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History of West Australia/Frederic Charles Burleigh Vosper

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F.C.B. VOSPER, M.L.A., M.A.I.M.E.

Frederick Vosper.jpg
Photo by
Greenham & Evans.
F.C.B. VOSPER, M.L.A., M.A.I.M.E.

AT the end of Part I. of this work will be found an article on the mineral resources of Western Australia, from the pen of Mr. Vosper. This gentleman possesses the happy combination of literary talent, personal experience of local goldfields, and that scientific knowledge of mineralogical conditions so essential in any judicial appraisement of our chief industry. Separate Mr. Vosper in his literary work from the indispensable bias of party politics, and he is credited with a discriminating judgment, an easy diction, and a faculty for presenting abstract truths in a pithy and readable manner.

Frederic Charles Burleigh Vosper, the representative for North-East Coolgardie in the Legislative Assembly of Western Australia, was born at St. Dominic, Cornwall, England, on the 23rd March, 1867. He emigrated to Queensland, Australia, in 1883, and became a "colonial experiencer" in real earnest. After performing that variety of work without which a young Englishman could not adequately appreciate the conditions of life in Australia, he drifted into the stormy arenas of journalism and politics. His timber-getting, droving, boundary riding, and mining experiences proved a splendid schooling ground. His entry to the newspaper world as a member of the literary staff took place when the Eidsvold Reporter was founded in Queensland. The occupation was more congenial than those which preceded it, and he graduated to the Chronicle and Colonist, newspapers issued from the same office at Maryborough, Queensland. After some time spent in the head office, he was sent to Bundaberg to represent the two journals as mining correspondent—special work for which he was admirably adapted because of his knowledge of mineralogy and his experience in practical mining. Upon the death of Mr. Thadeus O'Kane, a noted Queensland journalist of the slashing order, he was placed in the sub-editorial chair of the Northern Miner, at Charters Towers, with Mr. O'Kane's son as editor. It was while occupying this position that he gave evidence to the possession of peculiar talent in journalistic work which brought him into good repute among the miners on the field. To associate himself without any restraint with the cause of the miners, in whom he felt a sincere interest, Mr. Vosper eventually founded a labour weekly—The Republican. This journal evolved into a daily—The Evening News—and after a successful career was sold to Mr. J. G. O'Kane.

His hearty regard for working people led Mr. Vosper a few years ago to throw the weight of his ability into the cause of the Queensland shearers when the labour troubles broke over the colony like a maelstrom. After the shearers went out on strike, he upheld their claims for consideration, and anathematised in an article the proclamation issued by Sir Arthur Palmer's administration calling upon the shearers to disperse. He was forthwith arraigned for seditious libel, and at the State trial was defended by Mr. Charles Powers, M.L.A., an ex-Cabinet Minister. The jury failed to agree, and a fresh trial was held some six months later, when he skilfully defended himself, and, after a five days' hearing, was acquitted. Then followed the miners' strike at Charters Towers, when Mr. Vosper, against his own wishes, was elected leader. This strike culminated in a riot, which was instrumental in winning the point sought for by the miners. Mr. Vosper assumed the responsibility of the riot, and surrendered himself to the police. Exciting events followed; crowds surrounded the lock-up and threatened to demolish it; but the men were pacified and were induced to disperse. At the conclusion of the subsequent trial before Judge Noel, Mr. Vosper was sentenced to three months' imprisonment for unlawful molestation. Upon his release, he returned to Charters Towers, and was there presented by the public with a purse of sovereigns for his services in limiting the area of disturbance and in preserving order. Mr. Vosper next proceeded to Rockhampton and Brisbane, where the great flood and the banking disasters soon threw the population into dismay. He assisted in the political canvass on behalf of Sir Charles Lilley, ex-Chief Justice, when the latter was a candidate in the North Brisbane electorate for a seat in the House of Assembly.

For some little time Mr. Vosper did journalistic work for the Workman and Truth in Sydney and Melbourne, and at the end of 1892 he came to Western Australia. He proceeded to the Murchison, where he temporarily filled the editorial chair of the Murchison Miner, the first goldfields journal published in Western Australia. His residence in that part of the colony was brief, and he removed to Perth and established the first mining paper issued in the capital—The Miners Right. When Coolgardie became pretentious enough for the establishment of a newspaper, Mr. W. E. Clare, after great vicissitudes, determined to supply the want. He purchased Mr. Vosper's plant, and offered that gentleman the editorship of the new venture—the Coolgardie Miner. Mr. Vosper accepted, and then began that long and useful connection with our eastern goldfields, which has been fraught with so much service to the mining industry. Except for a slight break while negotiating corresponding work for a section of the London financial press and while editing the Geraldton Express, he was associated with this newspaper up to the time of his being returned to the Assembly, in May, 1897. His clever leaders are well remembered by Western Australians, and, with the proprietor, he infused such spirit into the organ that it became the champion of the mining industry in the colony. Whether in advocating the rights of goldfields people, or in publishing useful lessons for the miners themselves, Mr. Vosper acted as a buttress to the industry. Not content with wielding the power centred in the editorial columns of a widely read newspaper, he addressed numerous public meetings, and on the platform was as inflexible and sturdy as in the editor's chair. He thus obtained a well-earned popularity. When the goldfields were subdivided into several constituencies—a step long advocated by him—he was presented with a requisition signed by 322 persons (said to be the largest yet presented to a public man in the colony) asking him to stand for Coolgardie. Deeming the cost of such a contest to be too great, he entered the field for the smaller constituency of North-East Coolgardie. Notwithstanding opposition from the official labour party, and of such men as Messrs. Dwyer and Barclay, he was returned by a large majority, the polling being—Vosper, 236; Harper, 177; Dwyer, 69, and Barclay, 67. In the campaign he had neither committees nor canvassers, posters nor colours.

During his few years sojourn in this colony, Mr. Vosper has been a tireless worker. He is intimately acquainted with all the goldfields centres, and has travelled from Esperance and Albany, in the south, to the Upper Gascoyne and the Robinson Ranges, in the north-west. His political principles are of the liberal and democratic order, and he considers that Western Australia is at present passing through a transition period, in which the policy based on the old traditions of the colony will go to the wall, and a new era will be inaugurated in consonance with the advanced ideas of the population, based on the general progression. He is as eloquent a speaker as he is a writer, and he is sure to further his views in the House. Perhaps there is no such powerful satirical writer in the colony, and when advocating a principle or political platform he carries strength in every line. In public speaking he can call to his aid the same useful quality, and those who oppose him are sure to suffer in any wordy duel. Since the formation of the Goldfields Parliamentary Party, Mr. Vesper has been appointed its secretary and whip. He has published two books—one, "Social Armistice," a study in economics (now out of print), and the other, "The Prospector's Companion," which marshalls in simple language all those useful and rudimentary facts on mineralogy so indispensable to mining men who have not had the privilege of a scientific training. Mr. Vesper is a member of the Australian Institute of Mining Engineers, is the founder of the Western Australian branch of the Geological Society of Australasia, and is at present its vice-president. He has been nominated for membership for the Mineralogical Society of Great Britain, one of the most exclusive learned societies in the world, and is a member of the Western Australian Mining Exhibition Commission at Coolgardie. He is an ardent collector of mineral specimens, one thousand of which he has presented to the Perth Museum.