Collingwood Notables Database
Charles Jardine Don
Stonemason, councillor, Member of Parliament
At his death, The Age wrote that Don ‘had opened for his whole class the portals of the senate’. He was a pioneer labour parliamentarian as member for Collingwood in the Legislative Assembly of Victoria. Don claimed to be the first working tradesman to sit in a parliament of the British Empire.
Charles Jardine Don was born in Scotland, son of a stonemason. He was educated at the village school and at 12 was working as a handloom weaver. At 17 he joined his father as an apprentice stonemason. He also developed the art of public speaking and took part in the British Chartist movement and agitation in Scotland.
In 1853, attracted by the goldfields, Don, with wife and younger daughter, arrived in Melbourne, bringing his Chartist ideals with him. He believed the old privilege and class had no place in the young Victoria and fought for land reform, a fair electoral system and just working conditions. He joined the Stonemasons Union, became its chairman and was a prominent leader for the eight-hour day. He was a fiery political orator. One leading journalist described him as ‘a cross between a poet and a pirate’.
Don moved to live in Collingwood in 1859. He had close links with a number of local Collingwood publicans including Abel Cooke (Hancock’s Family Hotel Wellington St), Thomas Greenwood (Yorkshire Stingo) and brewer Thomas Aitken. Don was elected to the Collingwood Council and also to the Victorian Legislative Assembly in 1859 when he won the seat of Collingwood. He faced the difficulty of having to earn a living while in parliament as there was no payment for politicians and other members had independent means. At one stage he worked on Parliament House by day as a mason and in it by night as a member.
Don was involved in taking a bill (the East Collingwood Improvement Bill) to Parliament for proper drainage for the flood-prone, disease-ridden Collingwood Flat. The bill became very controversial and he made enemies including Graham Berry of the Collingwood Observer. In time his health began to fail, he drank heavily and he lost his supporters. He lost his seat in 1864.
His personal life was tragic. His first wife died when he was at the goldfields on first arrival, his second wife a few years later and his little daughter in a Collingwood diphtheria epidemic. In 1866 Don died penniless of tuberculosis aged 46. His last job was to repair a sewer pipe between Parliament House and the Yarra River. Nonetheless The Age 1 Oct 1866 reported a ‘vast multitude assembled to pay the last tribute of respect’, including Members of Parliament and 600 union representatives ‘four abreast’ as well as four mourning coaches, private carriages and other vehicles as part of the cortege. ‘The procession extended fully a mile’.
|Birth Date||Birth Place|
|12 June 1820||Coupar-Angus, Perthshire, Scotland|
|Spouse Name||Date of Marriage||Children|
|Mary Louden||1846||Two daughters|
|Ellen Curtin||1857||One son|
|Home Street||Home City||Status of Building|
|Elizabeth Street (now Langridge Street)||Collingwood||Demolished|
|Otter Street||Collingwood||Not identified|
|100 Oxford Street||Collingwood||Demolished|
|Little Oxford Street||Collingwood||Not identified|
|Free Gardeners' Society|
|Death Date||Death Place||Cemetery|
|27 September 1866||Collingwood||MGC|
Shiel, Charles Jardine Don: the people’s man
ADB C J Don
SLV: The combat and the victory