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14. CHAPTER XIV

REVIEW OF MY POLITICAL LIFE—AN ATTEMPTED ESTIMATE OF MY PUBLIC WORK—THE GROWTH OF THE COUNTRY

I HOLD the opinion that any man of a fair average degree of commonsense, combined with an innate love of the truth, can judge more accurately of his own work in life, where it stands untainted by sinister bias, than any observer can judge of it. Of course, I do not for a moment mean any part of conduct, where the individual is charged with absolute wrong-doing, and where evidence has to be adduced to substantiate the charge against him or to clear his character. But I mean, that, in the ordinary events of a human life, where the judgment and will are left free to decide, the man himself knows best the motives that actuated, the considerations that governed, and the circumstances that gave shape to, his line of conduct in any given instance. Guided largely by this opinion, I enter upon a retrospect, with some effort at examination, of my own public life of over forty years.

I believe myself to be a proud, but thoroughly unselfish, man, with a fervent and unchanging love of my fellow-creatures. I am proud of my strength to stand alone, of my power to resist forces brought against me, of the conquests I have made by my own energy and


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perseverance; but I feel no pride in place or position, or in the possession of the gifts of fortune, which indeed have been few with me. I have never known what it is to feel envy of others more favoured than myself, and I have never withheld my last shilling from those who needed it more than I. The influence of these feelings will explain much in my conduct which men have misunderstood.

I doubt if any man ever started in life with definite objects set before him, which he has steadily and unswervingly laboured to accomplish. No one can believe that of Napoleon Bonaparte in the field of war, or of Mr. Gladstone in the field of peace. New revelations of mental light, new accumulations of moral force, new developments in surrounding conditions, new appearances of material agency, and, inwardly, new springs in the current of thought and meditation, must wonderfully change the relative importance of objects and the practicability of means to their attainment. But in every human life, above the lowest type, there must be a supreme bent or passion—there must be guiding lights, more or less constant, from the activity of the intellect and the conscience. In Napoleon the love of material power and conquest was ever predominant; in Mr. Gladstone the desire to elevate his fellow-countrymen in the scale of national life has always prevailed.

Looking back upon my own efforts in the young public life of Australia, I feel conscious of having pursued three clear purposes, at times held with a relaxed grasp through the pressure of adverse circumstances,


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but never lost to sight. I have tried my utmost to win the first place in Australian progress for New South Wales; without abating one jot of my loyalty to the dear mother-colony, I have tried, as occasion has served, to promote the sentiment and to strengthen the nascent ties of Australian union; and, through good and evil report, I have clung to the idea of the expanding greatness and the integrity of the Empire. Forty-three years ago—seven years before the introduction of Responsible Government—I was the person who originated the first movement in Australia for the extension of the elective franchise, with the result that both the household and freehold qualifications of electors were reduced to one-half of what they were previously. My first appearance at a public meeting was to resist the influx of English criminals, in which I never relaxed my efforts until the struggle ended in triumph. After my election to the Legislature, my early labours were directed to much-needed reforms in the public institutions of the colony. Within the first year of my life as a Minister, I succeeded in passing the Public Schools Act of 1866, which laid the foundation of our present magnificent system of primary instruction.

At the close of 1856 I retired from the Legislative Assembly with the view of devoting all my time and energies to the daily journal then on my hands. If at that time—thirty-six years ago—I had ceased to live, my death would have been generally deplored, so strong was the feeling of public confidence which my conduct had awakened in the country. Public meetings were called to testify the approval and respect of my fellow-colonists,


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and the following is the announcement of the business which was to be submitted at the last of these meetings:—

Testimonial to Henry Parkes, Esq.

Pursuant to resolutions unanimously passed at two public meetings held at the Royal Hotel, a public meeting of the friends and admirers of Henry Parkes, Esq., will be held at the Lyceum Theatre, York Street, this day, Monday, February 2, at two o'clock P.M. precisely.

The Honourable Charles Cowper, M.P., has kindly consented to take the chair.

The following resolutions will be submitted to the meeting:—

  • 1. That this meeting is unanimously of opinion that the public services of Henry Parkes, Esq., in the patriotic efforts which he has made for many years past to advance civil liberty, social progress, and good government, demand the sincere and grateful acknowledgment of every Australian colonist.
  • 2. That upon Mr. Parkes's retirement, probably for a long period, from public life, this meeting desires that a suitable and permanent memorial should be established of the high estimation of his public virtues by his fellow-colonists, and that a subscription be opened for the purpose of raising funds for the purchase of an estate, to be vested in trustees for the benefit of Mr. Parkes's family.
  • 3. That the earnest co-operation of the Australian colonists in promoting the objects of this meeting be solicited, and that gentlemen favourable thereto be invited to aid in forming local committees, and in soliciting subscriptions in aid of the proposed testimonial.

G. C. REID,

Honorary Secretary.

I, however, so soon as the movement assumed a definite form, stepped in and stopped the proceedings. I had never favoured testimonials, however genuine in


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character, and I can most sincerely avow that I desired to be left undisturbed to follow the course I had marked out for myself in the field of journalism. I therefore addressed the following letter to the Secretary of the movement:—

Sydney, January 21, 1857.

My dear Sir,—Until I saw the report of the meeting held yesterday at the Royal Hotel, I did not know who were interesting themselves on my behalf in getting up this proposed testimonial, and I did not see my way to interfere in the business. I think it is right, however, that I should now communicate to you, in order that you may explain to the committee that has been appointed, my feelings on the subject.

In the first place, I think the public should be slow to stamp the services of any man with a special mark of their approval, for honours of this kind can only retain their value by reason of the just claims of the persons on whom they are bestowed. Entertaining this opinion, I cannot persuade myself that I have any merits to entitle me to a distinction so altogether personal. If I have been fortunate enough to effect any amount of good in the share I have taken in public life, I would rather have it entirely lost sight of than over-estimated by my fellow-citizens. In either case the good could not in reality be made greater or less; but it would be more grateful to one's self-respect to rest upon something that remained for ever unacknowledged than to feel conscious of having accepted a distinction undeserved. On the broadest ground that can be assumed, I think my friends would best consult the public interest and my individual reputation by abandoning their intention in regard to me.

In the second place, even if I could believe that my claims to public consideration were greater than my warmest friends can possibly make them out to be, I have a kind of horror of testimonials. My sense of justice, I am bound to say, is against them. Merit, wherever it exists, will work out its own most fitting reward. If men cannot achieve something to stand as a memorial of their own lives, it is best that they should pass


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away without any attempt of friendly hands to magnify their littleness. I am quite content to submit myself to that inexorable trier of men's actions, Time, and to take my chance of being swept away.

Moreover, I desire above all things, just now, to be allowed to work in quiet. The duties that lie nearest to me require this for their performance. I am gratefully sensible of the kindness of my friends, which I shall ever remember; but that kindness will manifest itself in the form most desired by yielding to the wishes expressed in this letter.

I am, my dear Sir,

Yours very truly,

HENRY PARKES.

Mr. G. C. Reid, Secretary to Committee.

The meeting was held in the Lyceum Theatre at two o'clock in the afternoon, and was largely attended by leading men, few of whom are now living—indeed, I only know of two, Mr. Richard Jones and Sir William Windeyer. Among the speakers, the late Right Hon. W. B. Dalley is thus reported:—

Mr. DALLEY, M.P., in answer to loud and repeated calls, came forward and said he regretted, as he had no doubt they all regretted, that their proceedings this evening would not be of that distinctively national character that he was sure they all wished they should be. He regretted that what he considered would have been a great expression of public feeling on the retirement from public life of one of the greatest and purest of their public men—he regretted that such an expression of opinion had been stifled by the action of the gentleman himself whom they were prepared to honour. With that delicacy of feeling which had ever characterised him, whether he appeared in the Legislative Assembly or elsewhere, Mr. Parkes had declined the great public distinction his friends were prepared to offer him. Whether in doing so he had done wisely or not,


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was a question which it did not become them at the present moment to consider; but that he had done so from a conscientious belief that he was pursuing a right course they might rest assured. At all events, when the curtain fell between him and the public—that curtain which for a time concealed him from them as a public man—it was rung down with the universal applause of the country. From end to end of the whole colony, from every journal throughout the country, from the lips of every man in the country whose good opinion was worth having, testimony to the purity of Mr. Parkes's public conduct, to the earnestness of his services, and to the value of the services he rendered, had been on all sides afforded. So that whether they consummated this act or not—whether they carried out the public testimonial proposed or not—still on record the approval of his conduct by his country lived, and he therefore did not require this testimonial, whether it assumed a pecuniary or other shape, to guarantee to him that his name would survive and be respected by his country.

The late Sir John Robertson, who had recently taken up his residence in Sydney, having previously lived in a remote part of the country, spoke in a similar strain. I give only a short extract from his speech:—

He was quite sure, from his knowledge of the interior, that in every hamlet, village, and town, the most popular man was Mr. Parkes. Not only was he the most popular, but it was a libel on the pastoral and agricultural interests to say that Mr. Parkes was only the friend of those resident in towns, for he was the friend of the whole country, and it was their duty to stand by him, as he hoped would do every man in the country.

One of the most accomplished men in the colony at that period was the Classical Professor of the University of Sydney, the late Dr. John Woolley, D.C.L. I was gratified by receiving from Dr. Woolley the following letter:—




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Lindesay, January 24, 1857.

My dear Mr. Parkes,—My temporary change of residence prevented me from being aware of the meeting in time to attend. I got Mr. Reid's circular at the hour when our friends were assembling. This I could not help very much regretting. It is only natural that we should wish to express our sense of your past public services, and our earnest and cordial anticipations of a long future, which shall secure you in the hearts of all generations of Australians, ‘monumentum ære perennius.’

However, I for one, though I have some reasons for preferring a public demonstration just now, enjoy too much the sentiments expressed in the letter which you kindly sent me, to persist in the matter to your annoyance. I shall not be foremost in pressing on the plan against your wish; but if the majority of your friends persist, you will excuse my joining them. It is one thing to consult your feelings—another to omit a public recognition of your public character; if such a recognition is made, at all events, no one, I think, ought to hold back on the ground of your personal objection.

I cannot help adding, that I am delighted and not surprised, at the manly and generous sentiments contained in your letter to Mr. Reid; they come like the fresh breeze from a free mountain side. It does one good to think that we have some real men amongst us. God grant, my dear sir, that you may be spared to take that part in the development of the moral and material interests of this country which I know you desire, and which, I am confident, will make your name as familiar to our children as that of Hampden and Cromwell.

Believe me,

Very truly yours,

JOHN WOOLLEY.

In venturing to give prominence to this early incident in my political life I have been actuated by one or two reasons. It rises from the far realms of the past, when I look back over the thirty-six intervening years


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of storm and sunshine, and it brings with it the freshness of our youth as a self-governing people. It seems to afford evidence of the beginning of what, I believe, has become an ingrained feature in my public character, the refusal of my very nature to seek support, approbation, or honour. Though I have passed through some thirty contested elections, I have never canvassed for a single vote. Though my name has been appended to the appointment of many hundreds of magistrates, I have never accepted the office of magistrate myself. When approached as to whether it would be agreeable to me to have my name submitted for some mark of Royal favour, I instantly declined to be a consenting party to any such distinction even at the hands of my gracious Sovereign. I have always held that honour would lose its lustre, and public position its dignity and importance, if not voluntarily bestowed by those who had power to bestow; if not won by the recipient on his simple merits.

As an administrator, I have been slow—perhaps to a fault—in giving my assent to new expenditure, increase of salary, or any change suddenly proposed. I have held that, if the thing was justifiable and good in itself, it could not suffer from such delay as was necessary for careful examination, and I have felt that there were many unseen influences in the public service, which naturally conflict with the views of economy or reduction, that affect a Minister, and therefore had to be guarded against. At the same time, I have tried to separate and distinguish between the things that admitted of no delay, and the things


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where delay would be salutary and beneficial in its winnowing effect. Nor have I hesitated to encounter risk with decision and promptitude, where circumstances appeared to warrant it. With arbitrary haste and against formidable obstacles, I have sent troops to a distance to prevent an outbreak likely to be attended with bloodshed. Repeatedly I have brought the arm of the Police to bear with proportioned force on disturbed conditions, where the peace of society appeared to be in danger. But in these cases my success has been my justification. In other cases I have entered into transactions involving large expenditure, without the authority of Parliament, where my judgment has told me that the result would justify my action. In one instance, I unhesitatingly spent 100,000l. in the purchase of a property absolutely necessary for the extension of the Metropolitan Railway station. If it had been made publicly known, that the Government required this property, a much higher price—probably double the sum—must have been paid for it. Other similar instances might be stated. Parliament, however, has never questioned the wisdom of these transactions. But while doing this, I have seldom allowed a private letter to pass out of my hands with a postage stamp upon it for which the Government had paid, nor do I think that I have once in my official life used a Government launch on the waters of Port Jackson for my private recreation or convenience, though others have indulged in the extravagant employment of these tempting vessels. In my intercourse with the civil servants of the country, I have laid down the rule to


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treat them with uniform courtesy as gentlemen, while observing that distance which is necessary to enable the Minister to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in the public interest. On the subject of promotion, I have always contended that length of service should be fully considered, but not allowed to outweigh superior fitness for duty. And I have persistently guarded myself against favouring members of my own family.

In the province of legislation, I have anxiously endeavoured to preserve and enforce the distinction between matters of principle and matters of expediency, as in my judgment forming the basis of sound laws. A pertinent illustration of my meaning may be drawn from the existing Public Works Act of New South Wales, which I claim to be my own measure. Previous to the year 1888, the practice in the colony in obtaining Parliamentary sanction for new public works was this:—The Minister submitted his scheme, with the plans and books of reference prepared by his officers, and, on his explanation, the political majority supporting the Government voted for his proposal, often with little or no enquiry. The design of the new Act is to enforce the Minister's responsibility, to secure the reality of Parliamentary approval, and to check or defeat improvident proposals. Thus, the Minister is still responsible for the proposal he submits, but after his explanation, instead of going to a loose vote as hitherto, the Parliament, on his motion, refers his scheme for investigation and report to a tribunal consisting of its own members, drawn from both Houses and both sides; and on this committee's report the matter is then proceeded with or


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deferred for future action. The principle of Ministerial responsibility and the principle of Parliamentary authority over Government, so far from being impaired, are both strengthened, so long as the integrity of the law is maintained. But there are persons who, labouring under some notion of securing professional competency, have proposed to substitute for the joint Parliamentary Committee a committee of experts, losing all sight of the one transcendent principle of the authority of Parliament in the expenditure of the national revenues. Again, members of Parliament, impatient of obstacles in the way of some work (possibly a railway) in which their constituents are interested, have submitted motions that it be referred to the Public Works Committee for enquiry, regardless of the letter and spirit of provisions of the law, as just explained, by which the Minister alone, on his responsibility, must move the reference.

In the law making provision for primary education in New South Wales, some points of pure principle are engrafted which distinguish it from the Education Acts of other colonies. Though, for all practical purposes, education is brought to every child's home, still a small fee is charged, threepence for each child, with the two-fold object of keeping alive the parent's interest and responsibility, and saving the system from the stamp of eleemosynary support. Again, although the system is strictly non-sectarian, it is not in the hard sense secular; it admits Scripture lesson-books which teach the cardinal principles of Christianity; and it allows religious teachers to collect the children of their denomination and instruct them for a limited time apart


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from the other pupils, but in no way to interfere with the discipline of the school. Of course there are reformers who would sweep away the fees, and reformers who would banish the name of religion from the schools. It is so easy to ‘sweep away’ and to ‘abolish.’ But then the system of primary education was not established to carry out any idea of charity, or to make children strangers to the faith of their fathers. The object was to place within the reach of all—the children of rich and poor alike—the soundest and best quality of primary instruction, leaving parents to adopt their own course according to their means and their desires, in the later stages of school age. In these distinguishing features I hold, that the Parliament, which sanctioned and established the system, took an enlightened view of the true interests of the country; and it is to be hoped that neither empirics nor demagogues, for the sake of a little cheap popularity, will be allowed to tamper with the foundation so wisely and firmly laid.

Again, on the question of fixing by law the hours of labour, it has always appeared to my mind that, from the moment when the advocates of eight hours enter the domain of compulsory legislation, another question of far vaster concern to society arises. Can the Legislature determine the number of hours of labour for a free citizen, who is in the possession of his health and strength, and all his rights and privileges and the mental capacity to direct his own movements, without a flagrant invasion of his individual freedom? The question is not one of eight hours, or of nine, or of seven hours; but it is whether the law shall interfere with a free man in the


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exercise of his right to labour in his own way, according to his own will and sense of duty. If one man is protected in his rights of property, shall not the man who has no property be protected in his rights of labour? And is a free Legislature morally justified in exercising this species of tyranny over the subjects of a free country? Thus, while I have always favoured the eight hours’ movement (believing that eight hours is a sufficient allotment from the twenty-four for honest labour), I have insisted that it should be settled by reason and consultation, and be made a matter of bargain and engagement like all other matters between employer and employed. And, beyond all this, I have contended that the Legislature cannot fix the hours of labour, because there is no finality in its decisions; that in extending our acquiescence to the fixing of the hours at eight, we only acknowledge the competency of the Legislature to fix the hours, it may be eight or it may be eighteen, according to the legislative will for the time being.

As in these measures, so in others, I cannot deny myself the satisfaction of believing that my influence has tended to conserve the good, to eradicate the evil, to strengthen the energy and to elevate the sentiment in the national character. The growth of the colony in which I have lived and laboured has been amazing in my time. If I dare not claim any large positive share in its advancement, I have little fear of being accused by posterity of having created obstacles in its path of progress. I joined its scanty population when it was little more than a scattered settlement, and I


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have lived to see it entering into the noble fraternity of nations. Others will arise to examine more critically the work I have done; I can only say that it has been done with an honest purpose.

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