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The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/MacMahon, Captain Hon. Sir Charles

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MacMahon, Captain Hon. Sir Charles, the third son of the late Right Hon. Sir William MacMahon, Bart., sometime Master of the Rolls, Ireland, by his second wife, Charlotte, daughter of Robert Shaw and sister of Sir Robert Shaw, 1st Bart., of Busby, co. Dublin, was born at Fortfield, in the county of Dublin, on July 11th, 1824. He joined the 71st Highland Light Infantry as ensign after seeing some service in Canada, and exchanged into the 10th Hussars, retiring from the army, after being invalided for sunstroke in India, with the rank of captain. Having decided to emigrate to Victoria, he arrived in Melbourne in Oct. 1852, and joined the police force in Jan. 1853, being for some time inspector of police in Melbourne, where he was appointed Assistant Commissioner of Police under Sir W. H. F. Mitchell, whom he ultimately succeeded in the Commissionership. The latter office he resigned in 1858, owing to a disagreement on a matter of discipline with the then Chief Secretary, Sir John O'Shanassy. He was elected for West Bourke in the Legislative Assembly in 1861, and, despite their previous difference, was a member of Sir John O'Shanassy's third Ministry, without portfolio, from Nov. 1861 to June 1863. At the next general election Captain MacMahon was defeated, but was elected for West Melbourne in January 1866, and continued to represent the constituency till Jan. 1878, when he temporarily retired, but was re-elected in 1880, and continued to hold the seat till 1886, when he finally relinquished public life. In 1868 Captain MacMahon was invited to form a Ministry consequent on the resignation of the MᶜCulloch Government, but declined the hopeless task. He was elected Speaker of the Assembly in April 1871, and was re-elected in May 1874. He thus held the office during the troublous Stonewall period; and having given umbrage to the Liberal party, was rejected in favour of Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, when the new Parliament met in May 1877. Sir Charles, who was Speaker again for a few months in 1880, was knighted in 1875, and died in East Melbourne on August 28th, 1891. The deceased gentleman, who was a life captain of the Dublin Militia and a member of the Executive and Legislative Councils of Victoria prior to responsible government, married first Miss Sophia Campbell, and secondly Clara Ann, daughter of J. D. Webster, of Yea, Vict. At the General Election in 1877 Mr. (now Sir Graham) Berry made a strong attack, in a speech at Geelong, upon the conduct of Sir Charles MacMahon in his capacity of Speaker of the Assembly. Mr. Berry was leader of the "Stonewall" Opposition, and he said: "We" (the Opposition) "could not have been defeated if it were not for a corrupt Speaker and a corrupt Chairman of Committees, backed by a Ministry, and giving decisions contrary to all Parliamentary law and practice, and contrary to the well-known facts before them at the time." Sir Charles declared to the electors of West Melbourne that his first impulse had been to inflict personal chastisement upon Mr. Berry for the slander, but that he was dissuaded by the late Mr. Francis. It seemed improper for him, as the late Speaker of the Assembly, to institute criminal proceedings against a member of the same body, and when he announced his determination of suing Mr. Berry for damages, Mr. (now Chief Justice) Higinbotham demonstrated that it would be "extremely unfair and improper" to bring the proceedings of the Legislative Assembly under the purview of the Supreme Court, and to enable the Supreme Court to decide as to the rules and orders by which that body was to be guided in its internal movements. Under these circumstances, Sir Charles felt unable to do more than leave the matter in the hands of Mr. Higinbotham as amicus curiæ. Mr. Berry offered an explanation to the effect that he had not used the word "corrupt" in its ordinary sense, but that what he had meant to convey was that undue influence was threatened and used by the Ministry over the decisions given by Sir Charles, but without impugning the latter's personal integrity as Speaker. This explanation was regarded as being an aggravation of the offence, but Sir Charles MacMahon had to content himself with an emphatic denial of the aspersion.