ID 1439

Parliament of Victoria, Legislative Assembly election

Election of 26 August 1859

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Victoria, Legislative Assembly votes and seats won

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Election held on 26 August 1859
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)  96,534  100.00  0.00  78  100.00 
Votes for other than listed parties 0 0.00 0.00       
Totals 96,534  100.00    78  100.00 

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Election dates: Elections were held over the period from 26 August to 26 September 1859.

Premier in office at election: There had been three changes of Premier since the previous election in 1856; Haines, the Premier after the 1856 election, had been replaced by O’Shanassy on 11 March 1857, O’Shanassy was then replaced by Haines on 29 April 1857, and O’Shanassy returned to office on 10 March 1858. These changes were all the result of government defeats on the floor of the Legislative Assembly, reflecting the shifting factional and personal alliances in the first Parliament; for details, see Serle, ch. 9 (in ‘References’, below), and the notes to Haines's first and second period in office, and O’Shanassy's first period in office.

Government in office after election: The O'Shanassy government had grappled with the issues of the electoral composition of the Assembly (see 'Franchise, electoral districts and parliamentary terms', below), and policies relating to the sale and lease of crown lands. Its legislation was either rejected or seriously amended by the Legislative Council, and the government steadily lost public support, prompting O'Shanassy's attempt to resign midway through the election; see Serle, p.293 (in 'References', below). Governor Barkly persuaded him to continue in office until the Assembly met after the election. The O'Shanassy ministry was defeated after the address in reply debate on 22 October 1859 by 56 votes to 17; Victorian Hansard (Argus Reports), 1859-60 vol. 5, 22 October 1859, pp 99-100, and see the notes to O’Shanassy's second period in office.

Nicholson was commissioned as Premier on 27 October 1859 and formed a government that '...largely consisted of leading merchants and others who had been prominent in the Constitutional Association [in favour of liberalized parliamentary representation]. For the moment, about half the Assembly were fairly firm supporters', Serle, p.293 (see 'References', below).

Removal of property qualifications for Assembly members and electors: In August 1857, the Parliament passed 'An Act to Abolish the Property Qualification required by Members of the Legislative Assembly', requiring only that candidates were qualified electors. In November 1857, 'An Act to Extend the Right of Voting and to Provide for the Registration of Parliamentary Electors' was passed; it removed the property qualification for Legislative Assembly electors but maintained stringent voter registration requirements and, as Serle observes, '[m]anhood suffrage was qualified by plural voting and strict residential qualifications, and meant little unless backed by a democratic division of electorates', Serle p.266 (see 'References' below).

Electoral districts and parliamentary terms: After lengthy and contentious debate in 1858 during which a wide range of proposals was canvassed for an increase in the number of Legislative Assembly seats and for their distribution, a severely amended Electoral Districts Act was finally accepted by the Legislative Council in 1858. The number of members in the Assembly was increased from 60 to 78, but attempts to ensure that electoral districts had similar numbers of electors were defeated in the Legislative Council which insisted on malapportionment in favour of rural and conservative interests (see Serle, pp 273-282, in 'References', below).

'An Act to Shorten the Duration of the Legislative Assembly' was passed by the Victorian Parliament in 1858, reducing the maximum term of Legislative Assembly members and hence the period between Assembly elections from five to three years.

Electoral system and voting: The 1859 Legislative Assembly election was fought on the new boundaries established by the Electoral Districts Act (see above); 78 members were elected from 49 electoral districts, 24 of which were single member districts, 21 two member districts, and 4 three member districts. 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), or they could plump for a single candidate. 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).

With manhood suffrage for the Legislative Assembly (but not the Legislative Council), all males over 21 years of age who fulfilled residency requirements were eligible to vote for the Assembly. Ratepayers were automatically registered as voters; non-ratepaters were registered by enumeration or separate application, with lists of voters required to be published (see the Registration of Parliamentary Electors Amendment Act 1859).

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) provide results for Victorian Assembly elections in this period but no figures are listed for this election.

No direct information on enrolments is available for this election (1859). Estimates based on the expenses of registering voters set out in the ‘Registration of Parliamentary Electors’ for the 1859 election (see ‘Sources’, below) suggest that over 162,000 electors were registered before the election. Serle notes that that ‘[o]f 160,000 now automatically registered, nearly half voted…’, with significant variations between urban and other areas (Serle, pp 292-293, in ‘References’, below), suggesting a figure of around 80,000 voters, more than three times the number estimated at the previous election. Since the available information does not permit enrolments to be assigned between contested and uncontested seats, no figures for enrolment are provided in the table above.

Seven electoral districts (8 seats) were uncontested and there are no figures recorded for the two-member contested district of Mandurang.

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 candidates at the time of the election as reported in contemporary newspapers (see ‘Sources’ below).

References: An extensive description of the the operation of the first Victorian Parliament can be found in Geoffrey Serle, The Golden Age: A History of the Colony of Victoria, 1851-1861, ch. 9, (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1963). Serle provides details of the issues and participants involved the 1859 election (pp 287-296) and gives a survey of the characteristics of Victorian politics from 1856 to 1861 (Serle, pp 315-319). See also John Waugh, 'Haines, O'Shanassy, Nicholson and Heales: The Old Guard', in Paul Strangio and Brian Costar (editors), The Victorian Premiers 1856-2006, ch. 2, (Sydney: Federation Press, 2006, ISBN 9781862876019). A survey of the workings of the Victorian Parliament from 1856 to 1890 is provided in Wright, Part 2, (see 'Sources', below), and note that 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.


Adam Carr, '1859', 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); no figures are provided for this election, see 'Election results and sources' in the notes, above.

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 13 June 2015];
Victoria, 2nd Parliament, Legislative Assembly, 'Writs of Election', Votes and Proceedings 1859-60, 13 October 1859 to 18 September 1860, pp 3-4 [pp 38-39], online here [accessed 14 June 2015];
Victoria, Legislative Assembly, Session 1859-60, 'Registration of Parliamentary Electors', Parliamentary Paper A.10, online here [accessed 16 June 2015].