New book explores a paradoxical life

George William RusdenGeorge William Rusden, a fascinating figure of Victoria’s colonial past, is celebrated in a new book.

Launched at the University of Melbourne’s Trinity College, A delicious bundle of prejudices explores the paradoxes inherent in the life of an extraordinary man who, among other achievements, served as the first Clerk of Victoria’s Legislative Council.

Written by Paul Nicholls, the biography tells the story of “one who gained renown and is remembered today for his scholarship, though his formal schooling ended when he was fifteen”.

It also examines Rusden as a civil servant who “upheld the prerogatives of parliament yet opposed manhood suffrage and was boundlessly contemptuous of politicians who pandered to the masses”. 

Born on 9 July 1819 in England, Rusden arrived into Sydney in May 1834 and within seven years was managing a property near Gundagai. At 28 he sailed to China, working as clerk in his brother-in-law’s factory before spending some time with his brother Alfred, a tea-taster in Shanghai. 

Rusden returned to Sydney in 1849 and became an agent for the National Schools Board before taking on the role of clerk in the Victorian colonial secretary’s office. In 1856 he became Clerk of the Legislative Council in the 1st Victorian Parliament, a position that he held until 1882 and that also included duties as Clerk of the Parliaments. 

Upon his death on 23 December 1903 an obituarist stated of him: ‘What a delicious bundle of prejudices was Rusden’.

The biography that uses these words as its title was officially launched by Emeritus Professor John Poynter at Trinity College, with members of the Rusden family, the President of the Legislative Council Bruce Atkinson and several senior parliamentary officials in attendance, including Rusden’s 21st century successor, the current Clerk of the Legislative Council and Clerk of the Parliaments, Andrew Young.

Welcoming people to the launch, Trinity College Warden, Professor Kenneth Hinchcliff said Rusden was an ardent proponent of public education, a passion that he effected through numerous posts and expressed in publications.

“GW Rusden was involved in the establishment of both the University of Melbourne, serving on its inaugural council for five years, and Trinity College, so we must thank him for his efforts in laying the foundations for the wonderful educational institutions we have today,” Professor Hinchcliff said. 

“Importantly, Rusden donated his entire library to the College in 1882, the year he retired to England from Melbourne. The collection was so extensive that the library catalogue had to be renewed and compiled again by the Warden of the time, Leeper and his wife Adeline. It is fitting indeed that 55 volumes of his papers now reside in our archive.”

New book explores a paradoxical lifeBiography of George William Rusden launched at Trinity College

New book explores a paradoxical lifeProfessor Kenneth Hinchcliff welcomed guests to the book launch at Trinity College

New book explores a paradoxical lifeEmeritus Professor John Poynter launched the book on Rusden

New book explores a paradoxical lifeAuthor Paul Nicholls recounted stories of Rusden from the biography

New book explores a paradoxical lifePaul Nicholls signs a copy of the Rusden biography for current Legislative Council Clerk Andrew Young


See more news from the Parliament of Victoria