1815 – 1863
First recorded woman to vote in Victoria
“I am a woman of but few words and plainly spoken…whatever my position may be, I have worked hard to keep my daughters in a good school and give them an education as I myself have not got…” 
Did you know that one of the first known women to vote in Victoria did so some fifty years before women were legally permitted to vote in 1908?
Did you know that this same woman was of African heritage, a single mother of four, who became a successful businesswoman on the goldfields?
Against all odds, Frances ‘Fanny’ Finch was this woman.
On the 22nd of January 1856, Fanny and another woman took to the polls in Castlemaine. As rate-paying business owners, the women exploited the gender-neutral term “persons” written into suffrage law to sign their names and preferences. Their votes were later disallowed by assessors who deemed that “they [as women] had no right to vote” .
Fanny had grown up an orphan in the Foundling Hospital in London. In 1837, aged 22, she moved to the new colony of South Australia as a maid under the labourers’ free passage scheme.
By 1850, she had separated from her husband and moved to Melbourne with her four children. After gold was discovered, she pushed a wheelbarrow to Forest Creek where her sly grog tent became the most popular on the diggings. Moving on to Castlemaine she became the town’s first businesswoman running a series of restaurants, boarding houses, a bath house, and most likely a brothel.
As a woman of colour working in the male-dominated field of business, and as someone who evidence suggests engaged in the sex business to support her family, Fanny was not a character alien to discrimination, conflict, or controversy. Yet despite the myriad challenges Fanny faced, her engagement with the world was one of resistance and persistence.
When Fanny was fined the very large sum of fifty pounds for illicitly selling alcohol, she became the first woman to write a letter to the editor of her local newspaper. In it Fanny publicly accused the police of lying and bullying:
“Sir, I have no doubt that you will not allow an oppressed woman to be treated with the cruelty I have experienced…and if the Sheriff or his officer do not, in your next paper make an ample apology for the way they have acted, I shall be forced to apply to my lawyer for redress…” .
Rather than be sunk by the fine, Fanny called for the repayment of informal debts owed to her.
Fanny died on the 15th of October 1863 aged 48. She was described in her death notice as a person with “a genuine tenderness of heart, ready to serve another in distress and that too, without the slightest ostentation.” 
Sinclair, K. (2021, March 1). Kacey Sinclair: Fanny Finch’s incredible story must be told. The Canberra Times. https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/7147072/why-its-our-duty-to-know-fanny-finchs-story/