previous
next



  ― 26 ―

2. CHAPTER II

THE STRUGGLE FOR PARLIAMENTARY GOVERNMENT

THE party brought into existence by the opposition to the pro-transportation policy of the English Government, even while the cause of that bitter agitation was dying away, found a fresh field for its activity in resisting the unpopular proposals of Mr. Wentworth and the men who had taken in hand the business of framing a new Constitution for the colony. Mr. Wentworth's name is the name most justly associated with the free Constitution which came into operation in 1856, and under which the colony is still governed. He had in past years, before the advent of the imperfect representative system of 1843, made himself popular by his sturdy condemnation of the arbitrary conduct of Governor Darling; by that and other services he had secured a place in the public regard superior to that occupied by any of his contemporaries. Endowed by nature with a powerful physical frame and large capacities of mind, Mr. Wentworth had been educated at Cambridge, and trained for the Bar. After a residence of some years in England, he returned to the colony and engaged in the practice of his profession, at the same time, in conjunction with an English friend, Dr.


  ― 27 ―
Wardell, establishing a Liberal newspaper called ‘The Australasian.’Dr. Wardell, who is reputed to have been a man of large ability, was shot by a party of bush-rangers whom he surprised in the bush a few miles from Sydney, and attempted to arrest; but Mr. Wentworth, with other friends, supported ‘The Australasian’for a considerable time as the strenuous organ of Liberal thought and opinion. Steadily exposing the abuses of Government and supporting Liberal principles, he naturally grew to be regarded as the leading patriot of those early days. Soon after his election for Sydney in 1843, he began to move in the cause of a fuller system of self-government for the colony. He was saturated with Lord Durham's report on the constitutional grievances of Canada, and stimulated to activity by his intercourse with liberal-minded men in England; and there is no ground for doubting his sincerity in espousing the cause of the people. But it may be, with just reason, doubted whether the phrase so often idly used, ‘The People,’ever in his mind included the masses of his fellow-men. Mr. Wentworth spoke of the people as the old conventional Whig gentlemen of England spoke of the people a hundred years ago. When indignantly repelling the charges, which were often made against him between the years 1847 and 1854, of having abandoned his former Radical principles, I once heard him myself exclaim, in vindication of his political consistency, that he was never a Radical, but always a Whig. Constitutional reform with him meant putting an end to government from Downing Street, and handing over the affairs of the colony, including the public lands, to his own


  ― 28 ―
class. During the last few years of his public life, before his departure for England in 1854, he became irritated and embittered by the opposition he met with, and by seeing his popularity of a former period departing from him; and he seemed to be carried away by the fear of some imaginary ascendency of mob-rule. It thus came about that almost insensibly he veered round from the opinions by which he first made himself known. His writings in ‘The Australasian,’his violent and unsparing condemnation of Governor Darling, and, at a much later period, his assaults upon the character of Governor Sir George Gipps, were on record in marked contrast to his conduct from 1848 to 1854. As some proof that he had changed his opinions, on arriving in England in 1854 he became a member of the Conservative Club; and at one time he was spoken of subsequently as a candidate in the Conservative interest for Liverpool.

For some years after the first elections to the partly elective Council in 1843, Mr. Wentworth's proceedings on behalf of constitutional changes in the government of the colony attracted comparatively little notice from the bulk of the inhabitants. The population was widely scattered, the means of discussion were few and imperfect, even the newspapers in Sydney were weakly conducted and of limited circulation. But to Mr. Wentworth belongs the great merit of forcing public attention to the ‘wrongs’of the colony, and with unwearied labours urging their ‘redress.’In 1844 the Legislative Council, not long in existence, adopted a protest at his instance against the withholding of the rights of self-government


  ― 29 ―
from the colony. In every session afterwards he battered at the door of the Secretary of State with his burden of ‘grievances.’In 1851, the English Minister, Earl Grey, sent out to Governor Sir Charles FitzRoy an ‘Act for the better government of Her Majesty's Australian Colonies’ [the Constitution Act 13 & 14 Vict. cap. 59], which provided, among other things, for the separation of the district of Port Phillip from New South Wales, and its erection into the colony of Victoria. It also contained provisions for the separation, on petition from the inhabitant householders, of certain parts of the territory lying northward, and their erection into a separate colony or colonies (now the colony of Queensland). In the first Council, the City of Melbourne was represented by one and the district of Port Phillip by five members. Before that first Council ceased to exist, Mr. Wentworth, on May 1, 1851, moved another Declaration and Remonstrance, which is so important as one of the foundation-stones of the fabric of our constitutional liberties, that I do not hesitate to copy it here from the Votes and Proceedings of the time:—

We, the Legislative Council of New South Wales, in Council assembled, feel it to be a duty which we owe to ourselves, to our constituents, and to posterity, before we give place to the New Legislature established by the 13 & 14 Vict., cap. 59, to record our deep disappointment and dissatisfaction at the Constitution conferred by that Act on this Colony. After the reiterated reports, resolutions, addresses, and petitions which have proceeded from us during the whole course of our legislative career, against the Schedules appended to the 5 & 6 Vict., cap. 76, and the appropriations of our Ordinary Revenue


  ― 30 ―
under the sole authority of Parliament—against the administration of our Waste Lands, and our Territorial Revenue thence arising—against the withholding of the Customs Department from our control—against the dispensation of the patronage of the Colony at the dictation of the Minister for the Colonies—and against the veto reserved and exercised by the same Minister, in the name of the Crown, in matters of Local Legislation —we feel that we had a right to expect that these undoubted grievances would have been redressed by the 13 & 14 Vict. cap. 59; or that power to redress them would have been conferred on the constituent bodies thereby created, with the avowed intention of establishing an authority more competent than Parliament itself to frame suitable Constitutions for the whole group of the Australian Colonies. These our reasonable expectations have been utterly frustrated. The Schedules, instead of being abolished, have been increased. The powers of altering the appropriations in these Schedules, conferred on the Colonial Legislature by this new Act, limited as these powers are, have been, in effect, nullified by the subsequent instructions of the Colonial Minister. The exploded fallacies of the Wake-field theory are still clung to; the pernicious Land Sales Act (5 & 6 Vict. cap. 36) is still enforced; and thousands of our fellow-subjects (in consequence of the undue price put by that mischievous and impolitic enactment upon our waste lands, in defiance of the precedents of the United States, of Canada, and the other North American Colonies, and even of the neighbouring Colony of the Cape of Good Hope), are annually diverted from our shores, and thus forced against their will to seek a home for themselves and their children in the backwoods of America. Nor is this all. Our Territorial Revenue, diminished as it is by this most mistaken policy, is in a great measure confined to the introduction among us of people unsuited to our wants, and in many instances, the outpourings of the poor-houses and unions of the United Kingdom, instead of being applied in directing to this Colony a stream of vigorous and efficient labour, calculated to elevate the character of our industrial population. The bestowal of office among us, with but


  ― 31 ―
partial exception, is still exercised by or at the nomination of the Colonial Minister, and without any reference to the just claims of the Colonists, as if the Colony itself were but the fief of that Minister. The salaries of the Officers of the Customs and all other departments of Government, included in the Schedules, are placed beyond our control; and the only result of this new enactment, introduced into Parliament by the Prime Minister himself, with the declared intention of conferring upon us enlarged powers of self-government and treating us, at last, as an integral portion of the Empire—is, that all the material powers exercised for centuries by the House of Commons are still withheld from us; that our loyalty and desire for the maintenance of order and good government are so far distrusted that we are not permitted to vote our own Civil List, lest it might prove inadequate to the requirements of the public service; that our Waste Lands, and our Territorial Revenue, for which Her Majesty is but a trustee, instead of being spontaneously surrendered as the equivalent for such Civil List, is still reserved, to the great detriment of all classes of Her Majesty's subjects, in order to swell the patronage and power of the Ministers of the Crown; that whilst, in defiance of the Declaratory Act (18 Geo. III. cap. 12, sec. 1), which has hitherto been considered the Magna Charta of the representative rights of all the British Plantations, a large amount of our Public Revenue is thus levied and appropriated by the authority of Parliament, we have not even the consolation of seeing that portion of it which is applied to the payment of the Salaries of our Public Officers distributed as it ought to be, among the settled inhabitants; and that, as a fit climax to this system of misrule, we are not allowed to exercise the most ordinary legislation which is not subject to the veto of the Colonial Minister.

Thus circumstanced, we feel that, on the eve of the dissolution of this Council, and as the closing act of our legislative existence, no other course is open to us but to enter on our Journals our declaration, protest, and remonstrance, as well against the Act of Parliament itself (13 & 14 Vict. cap. 59) as against the instructions of the Minister by which the small


  ― 32 ―
power of retrenchment that Act confers on the Colonial Legislature has been thus overridden; and to bequeath the redress of the grievances, which we have been unable to effect by constitutional means, to the Legislative Council by which we are about to be succeeded.

We, the Legislative Council of New South Wales, do accordingly hereby solemnly protest, insist, and declare as follows:—

1st.—That the Imperial Parliament has not, nor of right ought to have, any power to tax the people of this Colony, or to appropriate any of the monies levied by authority of the Colonial Legislature;—that this power can only be lawfully exercised by the Colonial Legislature;—and that the Imperial Parliament has solemnly disclaimed this power by the 18 Geo. III. cap. 12, sec. 1, which Act remains unrepealed.

2nd.—That the Revenue arising from the Public Lands, derived as it is ‘mainly’ from the value imparted to them by the labour and capital of the people of this Colony, is as much their property as the ordinary Revenue, and ought therefore to be subject only to the like control and appropriation.

3rd.—That the Customs and all other Departments should be subject to the direct supervision and control of the Colonial Legislature; which should have the appropriation of the gross Revenues of the Colony, from whatever source arising; and as a necessary incident to this authority, the regulation of the salaries of all Colonial Officers.

4th.—That offices of trust and emolument should be conferred only on the settled inhabitants, the office of Governor alone excepted; that this Officer should be appointed and paid by the Crown; and that the whole patronage of the Colony should be vested in him and the Executive Council, unfettered by instructions from the Minister for the Colonies.

5th.—That plenary powers of legislation should be conferred upon and exercised by the Colonial Legislature, for the time being; and that no Bills should be reserved for the signification of Her Majesty's Pleasure, unless they affect the Prerogatives of the Crown, or the general interests of the Empire.

Solemnly protesting against these wrongs, and declaring


  ― 33 ―
and insisting upon these our undoubted rights, we leave the redress of the one and the assertion of the other to the people whom we represent, and the Legislature which shall follow us.

W. C. WENTWORTH,

Chairman of Select Committee.

This Declaration and Remonstrance was adopted on division by eighteen ayes to eight noes, the noes consisting of all the office-holders and two nominee members, and the ayes of the elective members and two nominees.

The struggle for a Constitution similar in scope and outline to that of England had now fairly taken hold of the people; but the popular struggle had expanded beyond Mr. Wentworth's control, and it was soon to eventuate in equal electoral districts, a residential suffrage, and voting by ballot. The Legislative Council elected under the provisions of the new Imperial Act without loss of time renewed the constitutional struggle under Mr. Wentworth's leadership. In his despatches the Secretary of State, Earl Grey, combated the statements and arguments put forth in the Remonstrance of the old Council, and stoutly maintained the soundness of his own views on all points. But the public began to take a more earnest interest in the several questions raised by the Council's debates, and a surprising vitality was infused into the demands for a full measure of self-government by the complete victory which had been achieved by the Anti-Transportation League. In 1852 two events occurred—a change of Ministry in England and the gold discoveries in Australia—which


  ― 34 ―
had much to do with hastening the introduction of Responsible Government. The Russell Ministry fell by the successful assault on their Militia Bill by Lord Palmerston, and Lord Derby formed his first Ministry with Sir John Pakington at the Colonial Office in the place of Earl Grey. The effect of the gold discovery in New South Wales was described by Mr. Wentworth as precipitating the colony into a nation. It fell to the lot of Sir John Pakington to take up the task of Earl Grey in dealing with the Petitions and Remonstrances from the mother colony, and he set about the work in a way which must have disgusted his philosophical predecessor. In a despatch dated December 15, 1852, the new Secretary of State for the Colonies says that the Ministers, after deliberating upon the Petition from the Legislative Council, have been fully impressed with a sense of the importance to be attached to that Petition, not only as proceeding from a great majority of the Legislature of the Province, but as reiterating that statement of the causes of discontent felt by the community which had been deliberately urged by their predecessors upon the attention of Her Majesty's then Government —a statement, moreover, which was accompanied by your assurance that its sentiments were shared by the most loyal, respectable, and influential members of the community.

The despatch proceeds:—

But they are influenced, in addition, by considerations arising from those extraordinary discoveries of gold which have lately taken place in some of the Australian Colonies, and which may be said to have imparted new and unforeseen features to their political and social condition. They are sensible that they have now to consider the prayer of the Petition thus laid before


  ― 35 ―
Her Majesty with reference to a state of affairs which has no parallel in history, and which must, in all human probability, stimulate the advance of population, wealth, and material prosperity with a rapidity alike unparalleled.

The general conclusions at which the new Minister had arrived were virtually to yield on all heads to the demands of the colony. Her Majesty's Government, the despatch continues, in reference to the revenue to be derived from the disposal of the public lands, ‘are willing to rely in this, as in other respects, on the foresight and political judgment’of the Colonial Legislature; and the wish of the Government is definitely expressed that the Legislative Council, under the provisions of the existing Constitution Act, should proceed to frame a new Constitution in accordance with the outlines so repeatedly and persistently presented for the sovereign's sanction. The Derby Ministry had a short lease of power, and the Duke of Newcastle succeeded Sir John Pakington at the Colonial Office. In a despatch of January 18, 1853, to Governor FitzRoy, the Duke says, ‘My colleagues and myself cordially adopt the conclusions of Her Majesty's late Government respecting the future administration of the Waste Lands of the Crown,’ and inferentially the other important matters embraced in the Petitions and Remonstrances. He then adds:—

I am ignorant of the shape which the project under the consideration of the Committee of the Council may eventually assume. The Legislative Council, indeed, in the Petition before adverted to, favoured a Constitution similar in its outline to that of Canada. It would be premature for me, without materials for forming a judgment, to pass an opinion upon the


  ― 36 ―
policy of totally reconstructing the frame of Government recently established; but I may state that I have always thought it probable that the experience and wisdom of the Council would dictate better provisions than Parliament for securing good government in New South Wales, and promoting harmony in the connection subsisting between Great Britain and this important Province of the Empire.

Thus within two years after the Constitution Act, 13 & 14 Vict. cap. 59, came into operation, the colony was on the eve of gaining a free Constitution, framed by its own great ‘son of the soil,’transferring all the revenues and patronage of the Crown to the local Legislature. In 1852 I began to take an active part in the constitutional discussions outside the Legislature. In ‘The Empire’newspaper, and on the platform, I strenuously opposed what were popularly regarded as Mr. Wentworth's retrograde tendencies. The gentlemen who took part with me in those agitations were certainly not demagogues, or men wanting in social influence. Among them were Mr. John Gilchrist, Mr. J. L. Montefiore, Mr. John Brown, Mr. T. S. Mort (whose statue now stands in front of the Sydney Exchange), and other of the leading merchants of the colony; the late Sir John Darvall, K.C.M.G., Mr. Robert Johnson, and Mr. George Kenyon Holden, two of the most influential solicitors; the gifted Daniel Henry Deniehy, and many other important citizens. In 1852 Mr. Wentworth obtained a Select Committee to consider the question of a new Constitution. The committee reported, and brought up a draft Bill, but the matter was not carried further in the Council. In the early part of 1853 he again moved for the appointment of a Select Committee


  ― 37 ―
to prepare his great measure. I give the names of the committee as they were known in later years:—

Mr. W. C. WENTWORTH, Chairman.

Mr. JAMES MACARTHUR (of Camden).

Mr. JAMES MARTIN, afterwards Chief Justice.

Mr. CHARLES COWPER, K.C.M.G.

Mr. T. A. MURRAY, afterwards Speaker and President of the Legislative Council.

Mr. GEORGE MACLEAY, K.C.M.G.

Mr. E. DEAS THOMSON, K.C.M.G.

Mr. JOHN HUBERT PLUNKETT.

HENRY GRATTAN DOUGLASS, M.D.

Mr. WILLIAM THURLOW.

The committee thus constituted, after a ballot which changed three of the names, met on May 27, and fifteen meetings altogether were summoned. Strange as it may appear, considering the momentous task entrusted to them, many of the members very irregularly attended to their duties. In due time Mr. Wentworth brought up his report, which was the signal for an outburst of popular dissent from several features of his scheme. On August 9 he obtained leave to bring in his ‘Bill to confer a Constitution on New South Wales, and to grant a Civil List to Her Majesty.’The Bill, having passed through its first stages, was, on the motion for the second reading, debated at great length, and with striking ability. The speeches of Mr. Wentworth himself, Mr. Plunkett (the Attorney-General), Mr. Martin (afterwards Sir James), and Mr. Darvall (afterwards Sir John), for their eloquence and power were deemed worthy of any legislative body. The second reading was carried by 33 votes against 8; but that


  ― 38 ―
minority represented a party (many of them yet outside, and waiting to enter the Parliament to be created by this Bill) who were destined very soon to rule the country. I give some extracts from Mr. Wentworth's speech when opening the memorable debate on the second reading of his Bill. Having expressed a strong opinion that the absence of petitions against the measure was a conclusive proof that the people were satisfied— that the apathy to which I have alluded was really a silent assent of approval—he proceeded to complain of a public meeting in opposition that had been held on the previous day, and to denounce members of the Council who had attended it:—

I do not know whether it is worth my while to refer at all to the proceedings out of doors yesterday in regard to this question. But I cannot help expressing my deep regret that so many members of this House should, by taking part in these proceedings, have forgotten alike what was due to themselves and to the dignity of the Council. (Cheers.) I feel that, by the part they have taken in this matter, they have destroyed the freedom of the representatives of the country; they have degraded the position which the Legislature of the country ought to occupy, and I lament much to see some hon. members, my friends, and who have on most occasions acted with me, consent to sink from the rank of representatives to that of mere miserable delegates. (Loud applause, and ‘No, no,’from Mr. Darvall.) My honourable and learned friend says ‘No, no,’but I ask the House, Can any hon. members who have identified themselves with the proceedings of yesterday act in this House as free agents? (Cheers.) Why, if the arguments they have put forward were refuted to their own absolute conviction—if the declamation and reasonings, if they could be called such, used at that meeting could be utterly demolished—blown into thin air—if it could be proved to


  ― 39 ―
demonstration that the Constitution this Bill offered was calculated to secure on the most permanent basis the free institutions, and the moral, social, and the material interests of the colony, they could not now support it. They had become the delegates, the pledged delegates, of a noisy and intemperate faction, and they must continue in that degraded position to the end. (Cheers.)

This reads in strange contrast to the practice of the leading statesmen on both sides in the Imperial Parliament, both then and now taking vehement part out of doors in condemnation of measures to which they are opposed. The Mr. Darvall to whom Mr. Wentworth referred (afterwards Sir John Darvall) was a leading member of the colonial Bar, and enjoyed a position equal to that of Mr. Wentworth himself. The orator then plunged into a set denunciation of the merchants and the people of Sydney generally, in the following language:—

What interest does the population of Sydney represent? True there are hosts of people in the city calling themselves merchants, and I admit these give employment to a large number of others of lower degree. These merchants, however, are simply engaged in exchanging one commodity for another— the sending the produce of the colony home and getting out the goods of foreign countries instead. But they, as a class, with the exception of the shipowners, are productive of absolutely nothing to add to the real wealth of the colony. There is no urgent necessity for them—the colony could do without them; all that this class of people have done for me, for instance, I could have done for myself. I could have sent abroad for the tea, the sugar, the tobacco, the silks, the wine and spirits, and other articles I might require, and have obtained them just as well without the instrumentality of the merchants, and what I could thus have done any other person might have done also.




  ― 40 ―

Excited, and, as it were, infuriated by the indiscriminate cheers of his pliant majority, made up largely of those officials and nominees whom in former years he so bitterly denounced, Mr. Wentworth proceeded to foretell the ruin of the country by the flood of democracy that was setting in, and to defend some of his most unpopular proposals. The report of the speech goes on:—

What incentive is there now held out to those who, having made fortunes here, desire to see their sons occupied in higher pursuits than those of trade? Here are no poor, no middle class in the sense in which these words are used at home; all are rich; yet what do people aspire to here, who, having accumulated perhaps 50,000l. or 100,000l., do not care to pursue the drudgery of money-making any longer? I will tell the Council; they aspire to a speedy migration to other lands, seeing it is better for themselves and families to build up homes where the democratic and levelling principles, so rapidly increasing here, are scouted, and where there are high and honourable pursuits and distinctions to which the children of the prudent may aspire. (Loud and prolonged cheers.) Who would stay here if he could avoid it? Who with ample means would ever return if once he left these shores, or even identify himself with the soil so long as selfishness, ignorance, and democracy hold sway? (Renewed cheers.) And yet what a glorious country would this be to live in if higher and nobler principles prevailed; blessed with the most bounteous gifts of Providence, it affords in its rich and illimitable tracts happy homes for the millions yet unborn. (Hear, hear.) With regard to the clauses in question, I know not the opinion of honourable members, but I can only say that if they be not adopted the colony will be virtually disfranchised. (Loud cries of ‘hear’from all sides.) Why, I ask, if titles are open to all at home, should they be denied to the colonists? Why should such an institution as the House of Lords (which is an integral part of the British Constitution) be shut out from us? I cannot now ‘pause for a


  ― 41 ―
reply,’ but I, nevertheless, should like to hear my honourable and learned friend (Mr. Darvall) answer that interrogatory. (Hear, hear.) A great deal of ridicule has been cast on these hereditary clauses, but those who cast it knew very little of those who proposed them. (Hear, hear.) They had been twitted with attempting to create a mushroom, a Brummagem, a bunyip aristocracy; but I need scarcely observe that where argument fails ridicule is generally resorted to for aid. I seldom care to allude to personal attacks upon myself, and if I allude to some which have been recently made, it is but to express my utter contempt for the vagabonds who made them.

Although he passionately denounced American institutions, and held aloft his copy of the British Constitution, as he persisted in calling his Bill, in happy contrast, it is curious to observe how much he relied on American authorities, including, of all others, Mr. Calhoun. I do not notice the weak side—I had almost written the violent side—of Mr. Wentworth's public character with any desire to diminish the credit which is richly his due in fighting the battle of the Constitution. What I have said appears to be necessary to give a clear view of the party then forming to take up the constitutional cause on a wider basis, and the public opinion beginning to assert itself in a spirit of equality with England. The British subject who had emigrated to Australia began to cry aloud that he had lost none of his privileges by coming to the colony, and the native-born part of the population were not slow in making common cause with their fellows. The narrow class distinctions of earlier days were fast melting away, and a new order of things was developing itself on all sides.

As in most cases of popular contention, in the heated


  ― 42 ―
opposition to the objectionable parts of Mr. Wentworth's scheme, not sufficient attention was given to its great merits, and positive injustice was done to his indomitable efforts year after year to uplift the colony from its politically lifeless condition. His unwise proposals to secure his handiwork from alterations by those who might come after him, and his hasty and intemperate epithets of ‘democrat,’‘communist,’and ‘mob-rule’ applied to his opponents, made him extremely unpopular with large numbers who had not watched his steady, unwearied, and enlightened labours in championing the main principles of constitutional government. His aversion to an unrestricted franchise, and his desire to tie the hands of the Legislature he was endeavouring to call into existence, were eagerly seized upon, and his noble contention throughout for the right of the country to dispose of its own lands, impose its own taxes, expend its own revenues, and appoint its own public servants, were lost sight of in the transient fury of opposition. I took part in nearly all the public meetings against the unpopular provisions of the Constitution Bill, and these did not cease till the Bill had been finally dealt with in the Imperial Parliament and returned to the colony. In the Session of 1853 Mr. Wentworth (whose intention to visit England was known) was appointed, in conjunction with Mr. Edward Deas Thomson (the Colonial Secretary of that day) to support the Bill in England in its passage through the Houses of Parliament, and in any other manner deemed expedient. In the following year Mr. Wentworth, on his departure from the colony, resigned his seat for the


  ― 43 ―
city of Sydney, and Mr. Charles Kemp, the senior proprietor of the ‘Sydney Morning Herald,’was brought out as a candidate in the same interest for the vacant seat. I had become so well known by this time that a few days before the nomination I was brought into the field as an opposition candidate. At that time Sydney was one electorate, and returned three members to the old Council; the election was by open voting, and the lowest qualification for the franchise was a 10l. household. On the day of polling, May 2, 1854, I was returned by the following record of votes:—

   
Parkes . . . .  1,427 
Kemp . . . .  779 

By this election I took my seat in the old Council which had passed the Constitution Bill, and as the successor of its author, two years before the advent of Responsible Government. In this contest for the representation of Sydney I was supported by several influential men, who remained my staunch political supporters, through good and evil report, until they passed away to their graves. Mr. Jacob L. Montefiore and Mr Edward Flood were of the number of these—my unchanging friends.

Mr. Wentworth had now disappeared from the scene, but the agitation against the unpopular provisions of his Bill went on with increasing strength and numbers. Petitions were sent to the Imperial Parliament praying both Houses not to assent to them, and powerful support to the views of the oppositionists was awakened in England. Among the men who rendered valuable service to our cause in England was Viscount Sherbrooke


  ― 44 ―
(then Mr. Robert Lowe). After a few years of lucrative practice at the bar in Sydney, Mr. Lowe had left the colony, and had been returned for Kidderminster to the House of Commons. He soon was offered and accepted office. In reply to a letter from myself congratulating him upon his entrance into official life, Mr. Lowe wrote in April 1853 unhesitatingly expressing his views of the designs of the authors of the Constitution Bill as it reached England. Many other influential men—Mr. A. W. Young, M.P., for example—shared these views to the full. Though the field of contention was changed from Sydney to Westminster, the adversaries of the Wentworth proposals, which had been so generally condemned in the colony, were at their posts in England. The following is a copy of Mr. Lowe's letter:—

34 Lowndes Square, London, April 6, 1853.

My Dear Sir,—I am very grateful to you for your kind congratulations, and hope my future career may justify them. Of one thing you may be sure, that I never have lost, and never will lose, my interest in Australia, and that I am happy to have been the means of serving her, if not prominently, at least effectually. I very much disapprove of the provision in the proposed Constitution which appoints an Upper Chamber for life out of the existing members of Council. Such a proposal lowers the colony very much in the opinion of people here. Your present public men are not as a body worthy of so marked a distinction, or rather so close a monopoly; and I am quite sure that, if they are appointed for life, in a few years you will be heartily ashamed of them, and find that you have anticipated your resources by putting worse men in a place which might have been occupied by better.

The scheme appears to me to be designed to retain power


  ― 45 ―
in the hands of the present public men, and to exclude, or at any rate to render helpless for your good, the talent and respectability which every ship is carrying to you. A nation ought no more to squander its moral and intellectual than its physical resources. You are about to re-create in Australia the family compact which for so many years oppressed Canada. If you must have a nominated Council, at any rate throw it open to everyone, and limit the term of office to a few years, so that any evil you do may not be without remedy. But why have a nominated Council? Opinion in this country is in favour of two elective Councils, the upper one to be for a longer period, of more mature age, chosen from larger districts, and going out one-third at a time, so as to have a more permanent element in it. I trust that before you receive this letter the colony will have shown that, having shaken off the interference of the Colonial Office in its affairs, it is not going to load itself with fetters of its own forging. If you wish to be hampered with a nominated Council, it is no part of my duty as a Member of Parliament to contravene you; but I will not, if I can help it, allow the present generation to sacrifice the hopes of their children by fixing them with a Council for life chosen exclusively from your present public men.

If you think the making these views known would do good, you are quite at liberty to do so.

I ought to mention that, in giving me the office I now hold, Government intimated to me that it was partly in consideration of my public services in Australia, a fact which I trust will prove that an independent course is not always impolitic.

Believe me,

Very truly yours,

Henry Parkes, Esq. R. LOWE.

In the colony I continued my course in association with the opponents of the Bill as it left the Legislative Council. After the triumphant second reading, I attended an open-air meeting of fully 5,000 citizens


  ― 46 ―
which was held near the Circular Quay, on September 5, 1853, and moved the following resolution:—

That this meeting records its surprise and indignation at the unconstitutional doctrines advanced in the Legislative Council during the discussion of the present measure, whereby the great maxim of just and enlightened government, that ‘All power emanates from the People,’is sought to be denied; and that, viewing the inherent defects of nomineeism and class interest in the existing Legislature, this meeting publicly records its total want of confidence in that body in reference to this measure, which is fraught with the most momentous consequences to the whole people.

In my speech I quoted Bentham against Mr. Martin's notions of the value of property qualifications in securing political fitness, and Lord Chatham against Mr. Wentworth's estimate of the importance of the merchants. I dealt with the personal attacks which at that early stage had been made upon myself, and I advocated the adoption of my resolution in a manner which secured its unanimous acceptance amidst the general applause of the meeting. The following are the principal parts of my speech on that occasion, and this must serve to represent the many speeches I made before the agitation came to an end. The newspaper report makes me say:—

It would be his duty, in the first place, to show that the doctrines which had been advanced in the Council were unconstitutional, and in the next, that they had just grounds to declare that they had lost all confidence in the Legislative Council with regard to this measure, from the inherent defects of nomineeism, and the prevalence of class interests in that body. He would then advert to the speeches that had been


  ― 47 ―
made in that House by the honourable member, Mr. Wentworth, and the honourable member for Cork and Westmoreland, Mr. Martin, and he should rely mainly on those two speeches, which had been received with so much applause, to prove his case. Mr. Wentworth in the course of his opening speech had informed them, doubtless much to their astonishment, that the mercantile and trading classes were altogether unnecessary and did not need representation. That gentleman could not see what there was to represent beyond the squatting interest. This was in strange taste as coming from the senior member for the city, to say nothing of its injustice and absurdity. The other honourable member, Mr. Martin, did not regard the ‘lower classes’at all. If he understood Mr. Martin's speech aright, he contended that the great body of the people had no right to be considered at all in questions of government. He told us plainly that man had no inherent right to representation; that it was for the Legislature to determine to whom should be granted this right; that the franchise was a mere matter of convenience, to be fixed by those who had the power to fix it. The Solicitor-General (Mr. Manning), who, he was bound to say, had met the question in a more fair and liberal manner than any of the other supporters of the Bill, had also talked about the people ‘as one of the estates of the realm.’The learned gentleman repeatedly made use of that expression. Now, he would like to know, if that estate were taken away, where all the other estates would be. According to all the constitutional authorities he had ever read, the people were regarded as the basis of the realm itself. It certainly seemed strange to him to hear the people set down by a law officer of the Government as ‘one of the estates of the realm.’If that estate were taken away, he should imagine that the honourable gentleman's salary would soon follow. Mr. Martin, in his speech, went on to state ‘that he did not recognise the right of any meeting or any body of men to sit in revision of the acts of that Council. The Council was elected for the purpose of legislation, and he (Mr. Martin) wanted to know what was the superior body that was to sit in review of their acts.’ This, let


  ― 48 ―
it be remembered, was the legislative body which was condemned by the very Constitution Bill which Mr. Martin himself was endeavouring to pass. Old-fashioned people thought that there was such a thing as the right of petition, as the right of free discussion—to review in public meeting the conduct of the Government, and the conduct of the people's representatives. It would be found that there was an ulterior right when their legislators were acting treason against the liberties of the people—the right to punish, the right to send them back into the obscurity from which they had emerged. These were some of the unconstitutional doctrines against which he for one protested, and against which the resolution was aimed. And considering how loudly they had been cheered, how cordially they had been responded to in the Legislative Council, he thought the reception they had met with was sufficient to destroy all faith in the Council's intelligence and sense of justice. But having some consideration for the large array of authorities which these members had brought to bear upon the question, he would beg permission to place before the meeting the opinions of men not less distinguished, in order to fortify his own opinions, which were of very little value in themselves. He would assure them that his authorities were not perverted as others had been in the Legislative Council, but that the sentiments expressed in the extracts he was about to read were in accordance with the doctrines which these illustrious men had spent their lives in establishing. The first authority he would trouble them with was Jeremy Bentham, and he ventured to think that he was almost as great a philosopher as James Martin. Another of his authorities would be a statesman, who was now known in English history as the ‘Great Commoner’; he meant the illustrious Earl of Chatham. He ventured to think that he might be considered nearly as great as William Charles Wentworth. Bentham, then, said, ‘Property, it is continually said, is the only bond and pledge of attachment to country. Not it, indeed. Want of property is a much stronger one. He who has property can change the shape of it, and carry it away with him to another


  ― 49 ―
country whenever he pleases. He who has no property can do no such thing. In the eyes of those who live by the labour of others, the existence of those by whose labour they live is indeed of no value; not so in the eyes of the labourers themselves. Life is not worth more to yawners than to labourers; and their country is the only country in which they can so much as hope to live. Among a hundred of them, not ten exceptions to this will you find.’

I then quoted Dr. Channing on the spiritual inner life of the better portion of the labouring poor. ‘You may shut him out of your houses, but God opens to him heavenly mansions. He makes no show indeed in the streets of a splendid city; but a clear thought, a pure affection, a resolute act of a virtuous will, have a dignity of quite another kind, and far higher than accumulations of brick and granite,’ &c. Coming back to our denouncers in the Legislative Council, I said:—

They had been told by Mr. Martin that they were not able to form a serious opinion, or one of any value on important questions; but he would rather take the judgment of Dr. Channing. Let them now hear what Lord Chatham had said upon the subject, speaking in the House of Peers:—

‘I myself am one of the people. I esteem that security and independence which is the original birthright of an Englishman, far beyond the privileges, however splendid, which are annexed to the Peerage.’

He hoped these authorities would be sufficient to prove that the people of this colony had been treated with a contumely and arrogant disregard which were foreign to the feelings of Englishmen of whatever rank, and that the course pursued in the recent debate did not entitle the Council to their confidence and respect. What was the doctrine that had been advanced in the Council but, in effect, that the people were unworthy of the free expression of opinion or the exercise of political influence?


  ― 50 ―
He would now address himself to the other part of the resolution, which declared that, from the inherent defects of nomineeism and the existence of class interests in the Council, that body was not deserving of the confidence of the people. And on this subject he must trouble them with one more quotation. It was from a gentleman in the colony, one who was now living an active life in their midst, one who was universally regarded as one of the most powerful intellects that this country had produced. He was about to read the opinions of no less a personage than Mr. Wentworth himself on the subject of nomineeism.

I then quoted a passage from a letter published by Mr. Wentworth some years before, in which he spoke of the nominee members of the Council as ‘a body of official and unofficial members, the former of whom are given to understand, notwithstanding their oaths, that it is a condition of their tenure of office that they are to support all measures of the Government, whether good or bad; and the latter of whom, for the most part, seem only to have been selected from their utter incompetency to offer any effectual resistance to such measures.’ Of course Mr. Wentworth would have answered that his nominee Upper House would be composed of far different men from those whom he had here described. I contrasted his description of the nominees now with his earlier picture of them, and proceeded:—

No wonder those gentlemen, seeing his vivid powers of description, were now delighted to get him on their side. This was Mr. Wentworth's opinion in 1842; no doubt, if they could penetrate the inmost recesses of that gentleman's heart, they would find that he had the same opinion still of his new allies. But, without any such supernatural scrutiny, they might arrive at


  ― 51 ―
what was Mr. Wentworth's opinion now, or at least what it was only a few months ago. He would give them an extract from Mr. Wentworth's speech, on moving for a committee to draw up this very Bill that they were now discussing:—

‘In excluding from the list of the committee which he proposed the name of any nominee, more especially any official nominee, he was actuated by a consideration of delicacy towards these gentlemen. To place them on such a committee as this would be to place them in a false position—false to themselves and the office they held—and a position in which they ought not to be placed. This was the sole reason why, in the composition of the committee, he had confined it to the elective members of that House, and to infuse any other element into the constitution of the committee would be to prevent the sense of the House from being properly arrived at. These were his views in reference to the composition of the committee. He trusted that if any opposition to such a course manifested itself, the elective element in that House was strong enough to put it down.’

This was an extract from Mr. Wentworth's speech in the Legislative Council on June 16, 1852, and he thought it contained pretty strong language in condemnation of nominee legislators. He would ask, if the nominees were unfit to deal with the Constitution question twelve months ago, how much better fitted were they on Friday night last, when Mr. Wentworth implored these very men to give him their votes? There remained one more point in the resolution, and that was the assertion of the existence of a class ascendency in the House. Since he had been on the hustings that afternoon, he had been told by a member of the House that there were no less than thirty-three members of that body closely connected with the squatting interest. That was a very significant fact, especially when they took it in connection with Mr. Wentworth's assertion of the right of fifty or sixty families to erect themselves into an aristocracy, and to form eventually, as he proposed, an Upper House of Legislature. This right on the part of an arrogant few was assumed in Mr. Wentworth's first speech, and in his


  ― 52 ―
second speech we were told that he had devised his notable scheme of hereditary titles with a view to the peculiar qualifications of the ‘shepherd kings’of the country, who already possessed splendid acquisitions of land, and were on the high road to fortunes which would maintain them in a state of nobility. The squatters were, in fact, the only class in the country who could support the dignity and splendour of a title. If they duly weighed all this, and then looked at the last clauses of the Bill, they would see by the provisions Mr. Wentworth had made to secure the possession of their lands in the hands of the squatting interest that a deep design to exalt and aggrandise a class by the spoliation of the people was at the bottom of the present measure. Unless two-thirds of the Legislature, a large proportion of whom they might clearly see would be connected with the squatting interest, gave their assent to any alteration in the Constitution, the lands would be theirs in perpetuity. He thought this was most conclusive evidence that there was this class ascendency in that body which was denounced in the resolution as dangerous to the liberties of the people. If the members of the Legislature were so daring, so deeply infected with treason—he could use no milder term—towards the liberties of the people, as to deny their right to meet and express their opinions; and if they treated their petitions with contumely and disregard, he must say that it was idle to petition that body any longer, and that it was indeed time to express a public want of confidence in its deliberation and its acts. When they remembered that one-third of the members of that House were there without the concurrence of the people at all, and the majority of the elective members—elected, it was true, but by a system which was a perfect mockery of representation—were opposed to the wishes and the interests of the people, surely, in the name of everything that was just and true, in the name of everything that was thoroughly British, it was time to express our total want of confidence in that body. He would now call their attention to the aspersion of the mercantile interest that had been indulged in by Mr. Wentworth; and he thought he could not do better than contrast


  ― 53 ―
his opinions with those of the great Earl of Chatham. Mr. Wentworth boldly declared that the merchants of Sydney were of no use, that the colony could do very well without them. The Earl of Chatham had said, in speaking of the same class: ‘I hope, my lords, that nothing I have said will be understood to extend to the honest, industrious tradesman, who holds the middle rank, and has repeated proofs that he prefers law and liberty to gold. I love that class of men. Much less would I be thought to reflect upon the fair merchant whose liberal commerce is the prime source of national wealth. I esteem his occupation and respect his character.’

Though no arguments were required to expose the absurdity of Mr. Wentworth's notions, he could not help quoting the estimate formed of the value of the tradesman and the merchant by the great English Commoner. According to Mr. Wentworth, these great classes—whose intelligence and enterprise were of such immense importance to every civilised community, and who were themselves generally the most enlightened promoters of the well-being of the State—were perfectly useless, and disentitled to any consideration in the working of representative government. (Here the speaker was interrupted by much cheering and repeated cries of ‘Bob Nichols.’note) Well, he had been frequently reminded of that honourable member, but he had not much to say about him. He would tell them what a witty friend of his had said respecting that gentleman a few days ago. On being told that Mr. Nichols had recanted and joined the nominees, he replied, ‘Poor Robert! he has been canting all his life, and it is now high time he recanted.’ It might be truly said that Mr. Nichols had been canting in more senses than one—canting like a ship without ballast, as well as dealing in all the discarded cant of political quackery. But with respect to Mr. Nichols, who was now so conservative in his ideas, they would all remember that that gentleman not


  ― 54 ―
long ago had talked very loudly about 100,000 American sympathisers coming over to enable the colony to obtain its independence. This was said at a public dinner in this city, presided over by Mr. Nichols; and who did they think was the person who on that occasion took exception to the anti-British language of Mr. Nichols? Why, it was Mr. Wentworth's arch-anarchist, the humble person now speaking, who in that room protested against the disloyal language of the honourable gentleman. And now with regard to the aspersions so freely cast upon himself. Mr. Wentworth had honoured him with the title of the ‘arch-anarchist.’ He supposed he was regarded as the leader of the imaginary ‘ruffians’who were to go down to Vaucluse and pillage it.note He would tell that honourable gentleman that he had no such power, no such influence, as was attributed to him. The part he had taken in the present movement was a very humble one; he had done no more than any other member of this committee; and with regard to his being an anarchist, he most indignantly denied that he was in any respect a worse citizen than Mr. Wentworth himself. In the opposition he had felt it his duty to give to the measure now under discussion, he was actuated by the same singleness of purpose which he believed actuated all the gentlemen with whom he was associated. Mr. Wentworth had said that if certain persons—the ‘arch-anarchist,’ he supposed, among them—got the upper hand, they would trample on the country with an iron heel. But the truth was that they were seeking to rescue the country from the ‘iron heel’of others. He had himself been charged with want of loyalty to his fatherland. It would be more pardonable in Mr. Wentworth than in him to be deficient in patriotic feeling and in loyalty. He, at all events, had right good reason to be proud of his fatherland, and there was no pulse of his life that beat with truer warmth than that which responded to the title of a loyal Englishman. He was born in the heart of Old England, within a few hours' walk of the spot where Shakespeare was born, where some of


  ― 55 ―
the noblest associations of English history were fresh in the hearts of even the rural population; and he had been reared in one of the greatest and most prosperous and public-spirited towns in Great Britain. He spurned the attempt to fix upon him any advocacy of republican government. He was sincerely attached to his native country and her institutions. It was his heartfelt desire that that flag (pointing to the British ensign over the hustings) might wave in peace and security over his grave, and over the graves of his children; and in ages to come might float the banner of a great and glorious people here, affiliated by all the bonds of affection and justice to that dear old land from which they were all descended. In his judgment, it would be a great and fatal mistake to attempt in Australia any mere imitation of the noble form of government under which the great American people had risen to such colossal power. Nor did he imagine that, with the progress of events, the character of any known nation would be slavishly reproduced here. He thought this country was destined to show the spectacle of a great nation perfectly free, profoundly prosperous, and glowing with distinctive national aspirations, and yet united in the bonds of affection and political interests to the mother-country. He did not want a ‘Yankee Constitution’any more than Mr. Wentworth. But by all that was sacred, by the God who had given them a great and fruitful country to dwell in, he for one would never consent to have a Norfolk Island Constitution. He objected—and the gentleman with whom he was proud to act on this occasion objected— to Mr. Wentworth's scheme, because it was a scheme in violation of the true principles of the British Constitution. He had thought it right thus publicly and explicitly to defend himself and those who were associated with him against the charges which had been so recklessly made; he flung back those charges with unutterable scorn; he desired nothing beyond that which he was entitled to ask as a loyal and patriotic subject of the Queen of England. Before he sat down he would briefly advert to some of the misrepresentations of matters of history which had been put forward in the Council. A gentleman for whose


  ― 56 ―
public character he had a high respect—he meant the Attorney-General (Mr. Plunkett)—had told them with an air of triumph that the great men who framed the American Constitution had sat for months and years in discussion on the measure with closed doors, and that when their plan was matured they promulgated it by authority. But the historical fact was that, in the eleventh year of the Confederation, it was found that the Articles of Confederation were so defective for affording adequate power for national purposes—and this conviction had been forcing itself upon the minds of statesmen for several years—that it was determined to form a Convention for the revision of the form of government. Delegates for this purpose were appointed by twelve out of thirteen States, who met in Philadelphia on the 14th of May, 1787, to form a Constitution; and so far from sitting for years, he found that on the 17th of September in the same year they presented their report to Congress, which on the 28th of the same month remitted it to the several States for approval. To a certain extent it might be true that the delegates sat with closed doors, for as it was cold in America, they probably did not leave them open. But so far from the Constitution being promulgated by authority, he found that one State, Rhode Island, refused to accept it, and stood out from the Union for two years and eight months. Virginia, stirred up by the great eloquence of Patrick Henry, one of the most remarkable men of the Revolution, also opposed it and refused to accept it for many months. These were the facts of the case, and they showed the false basis of knowledge upon which gentlemen in the Council proceeded when they could listen to such distorted statements, and at the same time brand the people out of doors with ignorance and meddling with matters they did not understand. The Attorney-General had also told them that the Senate of the United States was elected by the Sovereign States, and therefore was appointed by a process analogous to the appointment of nominees by the Queen's representatives; this, at all events, was what he understood from the speech of that learned gentleman. But Mr. Plunkett must have been greatly misled; for it was known to


  ― 57 ―
most of them that the Senators were elected by a majority of the votes of the State Legislatures. He was somewhat at a loss to understand why the Attorney-General had pronounced such a high eulogium on the speech of Mr. Martin. He was ready to admit that that speech in many respects was an able one, but still he was surprised to hear the Attorney-General speak of it in terms of rapture. But he found, on referring to the conclusion of that speech, a very satisfactory reason for Mr. Plunkett's admiration. Mr. Martin concluded with a very patriotic avowal that he would pension off the officers of the Crown at their full salaries, and doubtless such an idea of constitutional government was very delightful to the worthy Attorney-General. In conclusion, he urged them to consider whether they had not just reason to assent to the resolution he had read to them. After the contumely that had been heaped on them and their petitions—after the unconstitutional doctrines which had been propounded by the Legislative Council— he for one would never send another petition to that body on this question. He denied the right of that House to force this Constitution on the people of the colony; and it was the bounden duty of all classes to appeal to a higher power—a more impartial tribunal. He had no doubt as to what the result of that appeal would be. Despite the overwhelming majority in the Council, the reasonableness and justice of their petitions would prevail, and the youthful energies of this fair country would be freed from the infliction of this most detestable and un-British measure.

By the time when the Constitution was finally dealt with in the Imperial Parliament, Lord John Russell had become Secretary of State for the Colonies. By the Imperial Act 18 & 19 Vict. cap. 54, enacting the Bill from the colony in the form of a schedule thereto, and enabling Her Majesty to assent to it, power was given to the new Parliament which it created to repeal any of the obnoxious clauses by a simple majority. In the


  ― 58 ―
language of the Act, it was ‘lawful for the Legislature of New South Wales to make laws altering or repealing all or any of the provisions of the said reserved Bill, in the same manner as any other laws for the good government of the said colony.’The Bill received the Royal assent on July 16, 1855, and the new Parliament was elected under its provisions in the middle of 1856. Not many months passed away before the two-thirds majority clause, the clause to exclude clergymen from election to the Assembly (notoriously aimed at Dr. Lang), and the other provisions which had called forth such strong opposition in the colony, were all repealed. This was the death-blow to the old party who had exercised all influence in former years, only checked by rancorous jealousies amongst themselves or the occasional stand of a spirited governor.

There were some political anachronisms, if not something worse, in framing the Constitution, which, so far as I know, have never been noticed. For instance, the 51st clause provided that pensions should be demandable by the judges of the Supreme Court to the amount of seven-tenths of their actual salaries after fifteen years' service as such judge in the colony; but while the Bill was in committee, an amendment was moved and carried, notoriously to meet the case of one of the existing judges who had held inferior offices before his appointment, in these words:—‘So far as the present judges are concerned, every three years' service in any judicial office in this colony, other than the office of a judge of the Supreme Court, shall be equivalent


  ― 59 ―
to one year's service as such judge of the Supreme Court.’ A Bill to confer a Constitution on the colony, which assuredly ought not to contain any provision to subserve a subordinate or collateral or an accidental object, is disfigured to favour the situation of one man, contrary to the studied text as it originally stood, and the blot remains embedded in the Constitution for all time. By the 18th clause provision was made for the Responsible Ministry of the future, but the offices designated as capable of being held by members of Parliament were copied from the offices held by the retiring officials sent out from Downing Street. They are fixed by the Constitution as under:

     
The Colonial Secretary  The Attorney-General 
The Colonial Treasurer  The Solicitor-General 
The Auditor-General 

Thus the new Ministry would be two-fifths Law, two-fifths Finance and Accounts, and one-fifth for the Lands, Public Works, Military, Police, and general administration of affairs. In point of fact, the first administration was formed by holders of the above offices, the position of Auditor-General being given to a gentleman who was remarkable for his ignorance of accounts. It clearly is not unjust to say that Mr. Wentworth can never have thought of the ministerial arrangement by which his scheme of government was to be carried out. Not only were these anomalies found in the Constitution, but the first Premier appointed his Treasurer to the nominee Council—in other words, put his Chancellor of the Exchequer in his House of Lords.




  ― 60 ―

A gentleman of great influence waited upon me to suggest that I should join in the formation of the first Ministry. He presented a list of the proposed names, which included mine, and exclaimed, ‘Such a Ministry would last twenty years!’ I was taken by surprise, but I think I must have smiled. The idea of the party he represented was to combine both sides of the new House; but, inexperienced as I then was, I felt that any such attempt would not succeed. It is due to myself to say that at that time I had no desire or thought about office, which derives proof, if proof were necessary, from the fact that I did not take office until ten years afterwards, though it was offered to me more than once. The Ministry which was actually formed lasted only eighty days. This was the beginning of our Parliamentary history, but the colony has no cause to be ashamed of the Parliamentary record since.

In the last session of the old Council, on October 16, 1855, the late Sir James Martin (then Mr. Martin) moved for a Select Committee to enquire into the powers and duties of the chief officers of the Executive Government, with a view to ascertain if any and what alterations will be necessary to carry out the principle of responsible administration contemplated by the Constitution Act of 1853, and to report thereon to the House. The Committee appointed by ballot consisted of Mr. Cowper, Mr. Donaldson, the Attorney-General, Mr. Parker, Mr. Parkes, Mr. Nichols, Mr. G. Macleay, Mr. Holroyd, and Mr. Darvall.

The Chairman submitted a draft report of great


  ― 61 ―
length and ability, which, however, was not adopted by the committee. Mr. Martin's draft opened thus:—

There is no clause in the Constitution Act which directs that any change shall take place in the tenure by which those who may hereafter constitute the Executive Government of the colony are to hold their appointments. The Report of the committee from which that Act emanated, the debates which took place during its progress through the House, and the recent Despatch of Lord John Russell, commenting on its various provisions, show, however, that it is clearly contemplated, by all parties, both here and in England, that, on the coming of that Act into operation, the Advisers or Ministers of the Crown in this colony are to be subject to what, under the British Constitution, is designated Ministerial Responsibility. Besides, the Constitution Act itself, although it nowhere directly alludes to such responsibility (as, perhaps, it could not regularly do), in several places so evidently implies its introduction, that it must be taken for granted that, hereafter, our Government is to be, in the fullest sense of the term, Responsible to the Legislature.

This document proceeded to discuss the question whether the officials, whom it was proposed to pension off, could accept office under the new Constitution, taking up several other matters of cognate interest, and then it boldly proposed a new distribution of ministerial authority. The paragraphs proposing the new arrangements are as valuable now as they were then, though they have received but little attention, and I cannot deny myself the satisfaction of including them in this chapter:—

Your committee are of opinion that the number of Responsible Ministers, exclusive of those connected with the law, ought not to be less than four. Should that number be determined


  ― 62 ―
upon, your committee would then recommend that their designation should be as follows:—

1. The Chief Secretary and Premier.

2. The Secretary for Finance.

3. The Secretary for the Interior.

4. The Secretary for Public Works.

To each of these Ministers your committee would recommend that the supervision and direction of several of the existing departments should be confided. The Premier might, with great propriety, have placed under his immediate control the Waste Lands of the Crown, and the Trade and Commerce, as well as the Revenue and Expenditure of the Country, which would include the management of Public Loans. For this purpose it would be necessary to place under his direction the offices of the Colonial Secretary, the Colonial Treasurer, and the Surveyor-General, including that hitherto under the Chief Commissioner of Crown Lands. Your committee have placed the Waste Lands of the Crown in the foreground, because they are of opinion that, beyond all other questions, it will make the largest demands upon the ability and prudence of our statesmen, and that, upon the right adjustment of this question, the prosperity, moral and material, of the colony will in a very great degree depend.

The Secretary for Finance, like the Chancellor of the Exchequer in England, might look after the ways and means, which would include the general taxation of the country. He ought also to have under his control the regulation of the currency, so far as it may from time to time be considered desirable for Government to interfere with it. This would involve the handing over to him the departments of the Auditor-General, the Customs, and the Mint, as well as the public Bank of Issue, should such an institution (as is very probable) be called into existence.

The Secretary for the Interior, whose office would be similar to that of Her Majesty's principal Secretary of State for Home Affairs, ought to have the direction of Police and Gaols, of the


  ― 63 ―
Post Office, and of the Administration of Justice, as well as the supervision of Educational and Municipal Institutions. He would then have under him, either for the purpose of control or inspection, the department of the Inspector-General of Police, the Sheriff, and all those officers and corporate bodies who might be connected in any way with the matters for the due management or regulation of which he would be responsible to the public.

The Secretary for Public Works would take the roads, railways, public buildings, docks, harbours, and fortifications under his care, and there should be subjected to his orders all departments engaged upon, or connected with, any of these matters.

Your committee think that the advantages of some such scheme as the foregoing are sufficiently obvious to render much argument in support of it unnecessary. By that plan of administration a fair division of ministerial labour would be made; and no one who considers the nature of the duties which the Ministers would be thus called upon to discharge can deny, that each of them would have amply sufficient to occupy his entire attention. By dividing the labour and responsibility of office in this way, public questions would receive an amount of attention which, under the present centralised system, is utterly impossible. The Governor would then occupy a position as nearly analogous as possible to that of the Sovereign whom he represents, and, instead of being called upon to decide all matters for himself, he would enjoy the great advantage of acting only in accordance with the views of his responsible advisers. Those multifarious duties which he now of necessity most imperfectly discharges would then devolve upon persons enjoying the fullest opportunity of carefully considering every question submitted to them, and nothing but want of ability would prevent our future Ministers from rising above the rank of mere officials into that of statesmen.

Mr. Martin, to secure independence and efficiency in his scheme of administration, proposed that the


  ― 64 ―
Ministers should receive equal salaries, of not less than 2,500l. a year, with retiring pensions. The date of these proposals is thirty-seven years ago, but no Minister since, to my knowledge, has ever sought to increase his moderate salary of 1,500l., though several have held office at great loss in their private incomes. I have now arrived at that epoch in Australian history since which all the colonies, except Western Australia, have been steadily learning the difficult but soul-elevating lesson to manage their own affairs. Many of the actors, like myself, were ill trained for this noble task; but we look abroad, and fail to see any country where more genuine good work has been done in the generation which has passed over free Australia. Some who anxiously watched her cradle are still permitted to guard the temple where Australian liberty is for ever enthroned.

previous
next