The themes Daniel Henry Deniehy wrote about
It was at a public meeting, on 15th August 1853, that Daniel Deniehy first appeared "on the public stage". He opposed William Wentworth's draft NSW Constitution, which proposed to establish a parliamentary Upper House consisting of hereditary Australian Lordships. At that, and a subsequent meeting Deniehy eloquently condemned what he called Wentworth's proposed "Bunyip Aristocracy", and spoke in favour of a widespread democracy. His speech caused great laughter at the Establishment's expense, and was roundly applauded; and later reported favourably in the newspapers of the day.
Deniehy, a thorough republican, later became involved with free-thinkers such as Henry Parkes, Charles Harpur and the Rev. J.D. Lang. Deniehy supported Lang in his opposition to Britain's "foreign war" in the Crimea. He hoped to set up a popular party, to oppose the entrenched squattocracy and non-elected politicians (appointed by the colony's Governor).
Daniehy was elected to the NSW Legislative Assembly in 1857, with his main aim to open up public lands to the working class. He helped form the New South Wales Electoral Reform League, in order to push for greater democracy. He stayed in the Legislative Assembly at great personal expense, as in these days Members of Parliament were not paid. He had to fund his time there, losing money in constant travelling to Sydney and lodging there, together with the loss of trade to his business (he finally had to move to Sydney). The Reform Leagues policies became generally accepted, and a law was passed which essentially granted for representation by population (rather than by land-owners) and for more equal electorates; however, several undemocratic features remained.
Deniehy's reputation as an orator and propagandist for land reform attracted much attention, especially in Victoria where similar attempts were being made. Indeed, one of the demands of the Eureka rebels in 1854 was to "unlock the lands". In 1858 Deniehy was invited to Victoria, and gave a speech to a large meeting of the Land Convention Brotherhood of United Australians.
Deniehy also spoke out against giving top public service jobs to specially imported Englishmen, and to government funding of religion (after a row with the Catholic hierarchy, Deniehy was excommunicated).
After being defeated in electoral contests, Deniehy founded his own newspaper, the Southern Cross (the first issue appeared on 1st October 1859) which aimed to review public affairs, foster "national sentiment", and work towards the federation of the colonies. It was in the Southern Cross that he published the most famous of his writings "How I Became Attorney-General of New Baratavia", ridiculing the Cowper governments appointment of L.H. Bayley to the ministry, in what "was considered at the time to be one of the most forceful and brilliant political satires in the English language". Unfortunately his newspaper closed on 11th August 1860, due to financial difficulties. Before its closure, however, Deniehy had written, besides his purely political pieces, "with insight and elegance on a wide range of topics".
In May 1860 Deniehy was re-elected to parliament, but was defeated in December of the same year. Thereafter he rarely appeared at public functions. However, he came "out of retirement" to address the large assembly of Australians in the anti-Chinese demonstrations in Sydney, following the riots at Lambing Flat, whereby he deplored the recent violence, although acknowledging the consequences of aliens being present in a European civilisation.
He tried one last time for re-election in September 1861, but failed. The following year he went to Melbourne to edit the Victorian newspaper. His outspokenness meant that the paper ran into trouble, and it was closed in April 1864, by which time he was seriously ill, as well as impoverished. The death of his only surviving son later in that same month degraded his sobriety.
Wrestling with ill-health, poverty, and alcoholism, he returned to Sydney where he tried to re-establish his legal practice; after which he went to Bathurst, where he died on 22nd October 1865.
Daniel Henry Deniehy, nativist republican patriot, led his life according to his principles. He worked hard to:
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