FITZGIBBON, Edmond Gerald (1825-1905)


FITZGIBBON, Edmond Gerald (1825-1905)
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third son of Gibbon Carew FitzGibbon, a descendant of the White Knight, was born at Cork, Ireland, in 1825. When about five Years old he was taken to London where he was educated privately; he never went to a school. He was employed by a committee of the privy council on education, and at one time contemplated entering the Anglican ministry. He emigrated to Australia in 1852 and spent about a year on the diggings, but coming to Melbourne to meet a brother, he obtained a position as proof reader of the papers of the legislative council. In 1854 he entered the office of the Melbourne city council and in 1856 became acting town clerk. The mayor, J. T. Smith (q.v.), was anxious that John Rae (q.v.) of Sydney should be the new town clerk, but it was decided that the position should be given to FitzGibbon, and he held it with great ability for 35 years. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1860, but never practised. His legal knowledge, however, proved useful in the framing of regulations, and he twice appeared at the bar of parliament to argue for bills in which the city council was interested. In the early years of the Victorian constitution the parliamentary machine worked badly, and in 1872 FitzGibbon published a pamphlet, Government by Committee, which was followed in 1875 by Parliamentary Reform, aimed to defeat the party wrangling of the period. In 1876 he visited Europe and prepared a report on sewerage, tramways, markets, water and gas supply, which was also published as a pamphlet. He had early impressed his personality on the councillors and one writer of the period summed up the position in a couplet "Of power I shall demand the lion's share. I'll be FitzGibbon; you can be the mayor". FitzGibbon in fact did not hesitate to rise from his chair and courteously set the council right if he found it straying on to a wrong track. In 1879 at the time of the parliamentary deadlock FitzGibbon published another pamphlet What Next? and tried to supply the answer with a plan for the two houses sitting together. In 1891 when the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works was constituted FitzGibbon was appointed chairman for a period of four years, and in spite of his advanced age, he was reappointed for the same term on three occasions. In 1904 he was involved in a carriage accident from the effects of which he never completely recovered; though he continued to carry on his work until a few weeks before his death in the early hours of 12 December 1905. He married in 1873 Sarah, daughter of Richard Dawson, who died in 1899. He was survived by five sons. In addition to the pamphlets mentioned, FitzGibbon published in 1884 a reply to the theories of Henry George, Essence of "Progress and Poverty", and in 1893 appeared Party Government and Suggestions for Better.
FitzGibbon was a fluent speaker with a masterful personality, which mellowed as he grew older. He was an excellent town clerk and set a standard of absolute integrity in municipal government. Though criticized as chairman of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works by a section of the press in Melbourne, his work was of great value especially in regard to the prevention of the alienation of land in the watersheds. He was created C.M.G. in 1892. There is a statue to his memory in the St Kilda-road, Melbourne.
The Argus, Melbourne, 12 December 1905, 15 May 1943; The Age, Melbourne, 13 December 1905; Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903; Debrett's Peerage, etc., 1905; E. Finn, The Chronicles of Early Melbourne, p. 318.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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