His life and works
Henry Seekamp was born in 1829 (1) and emigrated to Australia in August 1852. He was a "short, thick, rare sort of man, of quick and precise movements, sardonic countenance; and one look from his sharp round set of eyes, tells you at once that you must not trifle with him. Of a temper that must have cost him some pains to keep under control he hates humbug and all sort of yabber-yabber. His round head of tolerable size, is of German mould, for the earnestness of his forehead is corrected by the fullness of his cheeks" (3).
He met Clara Maria Du Val, an Irish actress who had arrived in Australia in about 1847 with her husband George William Wall Du Val (who adopted the name Claude Du Val after a notorious seventeenth century highwayman) and their three children. Clara Du Val was then running a theatrical company. She and Henry Seekamp were married by early 1854, after George Du Val died (2). The Seekamp surname was adopted by the two younger children, but Oliver Du Val retained his father's name.
In March 1854 Henry Seekamp established the first newspaper in Ballarat in Victoria, the Ballarat Times, Buninyong and Creswick Advertiser. Through it he launched a radical and civic-minded campaign for reforming the way the goldfields were administered, demanding votes for diggers and improved education. In September 1854 he convened a meeting to found a hospital for sick and destitute diggers. In November 1854 Henry Seekamp announced the "Ballarat Reform League" which proclaimed Australian independence. On the morning after the fight at the Eureka Stockade, police raided his newspaper office, arrested him and confiscated his newspaper. He and his reporter John Manning were jailed along with men who had been captured after the battle. On 23 January 1855 Henry Seekamp was tried in the Supreme Court in Melbourne and found guilty of seditious libel. He was sentenced to imprisonment for six months, but that sentence was reduced to three months after the people of Ballarat petitioned the Governor (4). While in jail, Clara Seekamp ran the newspaper,which was briefly named the Ballarat Times and Southern Cross. Henry Seekamp was released on 28 June 1855, the only man to suffer imprisonment floowing the fight at the Eureka Stockade.
While her husband was in jail, Clara Seekamp was held at gunpoint in her home by two men who robbed her of a cashbox containing about £100 (5).
In February 1856 he accused the Irish-born actress Lola Montez of immorality. They set about each other with whips in the main street of Ballarat, creating a public sensation. A cartoon appeared in the Melbourne Punch. They sued each other for assault and libel, but their cases were dismissed. The public sympathised with Lola Montes, and Henry Seekamp lost popularity.
In October 1856 Henry and Clara Seekamp sold their newspaper and left Ballarat. He headed north, through Sydney to Queensland. He died of "natural causes accelerated by intemperance" at the Drummond diggings in Clermont on 19 January 1864. He was only 35 years old (6). In 1861 Clara Seekamp was awarded £500 "compensation" by the Governor, at the instigation of the Victoria Parliament, but what she was being compensated for is unknown (7). She remained in Melbourne with her children, but the family fell upon very hard times. Her daughter Clara Maria died aged only eighteen on 26 October 1868 (8). In the following month her elder son Oliver Du Val was convicted of stealing fittings from empty houses and selling them to buy food for the family. He was sentenced to three months' imprisonment (9).
Clara Seekamp died in Melbourne on 22 January 1908 (10), and was buried in the cemetery there where her eldest son Oliver John Seekamp (formerly Du Val) had been buried in 1884.
Her younger son Francis William August Seekamp married Jane Benger, daughter of Charles Benger and Euphemia Ferguson. He died at Flemington, Victoria in 1929. They had a son Arthur Martin Du Val Seekamp 1885-1955 (11).
(1) He is often said to have been born in London, but he may have been born Heinrich Seekamp of Bremen in Germany.
(2) The Eureka Stockade by R. Carboni (2007 edition) page 79.
(3) The Advertiser 27 January 1908.
(4) Engines of Influence: Newspapers of Country Victoria, 1840-1890 by Elizabeth Morrison (2005) pages 94 and 95. She postulates that his imprisonmemt contributed to his untimely death.
(5) The Argus (Melbourne, Australia) 26 April 1855, relaying the report from the Geelong Advertiser. One thief was sentenced to "twelve years on the roads, the first three in irons", and the other to "ten years, the first two in irons".
(6) Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume (2005) pages 355 and 356: Article by Anne Beggs Sunter.
(7) The Argus 24 October 1861.
(8) The Argus 28 October 1868.
(9) Sydney Morning Herald 2 November 1868, relaying the story published in the Melbourne Herald.
(10) The Advertiser 27 January 1908.
(11) Information from his direct descendant Lyn Inglish.