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Longmore, Francis (1826–1898)

by Jacqueline Clarke

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Francis Longmore (1826-1898), by unknown engraver

Francis Longmore (1826-1898), by unknown engraver

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, IAN08/11/69/206

Francis Longmore (1826-1898), politician and farmer, was born at Tullaree, County Monaghan, Ireland, fourth son of George Longmore (d.1827), tenant farmer, and his wife Jane, née Murdoch. He attended a local Presbyterian school and helped his mother and brothers until the family was evicted in the late 1830s. They migrated to Sydney and took up farming at Dapto. In 1851 they split up; Francis became a commission agent in Sydney and in 1852 followed the gold rush to Ballarat. Keen on temperance and a radical, he condemned his fellow diggers for drunkenness and political apathy, but also agreed with their common cause to break up control by the squatters and to open up land for small farmers. In 1857 Longmore settled on ninety acres (36 ha) he had bought at Lake Learmonth, near Creswick. In May 1859 he married Sarah Bankin, daughter of a wealthy neighbour; they had nine children.

In that year Longmore failed to win the Ripon and Hampden seat in the Victorian Legislative Assembly but held it in 1864-83. He advocated radical law reform to assist small selectors and soon won repute as their champion in the Lower House. As a member of the Liberal group he also fought for reform of the Constitution to effect the supremacy of the assembly and the introduction of protective tariffs. He was commissioner of railways and roads in MacPherson's ministry in 1869-70 and under Duffy in 1871-72 and for crown lands in Berry's ministries in 1875 and 1877-80. In his first portfolio he sought to help selectors by providing light and cheap lines to serve scattered farming districts, but delayed the building of a rail link to Hamilton, the squatting stronghold of the Western District. He also liberalized working conditions for railwaymen by supporting the adoption of the eight-hour day.

In 1875 Longmore had become chairman of the Melbourne Woollen Mills and president of the Permanent Building Association. He was also among the first liberals to realize the political potential of popular organizations and was a founder and president of the Victorian Protection League. In 1876 he helped to found the National Reform League. Amalgamated in 1877 they provided an effective bloc which, under Berry's leadership, helped the liberals to sweep the election. On taking the office of crown lands Longmore restricted borrowing by selectors because he was alarmed at the increased mortgaging of selections which he claimed was only another way of transferring them to large landholders and capitalists. Despite worthy intentions he had not perceived the peculiar needs of selectors but public outcry forced him to amend the regulations. He was burnt in effigy by struggling Natimuk wheat-farmers who saw Longmore's restrictions as much a symbol of oppression as the continuance of squatting. At his instigation a royal commission inquired into land settlement and its report led to the Land Act, 1878, which liberalized earlier restrictions on selectors. The commission's final report was a triumph for Longmore as it recommended that existing squatting tenures be not renewed after 1880. He had criticized his predecessors in the Lands Department, but his own administration was not noticeably more effective. Hard-working and conscientious, he had to run an under-staffed department riven with graft and discontent. Reputedly an organizer of the Black Wednesday dismissals, he was dropped by Berry from the ministry in 1880.

In 1881-83 Longmore was chairman of the royal commission to inquire into the performance of the police during the Kelly outbreaks. His interest in Ireland's affairs was renewed and in 1882 he signed the Grattan 'Address' which sympathized with the Irish struggle for independence and encouraged opposition to the British government. The resulting furore led to his defeat at the 1883 elections though it won him acclaim as an Irish nationalist from the Irish Catholics in the colony. For the next ten years he farmed a selection at Lower Tarwin in South Gippsland but the land was difficult to develop and after two of his sons died he returned to Melbourne. In 1893 he challenged the premier, J. B. Patterson, for the Castlemaine seat in vain but in 1894-97 he held the electorate of Dandenong and Berwick. Aged 72 he died at his home, Tullaree, Malvern, on 1 May 1898.

Throughout his career Longmore was the centre of controversy. Fiery, aggressive and uncompromising he made many enemies. He was not effective in translating radical polices into workable legislation, but is best remembered as a radical idealist who provided a conscience for contemporary liberals and the early Labor Party. He was 'a distinguished old democrat whose natural impulse was to take the side of the people'.

Select Bibliography

  • National Reform and Protection League, Fifth Anniversary, 1880 (Victorian Parliamentary Pamphlets, 74/1349)
  • A. Deakin, The Crisis in Victorian Politics, 1879-1881, J. A. La Nauze and R. M. Crawford eds (Melb, 1957)
  • Tocsin, 12 July 1900
  • Berry-Bowen letters (State Library of Victoria)
  • Lang papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Henry Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • J. J. Walsh papers (State Library of Victoria).

Citation details

Jacqueline Clarke, 'Longmore, Francis (1826–1898)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/longmore-francis-4036/text6413, accessed 23 November 2017.

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