LAST article, we met one of the most dynamic, yet divisive, residents of Albany in our short period of European history. Lancel de Hamel (1849- 1894) was an English lawyer and politician who came to Albany in 1886 and left a telling imprint.
To take up the story, he had been elected Mayor in November 1888 on the platform of restoring Albany’s access to the harbour and town beach after the new railway’s developers, the WA Land Company, had closed off all roads and crossings.
De Hamel had to convince the WA Governor, Sir Frederick Broome, to change the legislation to force the Land Company to install crossings or a bridge, but the Chairman of the WA Land Company, Thomas Powell, insisted on the railway’s land entitlements.
Embroiled in the cross- fire was conservative local Member of Parliament, Sir Thomas Cockburn-Campbell. De Hamel considered him ineffective and not sufficiently on the side of Albany in development issues.
For example, Cockburn-Campbell sided with the government to build a railway from York to Eucla, bypassing the original plan of including Albany on the route.
However, Cockburn-Campbell did move a Railways Amendment Bill which would allow Councils to apply to the Government to put railway crossings wherever they wished.
It appeared to be a sensible solution so it was understandable that de Hamel was outraged that the Governor planned to exempt the WA Land Company from the new Act.
The war of words got louder. Newspapers were the weapon of choice and the vitriol was toxic as it flowed between de Hamel’s Australian Advertiser, the increasingly ineffective Albany Mail, and the Perth newspapers which never lost an opportunity to insult Albany and de Hamel.
Matters got worse for Perth when de Hamel stood against Cockburn- Campbell for the seat of Albany in the Legislative Council in 1889. De Hamel had the support of the Albany town dwellers although the farming community mainly voted for the incumbent. He won, but some of de Hamel’s gloss was wearing thin.
De Hamel was now the Albany Mayor, the newspaper proprietor, the Member of Parliament and also captain of the voluntary militia force.
The description of him as a demagogue was becoming increasingly accurate. But he was generally undeterred and his abilities as a stirring orator usually saw him succeed.
Issues came to a head when the railway was completed in 1889. De Hamel was deliberately excluded from the guest list at the ceremony to mark the final spike- driving, although he sent an undercover agent to Beverley in his place – the editor of his newspaper, William Forster.
Forster witnessed a stinging emotional tirade against de Hamel by Thomas Powell, in his speech, where he concluded: “Now, I have done with Mr De Hamel for the present. I do not know whether he will provoke me to say or write more. If he does, I will turn my sleeves up and meet him in the Town Hall.”
The slander ended in court as de Hamel sued Powell for £5000 damages but the case was dismissed on a technicality.
De Hamel’s next political gambit came when responsible government was proposed for WA in 1890. He saw an opportunity to create a separate southern state, with the northern border somewhere between Rockingham and Mandurah, with Albany, of course, as the capital. No doubt de Hamel had his own eyes on the position of Premier.
This proposal was defeated and it was be- coming clear that even diehard Albanians were tiring of the constant battles. John Moir, a conservative, stood against de Hamel in the Mayoral election of 1889, and won by 14 votes. De Hamel’s star was on the wane.
While the Albany Mail had folded, a new news- paper, the Albany Observer, was started with WA Land Company funding, and they did all they could to limit de Hamel’s influence. They succeeded, and soon de Hamel was limited to his Perth parliamentary duties where he retained the Albany seat in the Legislative Assembly.
He was effectively the first Opposition Leader in WA where he continued to oppose Governor Broome and new Premier Sir John Forrest.
De Hamel was devastated by the death of his wife Marion and his infant son Gerard in 1891. He left for the Coolgardie goldfields soon after but contracted typhoid and died there in 1894, leaving his three young children orphaned. It was a sad end to a colourful life.
His descendants funded a plaque still visible at the entrance to the Albany Town Hall, the site of so many of his political battles and triumphs. Albany was a more peaceful, but perhaps less interesting, place after his demise.