ID 1438

Parliament of Victoria, Legislative Assembly election

Election of 23 September 1856


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Victoria, Legislative Assembly votes and seats won

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Election held on 23 September 1856
Criteria for the inclusion of parties in this table are set out in the Glossary under 'listed party'

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Party Name First preference vote n First preference vote share % Change from previous election % Seats won n Uncontested seats held n Seat share %
Independents (no disciplined party groupings)  51,061  100.00  60  100.00 
Votes for other than listed parties 0 0.00 0.00       
Totals 51,061  100.00    60  100.00 


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* Party did not contest previous election or did not meet criteria for listing, or contested previous election under a different party name.

Notes

Election dates: Elections were held over the period from 23 September to 24 October 1856.

First premier: Haines was the first Premier to take office as head of government under the system of parliamentary self-government granted to Victoria by Britain. On the process of framing the Victorian Constitution, see Charles Parkinson, 'William Foster Stawell and the Making of the Victorian Constitution', Victorian Historical Journal, 77 (2) November 2006: 107-142; John Waugh. 'Framing the First Victorian Constitution, 1853-5', Monash University Law Review, 23 (2) 1997: 331-361; and note the work by Wright referred to in 'Sources', below.

Premier in office at, and after the election: The grant of responsible government, presumed that a Premier was to be commissioned to form a government after the election of a representative assembly. There was some controversy over the move by Governor Hotham to commission Haines as Chief Secretary (Premier) of Victoria on 30 November 1855 before the general elections for the new Legislative Assembly had been held; elections did not take place until almost a year later on 23 September to 24 October 1856. There were administrative difficulties over the transition from a government by the Governor advised by the old partially appointed Legislative Council to parliamentary government by a ministry accountable to the new Legislative Assembly. These were exacerbated by delays in the passage of an electoral Act -- required for the election -- through the old Legislative Council. There was also the suspicion that the way in which the transition was handled had been prompted by the financial concerns of existing executive officers; see Serle, ch. 7 (in 'References', below), and John Waugh, 'The Brummagem Coup: The Start of Self-government in Victoria', Victorian Historical Journal, 77 (2) November 2006: 143-157.

At the first meeting of the Legislative Assembly on 21 November 1856, only eleven of the 60 members sat on the government side of the chamber, with more than 20 on the cross-benches (Serle, p. 258, see 'References', below, and Wright, p. 32, see 'Sources', below). Haines's first period in office continued for several months after the election until the government was defeated in a vote on the floor of the Assembly on 3 March 1857; for more detail, see notes to Haines's first period in office.

Qualification for members and franchise: Members of the Legislative Assembly had to possess freehold property of the capital value of £2,000 or of the annual value of £200; see 'An Act to establish a Constitution in and for the Colony of Victoria, 1854' (Constitution Act, 1855), section 11. Voters for the Legislative Assembly had to hold a '...freehold estate in the electoral district valued at £50, or of £5 annual value, or leasehold in the district valued at £10 annual value, or being householders occupying premises of £10 annual value, or having permissive occupancy of crown lands for which payment was made to the crown, or persons receiving a salary of £100 per annum', Mills, p. 26 (see 'References', below); for full details, see the Constitution Act, 1855, section 12. Plural voting was permitted if an elector had the property qualifications for voting in more than one electoral district.

Electoral administration and the secret ballot: A comprehensive set of rules for the 1856 Legislative Assembly election was put in place by old Legislative Council to supplement the Constitution Act, 1855: the Regulation of Proceedings at Elections Act, 1856, and the Electoral Districts Act, 1856. But both the distribution of seats and the process of putting electors on the list of voters favoured established interests (see Serle, pp 256-257 and, for description of administrative arrangements for the election and examples of malapportionment see Mills, p. 27, both in 'References', below).

The secret ballot was established by the Electoral Districts Act, 1856, section 36. It has been claimed that Victoria was the first to adopt the system (see, for example, Mark McKenna, 'Building a "Closet of Prayer" in the New World: The Story of the "Australian Ballot"', in Marion Sawer (editor), Elections Full, Free & Fair, pp 45-62, Sydney: Federation Press, 2001, ISBN 186287395X), but note the claim of Tasmania to be the pioneer; see Terry Newman, 'Tasmania and the Secret Ballot', Australian Journal of Politics and History, 9 (1) 2003: 93-101. For an assessment of its operation in Victoria in 1856, see Mills, pp 28-29 (in 'References', below).

Electoral System and Voting: For the Legislative Assembly election of 1856, 60 members were to be elected from 37 electoral districts for a term of five years unless the Assembly was dissolved sooner (Constitution Act, 1855, section 19). There were 20 single member districts, 14 districts with 2 members, 1 district with 3 members (South Grant), Geelong returning 4 members, and Melbourne returned 5 members. Voters in multimember districts had the option of casting as many votes as there were members to be elected from their district (see multiple voting); for Melbourne, this was up to five. Voters cast their ballots by crossing off the names of candidates they did not wish to elect, and the most chosen candidate or candidates were elected (plurality voting); it has been suggested that a significant number of voters in multimember districts 'plumped' for only one candidate (Serle, p. 256, see 'References', below).

Election results and sources: The election figures in the tables above were calculated from individual electoral district results listed in Carr’s online Election Archive (see ‘Sources’ below), compiled from official records and results published in newspapers (for the range of sources and problems with the data, see Carr’s ‘Introduction to Early Victorian Election Statistics', online here) [accessed 28 June 2015]. Jaensch and Hughes (see 'Sources', below) also provide results for this election; the summary results in Jaensch and Hughes differ slightly from those in the tables above, and are listed in ‘Sources’, below.

Seven electoral districts (8 seats) were uncontested and there are no figures recorded for one contested seat (Kilmore). There is no record of the total number of voters who cast a ballot in contested seats or the number of informal (invalid) ballots. Serle estimates that '[p]erhaps about 40 percent of those on the rolls actually voted;' (Serle, p. 256, see 'References', below), giving a figure of fewer that 23,000 voters in contested seats. This rate is consistent with the number of 42.7 percent of votes cast in the 13 contested single member seats for which figures are available.

There were no disciplined political parties at this election, candidates being broadly identified as those supporting the government at the election (Ministerialists), those favouring the Opposition, and those supporting neither, regarded as independents or crossbenchers, descriptions that could change after the election; for comments on factionalism and influences on members during this period, see Wright, pp 63-72 (in 'Sources', below). Carr's online Election Archive provides details of the political orientation of some of the candidatest at the time of the election as reported in contemporary newspapers (see ‘Sources’ below).

References: For a history of the separation of the Port Phillip district of New South Wales to become the present state of Victoria, the early political and economic development of the colony, and a detailed study of parliamentary government in Victoria up to 1861, see, Geoffrey Serle, The Golden Age: A History of the Colony of Victoria, 1851-1861, (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1963), and extensive surveys of the establishment of the Victorian Parliament and its operation in the 1800s is provided in Parts I and 2 of Wright, (see 'Sources', below).

Serle also provides an extensive description of the issues and personalities at play in the 1856 Assembly election (Serle, pp 252-258) and gives a survey of the characteristics of Victorian politics from 1856 to 1861 (Serle, pp 315-319). A study of the 1856 election and a comparison of the characteristics of members elected from 1856 to 1881 can be found in Joy E Mills, 'The Composition of the Victorian Parliament, 1856-1881', Historical Studies, Australian and New Zealand, 2 (5) April 1942: 25-39. The nature of campaigning at the 1856 election is examined by G R Quaife, 'The Victory of the Ballot in 1856: The Mechanics and Mores of an Election Campaign in Victoria', Victorian Historical Magazine, 38 (3) [149th Issue] August 1967:145-158, and note the contemporary account of the 1856 election referred to in Serle (footnote to p. 317) by R H Horne, 'An Election Contest in Australia', Cornhill Magazine 5, January 1862: 25-35, online here [accessed 20 June 2015].

Sources

Adam Carr, '1856', in 'Legislative Assembly Elections', Victorian Elections Since 1843, Psephos: Adam Carr's Election Archive, online here [accessed 28 June 2015].

Dean Jaensch and Colin A Hughes, 'Politics', p. 399, in Wray Vamplew (editor), Australians: Historical Statistics, (Sydney: Fairfax, Syme and Weldon Associates, 1987, ISBN 0949288292); some of the listed results differ from those in the tables above; see the notes on 'Election results and sources', above;

Total on roll: 60,021
Number of uncontested seats: 6
Number of voters in contested seats: 56,140
(No figures for total valid votes)

Raymond Wright, A People's Counsel: A History of the Parliament of Victoria 1856-1990, (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1992, ISBN 0195533593);
Victoria, Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel, 'Victorian Historical Acts', online here [accessed 9 June 2015].