Charles Gavan Duffy was born in Monaghan Town on the 12th April 1816. The son of a Catholic shopkeeper, his parents died when he was very young and he was raised by his uncle Father James Duffy, the Parish Priest of Castleblayney. Duffy was educated at St Malachy’s college in Belfast and was admitted to the Irish Bar in 1845.
In October 1842 Duffy founded The Nation, along with Thomas Davies and John Blake Dillon. All three were members of Daniel O’Connell’s Repeal Association, which would become known as the Young Ireland movement. The association campaigned for the repeal of the Act of Union of 1800 between Great Britain and Ireland. The newspaper gave a voice to the movement. The forgotten history of Ireland was remembered again and illuminated in its columns. By 1843 the circulation was at 250,000.
As a result of his support for Repeal, Duffy was arrested and convicted of conspiracy in relation to O’Connell’s monster meeting which was planned for Clontarf, Dublin in October 1843. He was released after an appeal to the House of Lords in Westminster. Duffy was arrested again in 1846 following an attempt at insurrection in Tipperary. He was imprisoned in Richmond Prison on a charge of treason-felony based on articles that had appeared in The Nation. He was released in April 1949.
Duffy realised that the use of force had failed and he considered that an honest and independent party in Westminster, a reform of the Irish land laws and the development of native trades would best suit Ireland now. At a conference in Dublin on the 6th August he formed the Tenant Right League.
In 1852 Duffy was elected as a Member for Parliament (MP) for New Ross, but by 1856 with no prospect for Irish independence in sight he resigned and emigrated with his family to Australia. The Duffy family set sail for Melbourne on 6th November 1855 and settled in Victoria. Although initially planning on working as a barrister in Melbourne, Duffy was persuaded to stand for parliament and in 1856 he was elected to the Legislative Assembly.
In 1857 he was appointed Minister for Agriculture in Australia and from June 1871 to June 1872 he was Premier and Chief Secretary. As an Irish Catholic Premier he was unpopular with the Protestant majority and he was accused of favouring Catholics in government appointments. His party was defeated in June 1872 and he resigned his leadership in favour of Graham Berry. In 1875 he returned briefly to Ireland where he attended the O’Connell centenary celebrations but returned to Australia where he was appointed Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. He was knighted in 1873 and retired from Australian politics in 1880. Duffy returned to Europe and settled in Nice in the South of France where he wrote several books and numerous articles.
Charles Gavan Duffy died in Nice on the 9th February 1903. He had married three times and had 9 children.