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John Henry Dunsford (1855–1905)

The news which flashed over the wires this morning that Mr. J. [John Henry] Dunsford, the Senior Member for Charters Towers, had died in the Cunnamulla Hospital, was not unexpected to his many friends; but it caused a wave of sadness to sweep through the community in Labor Politics circles, for Mr. Dunsford had been a staunch political fighter, and was one of remaining five of the original Labor Party returned to Parliament in 1893. For a long time Mr. Dunsford had been ailing from a bronchial complaint and rheumatics. During the last political campaign he developed dengue fever and this aggravated his complaint to such an extent that he was never the same man. His eyes looked as if he was burning with a fever and he faded almost away to a mere skeleton. He was advised to travel and he went out west. But he seemed to have taken a burden upon his shoulders and never was the same man again. When he left Charters Towers for Brisbane at the opening of the present session he went away full of great hopes for the future and with the same fighting spirit which was characteristic of him. But he counted too much on his strength. When he arrived in Brisbane he found that his strength had failed again, and his state of mind was not added to by certain bickerings in local political circles. He was  advised to go south and went to Croydon, Sydney, where he resided with his mother who looked after him and he appeared to be gaining health and strength. He returned again to his parliamentary duties full of anxiety to do his work. All his thoughts were on doing his best for the people who represented him, and of attending to their wants. But it was not to be. The strenuousness of Parliamentary life which has broken down men of greater physique soon told on him and acting on the advice of his friends he left last week for Cunnamulla to get the Western air. From the meagre particulars to hand it appears that he broke down altogether and the flickering light of his life went out this morning. Away from home and friends the lion hearted senior member for Charters Towers gave up his life and passed beyond the river where the weary are for ever at rest.

Mr. J. Dunsford was born at Maldon, Victoria, about 50 years ago. When only a young man full of the vigor of life, he arrived in Charters Towers, about the year 1878, being amongst the first to come to the golden camp. In his early years he was sheep farming. But the gold got hold of him as it got hold of plenty more in those days when all that people looked to Australia for was for gold, and when the Golden North of Queensland was opened up and the miner was the man who blazed the track. After years of hard toil in the mine below, with more or less success and the experience which all men have who venture into the sea of speculation, he started store keeping, then went into the stationery and book selling line. He drifted into this from his reading habits. For years his shop was the literature emporium of the field, and he built up a splendid business. It is not many months ago that he remarked to the writer when having a confidential chat "They may talk about the benefits of a politician's life and the sumptuous salary he draws; but I was far better off when I had my business at my back than I have ever been since I have been in Parliament. I went into Parliament when they were only paying members £150. I sacrificed everything I had for the people and to serve them." So he did. All he aimed at was to better their conditions and the miners of this field never had a stauncher friend. His popularity must have been great for he was elected as an alderman for Charters Towers in 1891. When one considers the conditions of local politics and the way the octopus has its tentacles over the community this was a feat to be more proud of than winning the seat in Parliament. But in 1893 he went in with Senator Andrew Dawson as the first out and out Labor members for Charters Towers and their success was the turning point of Charters Towers politics. They held the seats against all odds. When Mr. Dawson went to the Senate and Mr. Burrows took his place, the two fought side by side and have kept together, one in thought and unity. Mr. J. Dunsford was always a hard grafter. He was a working member. Any party that had him in a team knew that they had strength which was unflinching and could be depended upon at the right moment. He never looked back, he went straight ahead. He will always be remembered for his heroic advocacy of the Miners Accident Relief Bill, a measure which he never failed to bring forth at every opportunity and was just on the borders of realising being made law. He was also a staunch advocate of adult suffrage in local Government election. In fact wherever reforms were wanted and the fight was thickest the voice of John Dunsford— and it was no small voice in those days— could be heard shouting the battle cry. He had been a large mining speculator and held scrip in various mines but his speculations of late years had not laughed with a golden harvest. Deceased leaves a widow and four children, who reside in Stubley St.

Whatever may have been John Dunsford's faults he was a lion hearted politician who was true to his party, who placed the interests of his constituents before his own and denied himself everything to serve them. That this was so can be gauged by the fact that up to the time of his last sickness from the year 1893 he did not miss half a dozen divisions in Parliament and we do not suppose that there is another politician in the wide world who can show a record equal to it. John Dunsford had his faults, every man has them, but he was an angel compared with some of his traducers and the man that hath no sin should be the only man that dare to lift a voice to say anything that would sully his career. He suffered much. He walked the valley of the shadow. But though his feet may have wondered and come bruised on the rooks and the sharp edges he kept on and on and lifted his political life above reproach. In politics John Dunsford can show a cleaner slate than any other politician we know of. That is something to be proud of in an age of mercenary politics when a man can be bought over by a mere promise. For a time he was returned as Junior Member for Charters Towers but at the last election the old wave of feeling came back and he was returned as senior member at the poll and no one was better pleased than his colleague Mr. Burrows, his tried and trusted comrade in arms. They had fought shoulder to shoulder and he knew his true worth as a man. There was no vernukery— no trickery, nothing to disguise, he was plain John Dunsford from the first to the last, but he has gone into dreamless dust into which has passed many more heroic men. But before he closed his eyes on the light which shows the folly and fraud of the world and illumines the wrong doing, after twelve years of strenuous fighting, he had the satisfaction of seeing some wrongs righted and of knowing that the work in which his heart and soul was interwoven was going on and the hard work of the early years of his political life was bearing fruit. "Well done thou good and faithful servant'' might well be written over him. He died a patriot. No one loved his country more and few have served the people more conscientiously. His Parliamentary labors killed him. Had he paid less attention to them he might be still laughing in the sunshine of pleasure and taking his ease amidst pleasant companions. But whatever may be said he will ever be remembered by those who knew him best and his memory will live enshrined in their hearts. His deeds are written in the records of his country's history.

There is no death. What seems so is transition;
This life of mortal breath
Is but a suburb of the life Elysian,
Whose Portal we call Death.

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Citation details

'Dunsford, John Henry (1855–1905)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 June 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


3 July, 1855
Maldon, Victoria, Australia


15 September, 1905 (aged 50)
Cunnamulla, Queensland, Australia

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