THE SELF-MADE MAN
Kerferd was most notable for his calm purpose and solid good sense
George Kerferd exemplified the opportunities that the new colony of Victoria offered to immigrants. He started as a boiler-maker and miner and eventually became a premier and supreme court judge.
Kerferd’s political career was unplanned. It was inspired by his energetic and imaginative determination that Beechworth could be the centre of a thriving mining and farming district. He had arrived there at 23 years of age after migrating to Melbourne from Liverpool a year before.
He married Ann Martindale at St James Cathedral in Melbourne and established a successful brewery in Beechworth when he was 24. However it was Kerferd’s energetic activity on the town council that resulted in his unexpected election to the legislative assembly in 1864 (at the grand old age of 33) and where his rural voters loyally supported him till he retired 22 years later.
Remarkably, when Kerferd moved to Melbourne he sold the brewery and studied to fulfill a youthful ambition to be a lawyer. After admission to the bar he served as chief law officer for five conservative governments. In 1874 he assumed the role of premier and attorney general for 15 months when the elected premier resigned because of frustration with constitutional reform of the legislative council.
Kerferd was also a ‘free trader’ at a time when Victoria was fiercely protectionist. Many free traders hoped Federation would be an opportunity to remove the confusing tariffs that bedevilled relationships between the States (Murray Smith).
Kerferd was a ‘constitutionalist’ who fought against reform of the Victorian upper house but worked strongly for and contributed to the success of federation. In 1870 he was a member of the select committees on intercolonial legislation and federal union. He also supported progressive land reform and promoted regional development and local government.
In 1883 he was appointed delegate to the Sydney Convention and was a member of the committee that drafted the constitution of the Federal Council of Australasia, which was then established by an act of the British parliament in 1885. It allowed for biannual conferences of official delegates from the colonies, Fiji and New Zealand. Two politicians from each participating colony now crossed borders every two years to discuss common national issues. The council had limited power to legislate and no executive power at all. It played a crucial role however in bringing the states together and in eventually achieving federation.
In 1886 Kerferd privately accompanied the Victorian delegation to the first session of the Council in Hobart. Earlier that year he had quit parliament to become the sixth supreme court judge but died suddenly three years later. His residence was in High Street, Malvern.
Lake Kerferd in Beechworth and Kerferd Road in the City of Port Phillip remember this extraordinary immigrant. Kerferd was widely respected in parliament for his skill and character and was a popular local member. His amazing career took place in an era when Australia beckoned as a new nation of unlimited possibilities.