The Federation Press

George Higinbotham

Third Chief Justice of Victoria


George Higinbotham’s extreme and uncompromising radical views and mesmerizing oratory have made him an iconic figure in Victoria’s colonial history — the darling of the liberals and the left. John Bennett has written a major re-assessment of this giant who was a dominating figure from the 1850s until his death in 1892.

Higinbotham was successively a gold digger who found no gold; a barrister who found few briefs; a crusading editor of Melbourne’s Argus; an independent member of Parliament who opposed political parties and ferociously attacked the “squatter” dominated Legislative Council and the Colonial Office; an overtly democratic Attorney-General who advocated government without supply; and Chief Justice of Victoria when his political dreams all foundered.

Yet he drew others to him as a Pied Piper. He was a mass of contradictions. Extraordinarily charitable to beggars, he treated his family miserably. A failure in achievement, he retained an enormous popularity which has endured for over a century.


In the eyes of his admirers, living or dead, Higinbotham was a giant. ... This impressive book is the first attempt to see behind the statue [of] this cult-figure. ... it [is] laced with insights into Australia’s political history and thought. On Higinbotham’s hyperactive mind and unusual blend of views, the book is fascinating. ... John Bennett’s book represents massive research: ... The book is the first to study Higinbotham from the vantage point of an observer rather than that of a disciple. It is also the first to meet him on his home ground, the law, and also among the first to glance inside his family life - Professor Geoffrey Blainey, AC

This volume ... continues the high standards of scholarly research and judgment to which [Bennetts’] series has accustomed us. - Law Institute Journal of Victoria, July 2007

Table of Contents

Foreword by Professor Geoffrey Blainey AC
List of Illustrations
“Dramatis Personae”

“School Life in Those Days was a Rough One”
“Higinbotham is a Most Estimable Man, But ...”
“His Short Experience in the House”
Attorney-General 1863-1868
“Absolute Political Equality to All”
“The Destiny of Our Colonies is Independence”
Puisne Judge 1880-1886
Chief Justice 1886-1892
Toy v. Musgrove (1888)
“Her Majesty’s Chief Magistrate in Victoria”
“Perplexed by Paradox, Stunned by Contradictions”


Of interest...