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23. 23 Retrospect

THE ATTITUDE OF THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT TO the delegates throughout was unimpeachable. Lord Salisbury offered them words of courteous welcome but otherwise remained unseen. Balfour and the Duke of Devonshire were sympathetic listeners but carefully avoided interference with their colleagues. Some of their juniors were more expansive in their expressions of friendliness, while others like Lord Halsbury [and] Lord James, from the legal point of view indicated their antagonism to their demands. Chamberlain himself was perfectly frank, straightforward, business-like, and honourable in his delicate dealings with them. He either set to work or permitted others to set to work all kinds of influences social and political, Australian and British, to influence them; and contrived by his tactics to foster, if he did not create, the discord among the colonies by which he contrived to secure what he ostensibly aimed at, a declaration of Imperial supremacy and what he almost as much desired, an alteration of the Bill which should prove the vigilance and authority of the Secretary of State for the Colonies. When confronted with the daring demand that he should father the whole of the great measure framed in Australia without presuming to touch a word or a syllable, he had regarded it as equivalent to a request for his abdication, resisting it with suppressed wrath and indomitable determination. He may after the first conference have further desired to remove the ambiguity as to the scope of the High Court in matters of Imperial concern, though he undoubtedly had cherished bolder designs upon the measure. Judging from a survey of all the circumstances, it appears more likely that he really expected to get much more than this with the delegates' consent after applying pressure to them and that his sudden reversal of policy even after bringing down the Bill and striking out clause 74 altogether, was due in part to the prospect of an immediate election at which an Opposition with any vigour could have made excellent use of the public differences between himself and the delegates, taking them to be prophetic of future troubles in Australia such as had led up to


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strife in South Africa. This would have been easy for them more especially during the public enthusiasm everywhere felt for Australians because of their brilliant services in the war, rendering it doubly difficult for him to seem to refuse anything the colonies clearly desired. In addition to this there was ground for believing that, in consequence of the campaign conducted at public dinners and private interviews, the delegates [had] succeeded in prepossessing very many influential men in the Ministry itself and of all shades of opinion out of it with the reasonable nature of their case and the danger of refusing concessions so as to chill the patriotic sentiments of even a section in Australia. Some such explanation is necessary to explain the slight ebullitions of temper manifested by Chamberlain and also to justify him and the Imperial Government in ignoring what was practically a league of all the Governors, Governments, Agents-General, the press, the great organisations and financial institutions of the Australian colonies eagerly supporting his own proposal to eliminate clause 74 altogether. He deliberately preferred to retrace his steps, abandon his amendments and concede the demand of the four men who stood alone in London without anyone except the Australian Natives' Association behind them, that the Bill as it had been passed, or the nearest possible approach to it, should be sanctioned by the mother country, and never wavered after so deciding. His astuteness enabled him to bring Queensland into line in a compromise which everyone except the four delegates disliked and would have gladly defeated. Though it is certain he only cast in his lot with them against his will, the whole credit of conducting the negotiations to a successful conclusion is his, with the additional satisfaction of having done so with dignity, consistency, and tact. No better lesson in the management of State affairs could have been given to colonial representatives too accustomed to undress methods of transacting public business in which the pettiness of the procedure, want of reticence, and indulgence in personalities of those engaged in them often disguised the real importance of the decisions arrived at under conditions unfavourable to any impressiveness. The feudal traditions and aristocratic spirit retained in British administrative life are mainly to be credited with this result. In young communities political decorum and even decency is too often sacrificed to what is called Democracy but is in fact only the intrusiveness of interests and individuals pursuing their own ends at the expense of the public interest. In Downing Street the officials concerned were polite,


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attentive, friendly but strictly non-committal and diplomatically at ease. In them Chamberlain had loyal, devoted, well-trained and capable assistants whose discipline was marked and whose work was efficient, but who never came between the wind and his nobility or for a moment distracted attention from him as their chief, the central and always dominating figure of the scene.

The impression conveyed by public life in London has already been alluded to and need only be summarised here. The British Constitution, democratic in theory because of the almost overwhelming preponderance of the elective chamber, was yet in character and working a class Government in class Chambers representing the class feeling of the bulk of the population. So far as electoral and other machinery was concerned, it might have been the most radical country in the world but took its colour and style instead as all Governments and Parliaments must from the character of its constituents. The masses talked and read a good deal of politics but were not consistently or systematically politicians, had no fixed aims and even those who might be termed party men were so in a sporting sense rather than with any clearly defined or persistent policy. These were true to their colours, enjoyed contests under them, rejoiced at victories and deplored defeats. They played fairly according to the rules of the games and went back to their businesses and the bosoms of their families to find speedy solace for any misfortunes they might have encountered in the course of events. They did not philosophise, they did not hold their creeds too profoundly, they did not brood over them or debate them except for the amusement of combat or vaticination. They took their politics like their pleasures somewhat sadly and even more spasmodically with as little theory and much less heartiness. The chief end of man was to live comfortably, to make money and to enjoy himself and the relation of the programmes submitted to them by their politicians appeared to affect any of these conditions very remotely. When the pocket was threatened by taxation or the thirst for beer by temperance proposals, the people went to the poll to resist the tyranny and to assert their freedom to do as they liked and live how they could and liked without interference of Parliament. The nation was deeply interested in the war and for the time in nothing else outside its regular and usual sports. Business was brisk, employment plentiful, Ireland quiet and so it was with almost serene indifference that it refused its ear to the advocates of party and particularly to the advocates of reform. The war must be won before the royal


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elector would consent to listen seriously to any propaganda new or old. Under such conditions any Ministry would have been strong and the Salisbury Government certainly appeared omnipotent and invulnerable as far as Parliament was concerned. The people might break out in the event of a catastrophe to the army or a scare as to the navy, but while their repose was undisturbed by such sensations they were quite content for anyone to call the tune at Westminster or elsewhere. Even the coming General Election could not arouse interest. It was a foregone conclusion that the Administration would come back with a greater majority still. And so the political world slept or only talked in its sleep at random. The Opposition was sufficiently aristocratic in its spirit to render it indistinguishable from the Ministry in this regard; it was even more strongly for Free Trade and more individualistic in temper, and Chamberlain's acuteness having forestalled it in social reform it was practically bankrupt in policy having nothing to offer which could arouse the sympathies of the general public or even appeal to any of the great interests. The Government supported by all the great interests, the Church, the Publican, the landed gentry, the titled and official classes and their tuft hunters, the professions, had the general public behind them because of the war and the working classes largely mollified by their social leanings. They were consequently in an overwhelming majority though it was far from compact or united. The Liberal party was a chaos, a few unpopular factions contending intermittently and unsuccessfully within it for its control. Without a leader and with but few capable lieutenants its condition was hopeless.

Socially London did not appear to have improved during the thirteen years except that its dinners were shorter and less wine was drunk. Judging by the gossip of the dinner tables, the morals of the nobility were sexually a neglectable quantity; doubtless the great majority were far from being great sinners but the general tone was the reverse of Puritanic. The millionaires were more in evidence; living seemed more extravagant; the women no longer appeared by day in plain morning dresses but in rich and expensive costumes; there were more carriages, more entertainments and more extravagance on every hand. To keep up the pace was more expensive than ever. Social ambitions were at least as keen and there was a more promiscuous race for distinction. The middle classes were apparently less isolated and more infected by bad examples. The wage-earners though employed appeared to be as


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improvident as ever. The public houses were at every corner and at every few steps in many quarters, busy during the day and thronged at night. The taste of the town was no higher and the morality of the theatre if anything still declining. The music halls had multiplied, the serious drama did not hold its ground. The love-making of the 'Arries and 'Arriets was more conspicuous and the general behaviour of the women less reserved. The height to which ladies of all degrees plucked up their skirts on the least excuse afforded by a wet crossing was a constant marvel to an Australian. Paint and powder were more multiplied and prostitutes if anything more in evidence, especially those of a fashionable type. The faces at aristocratic ‘At Homes’ were either keen in the business way or in the sensual among the men and the animal healthy or unhealthy was almost equally dominant among the women. A large proportion of both sexes were without visible traces of plain living or high thinking, and a small proportion of high type. The almost universal facial expression was that of worldliness relieved by a great variety of poses, selected to exhibit singularity. The intellectual and cultured elements were strong but subdued to the environment they worked in. When they went into society it seemed as if their souls were still like stars and dwelt apart. It was a Vanity Fair in fact and truth, into which the nobler and purer qualities came chiefly with the innocent young and remained with but few of their seniors. Of course intellectual gatherings were numerous and intellectual conversation frequent, artists abounded and well-read and well-travelled men and women could be met everywhere, but over the whole of them shone the superficial veneer of a society with superficial aims and tastes. The treadmill of social observances reduced almost all of them to the same mental mien and gait. The roars of the whirlpools of finance and fashion, deafening in the city, still reverberated in the drawing rooms and dining rooms at night, drowning most effectually every still small voice. Crush, rush and push vulgarised the greatest assemblages. Incessant excitement, intrigue, chatter and change forebade serious, continuous or undistracted thinking or working. Vast in size, wealth, appetite, profusion, energy and variety of life, London was apoplectic, stertorous, unwieldy, unhealthy, philistine and gross, greatly in need of a strict regimen and severe reform if it was to continue to be the centre of an Empire and the seat of its intellectual, spiritual and political government as its power, position and resources entitled it to be. Other capitals seemed and were said to possess the same characteristics.


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Paris, Rome, Berlin, Vienna, St Petersburg, Washington, New York and Chicago were of the same general temper and tendency; all of them the creations of a kind of civilisation at present supreme. It cannot be denied that Melbourne, Sydney and San Francisco were their offspring and retained the family likeness. The huge concentration of London made its characteristics more manifest than in the rest, but all alike appear to be blotches upon the face of Nature when tested by reasonably ideal standards or even by some of the realities of the country life which surrounds them, whose narrowness of range, slowness of movement and other disabilities were not intensified as were those of the cities by a divorce from Nature multiplying hideousness and the massing of millions in over-crowded tenements and monotonous employments, whose lives morally, mentally and physically unhealthy, must needs be ultimately decadent.

What impression the delegates made upon their hosts it would be difficult to say. So far as could be judged, Barton impressed them as stronger and Kingston as less determined than they were. Dickson was himself an Englishman by birth and education of a familiar type as was Fysh, whose height and appearance were rather distinguished. Barton, Kingston and Deakin on the other hand were objects of more curiosity as being of Australian birth and rearing. The breadth and massiveness of the first two and the height of the third, the fineness of Barton's head and face and the great strength of Kingston's profile render[ed] them physically favourable specimens. It was noted with surprise that they had no provincial accent and that their English was of exactly the same quality as that of their own public speakers. It was evidently felt that in their persons and utterances they proved their kinship, and the welcome extended to them was thus made warmer than was customary. The general impression as to Barton was well expressed by John Morley who likened him to Walpole whose strong sagacity and steady purpose rendered [him] invaluable in his time. Kingston was somewhat more suspiciously treated, especially after his letters attacking the Australian Chief Justices, and he was partly in consequence underrated, except perhaps by those immediately associated with him. His influence upon Barton was great and the letter which the latter published in The Times contained in the first draft long passages of personalities inserted at his instigation but which were struck out because Deakin emphatically refused to endorse one of them. Kingston submitted his first letter to The Times to Barton who approved and to Deakin


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who again objected. It was then altered partly in accordance with his suggestions but published as only seen by Barton because Kingston knew that Deakin objected to all attacks upon persons in Australia, except if necessary when made in Australia where they would have an equal and ready means of reply. His theory of conduct was that the stronger and more resolute their action, the gentler and more courteous their language ought to be. Nothing of these circumstances were referred to by any of them, but some hint of the part played even in their secret councils appears to have transpired, since on arriving at Adelaide upon his return Deakin was invited to make an appointment for that afternoon to see the Governor, Lord Tennyson, through whom the Colonial Office had most frequently communicated during the mission and in regard to its various proposed compromises. He privately informed Deakin that he was instructed from the highest authorities in the Colonial Office to convey to him their assurance that they fully appreciated his services because from their knowledge of the facts they were perfectly aware of what they owed to his conciliatory efforts. They wished him to understand that to him more than to any of his colleagues they attributed the finally satisfactory compromise which had been secured. Lord Tennyson was particular in impressing upon him that this intimation came not merely from one source, but from the heads of the Office, presumably Chamberlain, Herbert and Lord Ampthill, and therefore apparently was intended to refer to all the negotiations public and private and not merely those which were strictly official.

All the delegates were welcomed with enthusiasm upon their return, even by those who had opposed them by cable and had censured them in public meetings or through the press. The Bill was passed and all Australia was rejoicing. The new clause 74 though not popular was more acceptable to the critics than that which it had replaced. There was an undercurrent of surprise and admiration that the four men on the spot and subject to all the influences of London should have resisted so long and so firmly and have at last at least divided honours with the redoubtable Chamberlain and the great Government to which he belonged. In addition to this there were the eager crowd of those who had Federal expectations or ambitions and who hastened to prostrate themselves before the rising sun. Deakin and Barton especially were accorded triumphal entries to their respective colonies where they maintained a strict reticence in regard to their treatment by their Governments and by those who had attacked them in the rear


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when they were making their stand in London. The mission was over, it was acclaimed as a success, and they were applauded for their services. What more could be desired?

The tale Dickson had to tell was embellished even from his own point of view. He dwelt upon his own isolation at a time when he had his own Government openly and all the other Australian Governments tacitly behind him when he was hand in glove with Chamberlain and the British Government whose guest he was and when every financial interest and organization in England and Australia was sustaining him against his four colleagues. Nothing was said as to the instructions upon which he was appointed and which were never withdrawn or upon the loyalty he owed to his colleagues of first acquainting them with his proposed change of front instead of allying himself secretly with their bitterest opponents for some days before he gave them warning of his intention. Even this however provoked no reply from any of them. The Commonwealth Act was upon the Imperial Statute Book practically unamended and as far as the embassy was concerned ‘The Rest is Silence.’ (13.9.900)note

Something remains to be added in the shape of an Epilogue. All History takes on the appearance of inevitableness after the event. Looking backward the future will be tempted to say that Australian Union was Australia's destiny from the first and that nothing could have prevented its consummation. But if this be true, it is certainly not true of its present accomplishment, whatever might have resulted in later times, hereafter, with other men and other means. If Victoria had not pressed in the Federal Council after 1884, in all probability Parkes would not have declared for Union when and as he did. His efforts a little later if made at all would have been sterilised by the financial famine and wreckage which obstructed all political action for several years. It seems most probable that if he had not been spurred to action in 1890 he would not have acted at all. It is still more manifest that if Reid had not been in fear of Parkes he would not have revived the movement when and as he did and that, failing at this time, he would not have been coerced as he afterwards was into transforming himself from an opponent into a supporter of the Bill at the second Referendum. If the Turner Government had not been galvanised into action prior to the first Referendum, the battle in Victoria would have been much more serious than it was and the future conduct of the campaigns very different and in different hands. The coming in of Queensland and of Western


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Australia depended upon the peculiar exigencies of Dickson and Forrest. These are but a few of the more obvious contingencies which beset its progress at every step, while the death [or] withdrawal of one or two Federal leaders or of Reid by the carriage accident he met [with] when fighting as an anti-Federalist to defeat Barton in the latter's candidature for Hastings and Macleay, would have certainly revolutionised the whole subsequent course of affairs.

The fortunes of Federalism have visibly trembled in the balance twenty times during the past ten years and have from the first moment to the last been subject to endless unforeseen and unpreventable interruptions, any one of which might have indefinitely postponed its triumph. Again and again it was made the sport of Ministries and Parliaments and local agitations and just as often, indeed at every step, it benefited by their necessities and purely selfish actions. It is scarcely too much to say that with very few exceptions the decisive steps which have led to success were taken with other or ulterior objects by the public men responsible for them. Few were those in each colony who made genuine sacrifices to the cause without thought or hope of gain. The stimulus to the electors as to their representatives was chiefly the prospect of financial gain, though the desire for fame and for association with so great a work counted for a great deal among the chief actors. The enthusiasm for union without which the merely selfish energy would have died down and disappeared many times, swayed all to some extent but was the dominating factor only among the young, the imaginative, and those whose patriotism was Australian or Imperial. This feeling of loyalty was the mainspring of the whole movement and its constant motive power. It was mainly unselfish in the masses and was accompanied on the part of some with a willingness to make sacrifices for the general good expected to ensue. With the majority, the emotion was its own reward and the ideal its own sufficient attraction. Regarded as a whole, it is safe to say that if ever anything ought to be styled providential it is the extraordinary combination of circumstances, persons and their most intricate interrelations of which the Commonwealth is about to become the crown. To say it was fated to be is to say nothing to the purpose. Any one of a thousand minor incidents might have deferred it for years or generations. To those who watched its inner workings, followed its fortunes as if their own, and lived the life of devotion to it day by day, its actual accomplishment must always appear to have been secured by a series of miracles. (14.9.900)note

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