Of the many reprehensible politicians Australia produced (and re-elected) continuously, Ballarat lays claim to one of the most fascinating - the notorious C.E. Jones.
Charle Edwin Jones came to Melbourne in 1851. A tailor, teetotaller and vehement hater of all things Irish, he spent four years on the Melbourne City Council from 1861, where his political views swung from free trade to protectionism. From his earliest foray into politics he was an incorrigible fighter.
Accused of improper conduct by a council opponent, Jones wrote:
"The natural impulse of the moment suggested a sound thrashing to my traducer, as the readiest and most satisfactory remedy..."
He was in unshakeable opposition to all things Roman Catholic, and the Protestant Orange Lodge determined he was the best candidate for the Legislative Assembly seat of Ballarat East in the 1864 election, representing James McCulloch's free traders..
Victorian politics in the 1860s and 1870s was full of wild betrayals of leaders, party jumping, outright corruption and grotesque land speculation. Governor Sir Charles Darling accepted £20,000 (millions of dollars today) as a grant from the Legislative Assembly to his wife, causing outrage.
Conservatives opposed liberals, pastoralists and free-traders opposed protectionists; the Irish led by John O'Shanassy and Charles Gavan Duffy opposed non-Catholics in McCulloch, James Sladen and their followers.
Reform of land selection and a series of Land Acts aimed at giving access to ownership was a political storm of the time. Jones was elected in Ballarat East, promising to tame the Irish 'savages of Bungaree' - a phrase unlikely to endear him to the Catholic population. However, frustrated in gaining a ministerial post, Jones defected to the Opposition protectionists.
A constitutional crisis swept Victoria, with the McCulloch government failing to obtain supply. The government sought to procure a private bank loan to continue, causing a crisis not aided by the premier being a sole local director of the London Chartered Bank from which the loan was sought. The governor sought to intervene between the Council and the Assembly to maintain good governance, and while the McCulloch government was re-elected, the Governor himself was recalled to London.
The natural impulse of the moment suggested a sound thrashing to my traducer, as the readiest and most satisfactory remedy...CE Jones, ready to fight an opponent
The £20,000 grant was proposed by the Legislative Assembly, but the Colonial Office denied it to Governor Darling, who resigned. in the middle of all this, Jones, sensing public support for Darling and the McCulloch government, sought to return to the free-trade party. However his treachery cost him dearly, and he lost his Ballarat East seat to Humffray at the 1868 election.
In a by-election for Ballarat West in that year, Jones defeated the conservative Lands Minister Duncan Gillies (later to be premier) and became a critic of the short-lived Sladen government, maintaining his strident anti-Catholic position as well.
When the Sladen ministry collapsed after just three months, McCulloch returned to power. Jones was made commissioner of roads and railways and vice-president of the Board of Lands and Works as a reward for his active opposition. But his past was to be his undoing.
Allegations of corrupt land deals swirled around Jones, and a series of cheques worth hundreds of pounds were found deposited in his account by members of parliament, enticing Jones to change allegiances. A libel case ensued, and a complaint committee of parliament swiftly took action:
'Mr. G. P. Smith moved, That, in the opinion of this House, the evidence taken before the Committee proves that Mr. Jones, then and now a Member of this House, received money secretly for or in respect of his services in Parliament from an Association which adopted as one of its modes of action the bribing and undue influencing of Members of Parliament.' (Votes and Proceedings of the VLA, April 15, 1869)
Jones was expelled from parliament. He railed against his accusers, and in a series of public meetings in Ballarat attended by thousands, declared his innocence. The meetings descended into chaos and borderline violence as accusation and counter-accusation flew.
Newspapers thundered against Jones.
"This is precisely the evil with which we are threatened in Victoria, the public becoming familiarised with the spectacle of successful corruption among politicians... by the prevalent supposition it is the only leverage employed with any prospect of success in moving political forces."
The member for Ballarat West knew his electorate. Chancing his arm, Jones resigned his seat again, and was re-elected, the people of Ballarat considering politicians were all the same. Better the devil they knew.
Jones lost his seat in 1871, his opponents swamping him with candidates. Disappearing to the US for a time to work as a journalist, he returned and was re-elected to Ballarat West in 1886. Feted at an Alfred Hall meeting of 4000 voters, he expressed strong admiration of the 'eloquent' upcomer Alfred Deakin and yet denounced his adversary Duncan Gillies, now premier and in coalition with Deakin.
Jones's nature was combative, and after losing his seat in 1889 he launched several attempts to win others. All failed. Charles Jones died in penury in 1903. He married twice, or perhaps three times, and left 11 children.
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