LALOR, Peter (1827-1889)

LALOR, Peter (1827-1889)
leader of the Eureka rebellion and politician
was born at Tinakill, Queen's County, Ireland, in 1827 (the date is sometimes given as 1823 but 1827 is more usual, and the notices of his death stated that he was in his sixty-second year on 9 February 1889). His father, Patrick Lalor, was a landed proprietor who sat for some time in the house of commons. Peter Lalor was educated at Carlton College and Trinity College Dublin, became a civil engineer, and emigrated to Australia in 1852. He first worked on the Melbourne-Geelong railway line, then went to the diggings in the Ovens district, and then to Ballarat. In 1852 a licence fee of £1 10s. a month had been imposed on the diggers which caused great dissatisfaction. Parliament consisted of a single chamber, of which one-third of the members were nominated by the crown, the remainder were elected under a much restricted franchise, and the diggers being unrepresented had no means of having their grievances redressed in a constitutional way. In December 1853 the fee was reduced to £1 a month, but the law was administered tyrannically, and even brutally and unjustly. Several incidents excited the indignation of the diggers, who publicly burnt their licences and decided to resist the police and military which had been sent from Melbourne to Ballarat. Lalor was appointed their commander-in-chief. The men began to drill, and the Eureka stockade was built. On the morning of Sunday 3 December 1854 the stockade was stormed by the military, and Lalor was wounded in the shoulder and subsequently had to have an arm amputated. A reward of £200 was offered for information that would lead to his apprehension, but his friends were loyal to him, and he remained in hiding until after several other insurgents had been tried and in every case found not guilty by the jury.
Towards the end of 1855 Lalor began his political career as representative for Ballarat in the old legislative council. Soon after he was appointed an inspector of railways, and held this position until the passing of the "Officials in Parliament Act". In 1856 under the new constitution he was elected to the legislative assembly for South Grant and held this seat until the election of 1871. He was re-elected for this constituency in 1875 and continued to represent it until his death. He was postmaster-general and commissioner of trade and customs in the Berry (q.v.) ministry from August to October 1875, and held the second of these positions in the second Berry ministry from May 1877 to March 1880. He was a capable chairman of committees for several years, and on the retirement of Sir Charles Gavan Duffy (q.v.) in 1880, was elected speaker. In this position he was completely impartial and was one of the best speakers the Victorian parliament has ever had. A severe illness compelled him to resign on 29 September 1887, and parliament voted him a retiring allowance of £4000. He had previously refused a knighthood. He died on 9 February 1889. He married in 1854, Alicia Dunn, who pre-deceased him, and was survived by a son, Dr J. Lalor.
Lalor was six feet in height and broad in proportion. He was always an advocate of the rights of the people, moderate in his views, and never afraid to speak for himself. Twice while minister of customs he had the courage to vote against proposals made by his leader. He was not an outstanding politician either as a private member or as a minister, but he was an authority on constitutional subjects and thoroughly conversant with parliamentary usages. With his fine presence and voice he dominated the house as speaker. "The first duty of a speaker," he said, "is to be a tyrant. Remove him if you like, but while he is in the chair obey him. The speaker is the embodiment of the corporate honour of the house. He is above party." Lalor never allowed scenes to develop' and was unrivalled in his management of unruly members.
The Age and The Argus, Melbourne, 11 February 1889; H. G. Turner, Our Own Little Rebellion.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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