As the 45th Premier of Tasmania has just bailed out, it’s a good time to find out about some of our early Premiers.

The first Premier of Tasmania was William Thomas Napier Champ (1808 – 1892) – pictured above, he of the impressive facial hair. As a young man, Champ was a lieutenant in the 63rd Regiment which arrived in Hobart in 1829, after which he was appointed to the Macquarie Harbour Penal Settlement as engineer. In 1830 he was part of Governor Arthur’s attempt to roundup the Aboriginals. After a short time with the regiment in India, Champ left the army and began farming near Hobart in 1834.

Champ’s long career in colonial public service began in 1836 when he was appointed justice of the peace, assistant police magistrate and later, muster master of convicts in Hobart.

Helen Abigail Gibson. Image:

In 1837 he married Helen Abigail Gibson, producing 8 children by 1851. After his time reorganising the colony’s Caveat Board (1858 – 1844) he was appointed at Commandant at Port Arthur (1844 – 1848). When that role was abolished he became a gentleman farmer at Rosny in 1850 and in 1852 was appointed to the Legislative Council in the roles of colonial secretary and registrar of records for the next four years.

Along with the name change from Van Diemen’s Land to Tasmania in 1856, came responsible self government. The colony held its first elections for both the new House of Assembly and the Legislative Council – with very limited voting rights.

To vote for the Legislative Council you had to be a male over 21 who:

  • owned freehold estate with an annual income of more than £50
    or was a:
  • qualified barrister, solicitor, medical practitioner
  • minister of religion
  • serving or retired military officer in Her Majesty’s Forces

To vote for the House of Assembly you had to be a male over 21 who:

  • owned freehold estate with an annual income of more than £100
    or was:
  • paying more than £10 annual rent
  • earning more than £100 a year
  • a qualified professional

Only those who could vote in the elections could nominate to run in the elections. Champ fulfilled the requirements and was elected to the seat of Launceston in the new House of Assembly. He became the first Premier of Tasmania: 1 Nov 1856 – 26 Feb 1857.

A total of 117 days.

It turned out that Champ didn’t much enjoy politics. He disagreed with the move by most of the members of the House of Assembly to reduce the salary of the Governor, Sir Henry Fox-Young. Champ unsuccessfully opposed this move and he resigned his position on 26 February 1857.

Thomas George Gregson. Image: TAHO

The next couple of Tasmanian Premiers didn’t last long, either.

Second Premier, Thomas George Gregson (1796–1874), one of the Patriotic Six (more on that in another post) was appointed Premier on 26 February 1857. He introduced proposals for land reform and public service cutbacks and was hammered by the press – which inflamed him to vocal, angry outbursts. A censure motion was carried against him and he resigned on 25th April 1857.

A total of just 58 days – however this was not the shortest term as Premier in Tasmania’s history.

William Pritchard Weston. Image: TAHO

That record goes to Gregson’s successor: William Pritchard Weston (1804–1888). Weston served just 17 days: 25 April – 12 May, 1857. When Gregson resigned, Weston was called on to form a ministry. However, Gregson kept up a steady, vocal stream of opposition to Weston, which had the desired result. A demoralised Weston resigned and Premier number four stepped up: Sir Francis Villeneuve Smith, the attorney-general.

Sir Francis Villeneuve Smith. Image: TAHO

Smith (1819–1909) was premier for 3.5 years, from 12 May 1857 – 1 November 1860.

As an interesting note on which to finish: it is generally assumed that you have to be in the House of Assembly in order to be the Premier. That has only been the case in Tasmania since party politics came to the fore.

The following men were members of the Legislative Council at the same time as being Premier:

Premier 6James Whyte
Premier 7Sir Richard Dry
Premier 8Sir James Wilson
Premier 10Alfred Kennerley
Premier 12Sir Philip Fysh
Premier 14Dr William Crowther

Categories: People