Eight women gathered on a lawn, H2012.171/244
In 1891 women throughout Victoria went door to door, gathering signatures for a women’s suffrage petition, which became known as the ‘monster petition’. This petition was initiated after a deputation to the Premier of Victoria, James Munro, organised by the Victorian Alliance along with other temperance groups. Among the group was Mrs. Betsy Lee who argued that ‘women had to obey the laws, therefore they had a right to a voice in making them’. (The Argus, 7 May 1891)
The Premier stated that he would introduce a bill into the Victorian parliament if it were demonstrated that ordinary women wanted this right. As a result the ‘monster petition’ was created. A copy was included in the July 11 issue of the Alliance record , urging women to gather signatures. The petition stated ‘that Government of the People by the People, and for the People should mean all the People and not one-half’.
The petition was approximately 260 metres long and contained nearly 30,000 signatures, including that of Jane Munro, the Premier’s wife. About ten percent of Victoria’s adult female population signed the petition, from over 800 different towns and suburbs. (Greensborough Historical Society ). The location with the most signatures was Richmond, whilst Warnambool had the most signatures in proportion to the population. (Alliance Record, 3 October 1891, page 250)
A copy of the petition was inserted into the Alliance Record on July 11, 1891
The 30,000 signatures were presented by Mr. Munro on the 29th September to support the second reading of the Constitution Act Amendment Act Amendment Bill. Mr. Munro stated;
This Bill is a short Bill of eleven clauses, but I venture to say that it is one of the most important Bills that have ever been submitted to this Chamber. It provides for three different and important amendments of the present Act. The first is the abolition of plural voting, the second is the reimbursing of Members of Parliament from the date of the return of the writ instead of from the time of a member taking his seat, and the third and most important is the extension of the suffrage to women. (Parliamentary Debates Legislative Assembly, Session 1891, vol 67, pg 1614)
On the matter of female suffrage he argued;
I have read up all the arguments which I have been able to find against the extension of the franchise to women, and I have not been able to discover one tangible objection – not one. There can be no argument against woman suffrage which cannot be used equally well against manhood suffrage. (ibid; pg 1618)
However, whilst Munro may not have discovered any objections to women’s suffrage many others still did. And whilst some objected based on their perceptions of ‘woman’s place’ and her ignorance and incapacity to understand politics (The Argus, 30 September 1891), for others the objections seem to be related to how they believed women would vote. In particular a concern that women would be more likely to support working class and temperance causes.
In the end it was believed that the success of the bill to abolish plural voting would be risked through linking it with women’s suffrage, and therefore the issue of votes for women was dropped from the bill before it went to the Legislative Council.
Whilst the Monster Petition therefore did not result in its goal of obtaining suffrage for women, it did increase the profile of the issue. Many subsequent bills in support of Women’s suffrage were also introduced into Parliament, including nearly annually between 1894 and 1902 . However, it was not until 1908 that a bill finally passed and women were granted the right to vote. By this time Victoria was the last state in Australia to grant women the right to vote.
You can search an index to the petition online.
The petition is on display from 1 October, 2014 – 12 January, 2015 at the Museum of Democracy Eureka
Women’s Suffrage Centenary Issue, Victorian Historical Journal; 2008 Vol 79
Woman Suffrage in Australia by Audrey Oldefield
Woman suffrage : a national danger by Heber Hart
Votes for Women: the Australian Story by Kirsten Lees
They are but Women: The Road to Female Suffrage in Victoria / University of Melbourne