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O'Shanassy and Duffy.

In a paper on the late Sir John O'Shanassy in the ' Centennial' magazine, Mr David Blair, of Melbourne, contributes the follow--ing sketch of two Irish politicians whose names are so intimately connected with the political history of Victoria : My intimate personal acquaintance with John O'Shanassy dates from the establishment of Victoria's political independence. Previously to that time I had known him as a rising man in the preconstitutional Legislative Council, and marked him as the future popular leader of the colony. But, privately, I knew nothing more than that ho was the acknowledged leading man amongst the Irish Roman Catholics, and was held in supreme honor at St. Francis's Presbytery as the representative layman of that church. A Protestant from honest connection myself, I yet saw plainly enough that the institution of a free democratic system would speedily extinguish all sectarian distinctions within the political arena. What a man's opinions on the supremacy of the Pope might be did not signify one jot; but it was of critical importance to know what view he held of the squatting tenure, the light of every adult | male citizen to the franchise, and the policy of maintaining a property qualification for members of Parliament. On these cardinal points of the popular programme O'Shanassy was held to be soundly orthodox. Accordingly when the first Constitutional Assembly was elected and duly constituted he was by common consent nominated Leader of the Opposition—that is to say, of the popular party in the Bouse. As one of that party, I am able to testify that never once during the lifetime of that first Parliament did the question of the leader's personal religious opinions come into prominence. My forecast in this regard was completely verified. But, to be sure, the mild wrangle over the State-aid-to religion clause in the Constitution Act, or the fiercer warfare over the Education question, had not then cropped up. Subsequently I became as politically iotimate with O'Shanassy as the editor of the acknowledged Government organ in the daily PreßS can be with the Premier of the colony. In other words, I knew the Premier's most secret thoughts and cherished purposes on all current political matters, whether of projected legislation or daily administration ; and I can bear witness that neither his policy nor his official action was ever once deflected by so much as a hair's breadth from the straight line of rectitude and impartial justice by his religious predilections. I emphasise this averment because I am well aware that a directly opposite view of O'Shanassy's official conduct was long held by many influential persons in this colony. The arrival of Charles Gavan Duffy in 1556 was a memorable way-mark in the political course of Victoria. At that time I was engaged in editing the 'Age' newspaper, in conjunction with the late Ebenezer Syme. Of course, it is not to be denied that it was primarily by his fellow-country-men here that Duffy was welcomed as a distinguished " new chum." But the welcome accorded him by the popular party generally, if less boisterous, was not the less cordial. Duffy was a liberal of the Liberals, and had endured martyrdom for his fidelity to his principles. He was, moreover, a man of exceptional ability, both as a writer and a speaker, as all the world knew. He was therefore hailed as a most valuable accession to our ranks. Soon after his arrival his countrymen gave a grand banquet in his honor, at which I had the honor of being a specially-invited guest. The recollection of that evening, three-and-thirty years ago, is as fresh in my memory as are the incidents of yesterday. It was a hilarious, uproarious, truly Hibernian "jollification." By the time that the guest of the evening was called upon for his speech in reply to the toast of his health the good company assembled were, for the most part, a little more gay and festive in their mood. Result was that Duffy's speech a wellstudied and excellent one, as all his public deliverances were—fell flat on the audience, from the circumstance of the speaker having but a weak and rather shrill voice. All the same the speech appeared, with verbal fidelity, in the ' Age' of next morning—in point of fact, it was already in print when delivered—and the whole community was Btartled from its propriety upon reading that the newly-arrived young Irelander exultingly avowed himself to be, in spite of all that had gone before, and in spite of his change oi climate, " An Irish rebel to the backbone and spinal marrow." Now, I myself, for one, having carefully followed the course of the agitation for the repeal of the Union from the first, knew exactly what thoso alarming words were intended to convey. They were precisely equivalent, as I knew, to an avowal that the speaker was firmly and resolutely what is now known as a Home Ruler. Such a departure in English party politics is quite within the limits of loyalty to the Imperial sovereignty. Myself not by any means an Irish rebel (in Duffy's sense) then—any more than I am a Gladstonian Home Ruler now—l would have no more thought of picking a quarrel with one who held that view than I would of denouncing a friend now who should tell me that he does not quite agree with me upon the intrinsic merits, as a metaphysical theory, of Berkeley's system of Idealism. So it happened that being, at a later period in that exuberantly festive evening, called upon to speak to the toast of " The Press," I was able to explain to the audience the very mild signification of Duffy's apparently truculent boast. And I was also able to catch the attention of the company from the circumstances of my possessing a resonant voice, and of my speaking from a table, on to which I had been lifted bodily by some enthusiastic banquetter sitting beside me. Nevertheless, Duffy's incautious words produced a deep effect on the minds of the general community, and made him many political enemies. Here it may be mentioned that Duffy's warm-hearted fellowcountrymen, eager to see him in Parliament, and knowing that he was by no means a wealthy man, subscribed to present him with a handsome testimonial, which should also serve as a property qualification for Parliament. About L 5.000 were collected; and it is within my own knowledge that O'Shanassy was the principal agent in projecting and gathering the fund. The subsequent relations between these two Irish leaders did not, however, include any element of gratitude on the part of the recipient. When the second O'Shanassy Ministry came into power I was editing the Melbourne * Morning Herald,' which was then j the Government organ. Naturally I held j very close relations with the Premier. Nothing in the nature of Cabinet designs, purposes, or deliberations was withheld from me. And in the course of events there then occurred that breach between O'Shanassy and Duffy which was never healed till the last day of O'Shanassy's life. Every incident in this memorable event in the life of both men, and in the secret political history of the colony as well, was revealed to me by the Premier, of course in strict confidence, He even allowed me to take notes of the circumstances in writing, and those notes I still possess. As one of the parties to the transaction is still living, it would scarcely be fitting to make the whole case publio just now. But, all the same, published the story will one day

certainly be, and full justice doneto all concerned. It will be sufficient - to say here that the unreserved revelation had on my own mind the effect of confirming: my belief'in O'Shanassy's sterling integrity of character and unwavering fidelity to friendship. On the other hand, never afterwards could I bold trust in Charles Gavan Duffy, either as a politician or a personal friend. A strangely sinister light was thrown backwards by the facts as given to me over the entire career of that very remarkable man. Never was there a personal career so clearly marked out beforehand ; aDd never was there an instance of a life-plan more resolutely followed, or of one more successful, upon the line of success laid down by the aspirant for his own guidance.

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Permanent link to this item

https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD18890720.2.36.16

Bibliographic details

O'Shanassy and Duffy., Issue 7964, 20 July 1889, Supplement

Word Count
1,387

O'Shanassy and Duffy. Issue 7964, 20 July 1889, Supplement

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