Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fawkner, John Pascoe

FAWKNER, JOHN PASCOE (1792–1869), Australian settler, born 20 Oct. 1792 (Melbourne Herald, 29 Oct. 1866), was in his eleventh year when his father was sentenced to transportation. The elder Fawkner was allowed to take his family in the convict expedition despatched from England for Port Phillip 26 April 1803 under the command of Lieutenant-colonel Collins. Port Phillip (discovered in 1802) was reached 10 Oct., but found to be unsuitable, and on 26 Jan. 1804 the convicts were re-embarked and the ships proceeded to Van Diemen's Land. Young Fawkner became a sawyer by trade, but was punished for helping some escaping convicts in 1814, and retired to Sydney. He returned in 1817, and appears to have practised all possible callings. He was a baker, farmer, and bookseller. He left Hobart and went north to Launceston (1819), where he took an hotel, and then in 1829 undertook the ‘Launceston Advertiser,’ changing its name to ‘Tasmanian Advertiser.’ He started a coach in 1832, practised as a bush lawyer, and opened some assembly-rooms. In 1829 he was fined for again aiding in the escape of convicts, and he lost his hotel license for attacking the resident magistrate in his newspaper. He showed literary tastes, opened a library and newsroom in his hotel, and offered to teach French.

Attempts had already been made to settle Port Phillip, especially by John Batman [q. v.] Fawkner had determined, even before hearing from Batman, to make a similar attempt. The ‘Launceston Advertiser’ of 21 May 1835 mentions that his ship, the Enterprise, was being equipped for the purpose. But as Fawkner, prostrated by sea-sickness, had to be put ashore, and as his associates settled, not at Western Point, but on the present site of Melbourne, his claim to be sole founder of Victoria is untenable (Bonwick, Port Phillip Settlement, p. cxiii; Melbourne Herald, 12 July 1856 and 26 Sept. 1863; Argus, 2 Feb. 1869, &c.). On his late arrival he did much, however, to stimulate and direct his associates. He built the first regular house in the end of 1835. In the October of that year there were but thirty-three settlers in the whole district, of whom but twenty-seven were Europeans. For a time the whole fate of the colony was in doubt. At last it was decided by the home government that the new colony should be under the control of the governor of New South Wales, and that the claims of the early settlers over the land should not be allowed. In June 1836 the colonists, led by Fawkner, held a meeting, and petitioned for a resident magistrate. Then Fawkner started an hotel and opened a bookstore. On 1 Jan. 1838, before there was any printing-press, he started the ‘Melbourne Advertiser,’ beginning with nine issues in manuscript. Soon after the use of type it was suppressed, because Fawkner had not got the necessary sureties required by the press laws. But Fawkner obtained the sureties, and, as a rival to the ‘Port Phillip Gazette,’ which had been started in the interval, began the ‘Port Phillip Patriot’ (16 Feb. 1839), which, after changing its name to the ‘Daily News,’ was amalgamated in 1852 with the ‘Argus.’ Meantime he agitated in favour of separation. In 1839 he took part in the demand for the establishment of free warehouses in Melbourne, and in the same year his name appears at the head of the address in welcome of the first superintendent, C. J. Latrobe. In 1840 the colony, then numbering not more than ten thousand souls, demanded entire separation. By the act of 1842 Port Phillip was represented by five members in the Legislative Council at Sydney, but the great distance made the grant illusory, and in 1848 Melbourne protested by choosing as its representative Lord Grey, then colonial secretary. The election was declared void, and new writs sent to Geelong. Fawkner persisted, and nominated five of the leading English statesmen. Though unsuccessful, their action helped to bring about the final separation in 1850. Fawkner had already served in various capacities. In 1842 he was nominated on the market commission, and in the next year to a seat in the freshly constituted corporation. Fawkner was returned to the new council of Victoria as member for the counties of Dalhousie, Anglesea, and Talbot. When the constitution was remodelled in 1855 he preferred the council to the assembly. He took a leading part in protesting against the admission of convicts, and helped to found the Australian League of 1851. He had received no compensation, as Batman had done, for his claims as an early settler, and his many engagements interfered with his business. He was bankrupt three times within eight years (1843–51).

Fawkner had become so popular that his appointment on the gold commission reconciled it to popular favour. He was regarded as honest and independent. He was a radical when advocating separation from New South Wales and the freedom of the press. But he opposed the abolition of the property qualification and the introduction of the ballot. In the time of excitement consequent on the gold discoveries he supported the administration. He was firm in resisting the monopoly claims of the squatters to the land, serving on the land commission in 1854, though at an earlier period (1847) he had applied for a squatting allotment himself. He deprecated the grant of state aid to religion; but he stood aside from a close participation in the policy of any administration. His position, in fine, was that of an independent critic with a strong bias in favour of conservative measures. Despite a gradual failure in health, his figure was a familiar one in the council till very shortly before his death, 4 Sept. 1869. A government ‘Gazette’ appointed a public funeral, and on 8 Sept. he was buried amid general signs of respect.

[Rusden's Hist. of Australia; Bonwick's Port Phillip Settlement; Westgarth's Hist. of Australia; Argus, 29 Oct. 1868 and September 1869; Melbourne Herald, 12 July 1856; Port Phillip Patriot, 11 July 1839.]

E. C. K. G.