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A good accident of legislation .. in 1865

Found by accident in the Nairnshire Telegraph and General Advertiser for the Northern Counties - Wednesday, 25 January 1865


The last mail from Australia has brought us the astounding intelligence that the Legislature of Victoria, having conferred the franchise upon women one of the provisions of their latest reform Bill, the fair voters, in proportionate number exercised their right at the General Election, the result of which is the rare phenomenon of giving an existing Government working majority.

One is disposed at first sight to grudge the colony her high distinction. But on examination of all the facts, she has not, after all, so far surpassed in courage, faith, and virtue the other nations mankind might first sight appear.

It is true the Victorian Legislature has given the right to women to vote in the election of its members—but, although the name of the colony might suggest that gallantry was its motive, strict truth obliges us to say that no such motive came into play—no motive, in fact, of any kind, complimentary or otherwise—but a legislative oversight which was not detected before the opportunity for correcting it had passed away.

It happened thus, according to the statement of the Times' correspondent.

The New Electoral Act of the last Government, having provided that the roll of every municipal district should be transferred bodily to the Parliamentary electoral roll, has given, probably without intending it, the franchise to women. Women who are householders, paying municipal rates, vote in municipal elections, and, therefore, finding themselves on the Parliamentary roll, they came forward in considerable numbers to vote in the late election.

The revolution has burst—the mischief is done—no human power can reverse the past—but what a pity it should have been nothing more than an accident! Still, when one comes it, neither alarm on the one hand, nor triumph on the other, need be of overpowering character it is an occurrence not altogether unprecedented. It seems to have been customary tiling in the colony for women who, as householders—"femmes soles" we believe they are designated in law—pay municipal rates, to vote in municipal elections. Why not? Have they not every requisite qualification?

Are they not equally interested in every question at issue? Speaking generally, are they not quite as intelligent as male householders of their own standing? Are they not as capable of resisting and resenting undue influence? Let it be borne in mind that in very few cases women who keep house and pay rates in their own name owe any allegiance to a husband.

Many of them are widows—some of them have never been married—few of them probably but have passed the heyday of youth. Any rate it hardly becomes people who cheerfully own the sway of the Queen denounce absurd the principle of which has an accidental exemplification in the Victorian election. Well, now, what was the upshot?

The Times correspondent says:—In very many instances, I am sure that they exercised the franchise at least as wisely as the common run of men. It is said that these patriotic women generally favoured educated candidates, were prone to plumpers, and ostentatiously despised the secrecy of the Ballot. Bravo

They played their novel part with discrimination, with consistency and decision, and with fearless sincerity. Who that knows anything of the sex would have anticipated otherwise? They contributed to some result or other—we hope the right one in most instances—a fair proportion of votes. That is all. We cannot magnify it into a revolution—we can hardly recognise it as precedent—it was merely a novel application ot an analogous custom common to our colonies and to ourselves. It was not designed. It did no harm. It did, perhaps, no great good.

There is nothing in it to make a noise about—and, certainly, it was not brought about vigorous agitation of the—question of women’s rights. But, in effect, was just, and will prove, confidently infer, expedient, and therefore we trust the law will be suffered to remain as it is. It was a happy accident on which we congratulate the fair sex—a sort of compensatory consolation to those whom destiny has forced into the position of femmes soles —and an incident which sheds indirect lustre upon the rest of womankind. So, in due devotion, rejoice in it. Hurrah Women’s rights forever!


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