an honorary minister. He was a member of the Railways Standing Committee since 1892. His chief charitable work was in connection with the establishment of the Hospital Sunday movement the first in Australia at Bendigo, in 1873. He was connected with all the leading institutions in Bendigo, and enjoyed the respect of the whole of the citizens. The cause of death was heart failure. Melbourne Thursday. A telegram received from Bendigo today announces that Mr. J. H. Abbott, M.L.C., for the Bendigo Province, died suddenly, from heart failure, at his home this morning. Mr. Abbott, who had sat in the old Legislative Council, was unsuccessful at the general election held under the reformed constitution, but was returned unopposed on the death of Mr. Gray, M. L .C. The deceased gentleman, who was very popular, occupied several posts of high responsibility.[6]


Bendigo Advertiser, Friday 11 November 1904

A very prominent figure in the history of Bendigo passed away early yesterday morning. Mr. Joseph Henry Abbott was identified with the public life of this community almost from the infancy of the goldfield, having arrived on Bendigo within two years of the discovery of gold, and no man was more widely or generally known throughout the district. He was chairman of the municipality 44 years ago, before Bendigo had obtained the rank even of a borough, and he also had the experience of being elected as Mayor for two successive terms in recent years. Though his total length of service as a councillor was exceeded by that of ex Councillor Harkness, his connection with civic life dated back far beyond that of any of his colleagues.
He was the only councillor of the early days who was privileged to remain in office till the celebration of the jubilee of Bendigo's birth, and had he lived till next year would have witnessed the jubilee of the inauguration of municipal government. Acquainted as he was with the difficulties, which confronted our early civic fathers in connection with the formation of streets and channels, and in generally restoring order where the surface had been mutilated by the operations of the diggers, Mr. Abbott, in viewing the city in its fairer 20th century aspect, was able to look back with a considerable degree of pride upon the achievements of the intervening years. In view of Mr. Abbott's early connection with the municipal life of Bendigo, it was well that he should have died in harness. In civic life he was a connecting link between the early days and the present time, and it spoke well for the constancy of the citizens that they should have retained as their representative one who had grown old in their service. Since 1889 - for a period of 15 years - Mr. Abbott represented Bendigo in the Legislative Council, and in this capacity also he rendered sterling service. In his politics he was decidedly more liberal than the majority in that branch of the legislature, and his influence was generally exerted in favor of liberal legislation, although at the same time ho did not favor the crude and ill digested schemes which are sometimes put forward as a step towards the political millennium. Mr. Abbott was Democratic enough, however, to perceive that the crusted Conservatism which distinguished so many members of the Upper House was distasteful to the great majority of the people, and a hindrance to the State's advancement. Hence his vote was generally recorded on the more popular side in connection with the work of review which the Council was called upon to perform.
Mr. Abbott was for many years a member of the Railways Standing Committee, and in that position performed good work, which was recognised by his frequent re-election as a representative of the Council on that committee by his fellow members. It is certain, however, that Mr. Abbott will be best remembered, not so much for his civic and Parliamentary services - meritorious as they undoubtedly were - as for the work he performed in connection with our local institutions, and more especially the Hospital Sunday movement. He was identified with the Bendigo Hospital board of management for a far longer period than any other citizen, and the work he has done for that institution alone would entitle him to grateful remembrance. He was also a prominent member of the administrative council of the School of Mines, a member of the committee of the Art Gallery - in fact, there is scarcely an institution in our midst with which he was not at one period of his career associated. The Hospital Sunday movement in Bendigo, and, indeed, in Australia, was inaugurated by Mr. Abbott thirty-one years ago, and he continued to be the guiding and controlling hand so far as Bendigo was concerned right down to the day of his death. To initiate what has become an important established institution in our midst was an achievement of which Mr. Abbott had reason to be proud. The Hospital and Asylum have benefited largely by the Hospital Sunday movement, and itis no light tribute to the earnestness and thoroughness which characterised Mr. Abbott's large-hearted efforts as honorary secretary when we point out that the movement has been carried through for thirty-one years almost entirely without expense. Mr. Abbott will be remembered with gratitude for his lengthy public services; but there can be no greater or more enduring memorial of his life than the Hospital Sunday movement, which, perhaps, more than anything else, has stimulated the springs of benevolence in our midst, and aroused an earnest interest in our charitable institutions. Taking him all in all, Mr. Abbott was a sterling, upright and honorable citizen, who in his day recognised to the full his duty to the community in which he lived, and strove manfully to discharge it, and he must have experienced the satisfaction of knowing before he died that the place in which he had spent more than half a century of his life had benefited largely by his exertions.[7]
Abbott was buried in White Hills Cemetery, Bendigo.

See also

Bendigo Goldfields Petition

Ballarat Reform League Inc. Monuments Project

Further Reading

Bendigo City Centre Heritage Study Stage 1, Volume 2: Individually Significant Places: Final Report, Report prepared for the City of Greater Bendigo, April 2020, by GML Heritage Victoria Pty. Ltd. trading as Context, pp. 24,38, 39,67,79-84.


  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.
  6. The Riverine HeraldFriday 11 November 1904 p 2
  7. Bendigo Advertiser, Friday 11 November 1904 p 2; Pioneers of Bendigo compiled by Barbara Poustie 2020 Page 2 of 30

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