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The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Fitzgerald, Hon. John Foster Vesey

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Fitzgerald, Hon. John Foster Vesey (formerly John Fitzgerald Leslie Foster), is the second son of the late Hon. John Leslie Foster, Baron of the Irish Court of Exchequer, and sometime M.P. for the county of Louth and the University of Dublin, by his marriage with the Hon. Letitia Vesey Fitzgerald, sister of Lord Fitzgerald and Vesci. The families of Foster and Fitzgerald have been for generations distinguished in the Church and politics of Ireland, as well as at the bar and in the judicial arena; Mr. Fitzgerald's grandfather having been Bishop of Clogher, and his great-grandfather the Right Hon. Anthony Foster, Lord Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer. Mr. Fitzgerald, who was born in Dublin on August 19th, 1818, was educated at Dublin University, where he graduated B.A. in 1839 with honours, and became a student for the bar, but abandoned the legal profession in favour of a colonial career. The colony of Victoria, then only the Port Phillip District of New South Wales, was his choice, and he landed there on March 28th, 1841. At first he devoted himself to pastoral and agricultural pursuits, but in 1847 he was elected as representative of Port Phillip, and in July 1848 again came forward for election as one of the six members allotted to Port Phillip in the Legislative Council of of New South Wales. The feeling was, however, so strong that this so-called representation was a mere farce, that the majority were desirous not to elect any more members until separation was secured. In deference to the protests of this party Mr. Foster's nomination was withdrawn, but a few days later he was put up as a candidate for the borough of Melbourne, when the non-election party nominated Earl Grey, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, in opposition to him, in the hope that his election would call public attention in England to the grievances of which the colonists complained. In the result Earl Grey was returned by a large majority, and Mr. Foster on a subsequent occasion declined to stand. Ultimately, however, he was elected, to sit in the Sydney Parliament till he left for England on a visit in 1849. In 1853 Mr. Foster returned, with the appointment of Colonial Secretary of the colony of Victoria, which had in the meantime been constituted. He was thus virtually Premier during the difficulties caused by the discovery of gold and the rigid enforcement (which he deprecated) of the unpopular diggers' licences. The troubles culminated in the Ballarat riots, of which Mr. Foster was made the scapegoat. Aware of the hostile feeling against him, he tendered his resignation to Sir Charles Hotham, by whom it was accepted on the ground that the Queen's government of the colony was endangered, and with the implied pledge that compensation should be given Mr. Foster for the pecuniary loss which he would sustain by his retirement from the public service. Mr. Foster, however, failed in all attempts to obtain any recognition of his claims to compensation. During his tenure of office he introduced and passed the measure which embodied the new constitution of Victoria, and which for the first time included the principle of an elective Upper House. In 1854 he turned the first sod at Williamstown of the great system of railways which has since been developed, and was also instrumental in introducing telegraphs into the colony. Considerable difference of opinion existed as to some of the measures proposed by him; but it is remarkable that every one of them has since been adopted by subsequent legislative action under the new constitution—as, for instance, the abolition of the gold diggers' licence, and the appropriation of the Land Tax to purposes of general utility instead of expending it on immigration. The contracting of loans for public works, which he proposed as the necessary complement of his policy, has since been largely developed. When his conciliatory policy with reference to the diggers' licences was reversed by the Governor, Sir Charles Hotham, and unfortunate results ensued at Ballarat, he retired from office. Subsequent legislative inquiry proved that for such results he was in no way responsible. After the concession of responsible government he sat in the first Legislative Assembly as member for Williamstown, and acted as Treasurer in the first Administration of Sir John O'Shanassy from March to April 1857 soon after which he returned to England, where he has since resided. In accordance with the will of his uncle, the last Lord Fitzgerald and Vesci, he assumed the name of Vesey and Fitzgerald in addition to his own name of Foster, by which latter he was known in Australia. Mr. Fitzgerald married in 1851 Emily, daughter of Rev. J. J. Fletcher, D.D., and administered the government of Victoria from May to June 1854, during the interval between the departure of Mr. Latrobe and the arrival of Sir Charles Hotham. Several of his relatives achieved distinction in Australia. Of these it is only necessary to mention his three first cousins—the late Sir William Foster Stawell, Mr. Justice Foster of New South Wales, and the late Mr. Charles Griffith of Victoria, notices of each of whom will be found elsewhere.