Open main menu

The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Plunkett, Hon. John Hubert

< The Dictionary of Australasian Biography

Plunkett, Hon. John Hubert, M.L.C., Q.C., was born at Mount Plunkett, co. Roscommon, in 1802, and educated at Trinity College, Dublin. He was called to the English Bar, and, being appointed Solicitor-General of New South Wales, arrived in that colony in June 1832. Five years later he succeeded Mr. Kinchela as Attorney-General, with a seat in the Executive and Legislative Councils, and held the post till responsible government was inaugurated, in 1856. Whilst Government law-officer he conducted the prosecution of ten Europeans for the wanton massacre of a number of aboriginal men, women and children, and secured their conviction, seven of them being hanged—an event which created a great sensation, owing to the lax views then prevalent regarding the killing of natives. At the first election under responsible government Mr. Plunkett was returned to the Legislative Assembly for the district of Argyle, but resigned his seat the next year, when he was nominated to the Legislative Council, and acted as its President from Jan. 1857 to Feb. 1858. In the meantime he had been appointed President of the Board of Education, charged with the duty of carrying out the national system of public instruction then favoured. Owing to a dispute with Mr. Cowper, the then Premier, in connection with the action of the Board in issuing regulations for bringing non-vested as well as vested schools within the scope of their operations, his services were dispensed with under circumstances of great personal acrimony, in Feb. 1858. He thereupon resigned all his other appointments, including his membership of the Council, his presidency of that body, and his commission as a justice of the peace. The matter was brought under the notice of the Assembly, and resolutions were carried expressing regret at his removal and the high sense entertained of his public services. Ultimately the Government consented to his reinstatement, provided he withdrew a portion of his correspondence, which they regarded as personally offensive. He did not, however, resume his position as President of the Upper House, in which Sir W. W. Burton had succeeded him. From Oct. 1863 to Feb. 1865 Mr. Plunkett represented the Martin Government in the Legislative Council as a Minister without portfolio. He died in Melbourne on May 9th, 1869, and was buried in Sydney six days later.