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5. CHAPTER V

RETURN TO POLITICAL LIFE—A LONG SESSION OF PARLIAMENT—PROFLIGATE RAILWAY PROPOSALS—RESIGNATION OF MY SEAT—THE MILITARY EXPEDITION TO EGYPT—MY PROTEST—DETERMINE TO OFFER MYSELF FOR THE FIRST VACANT SEAT IN PARLIAMENT AS THE ONLY CONSTITUTIONAL MEANS OF TESTING PUBLIC FEELING—ELECTED FOR ARGYLE—STEPS TAKEN BY SIR ALEXANDER STUART FOR MY EXPULSION—THE RESULTS—FIRST CONCEPTION OF THE PUBLIC WORKS ACT.

AFTER my return I resumed my place on the Opposition benches of the Assembly, generally voting with my old friends but not taking a forward part in the debates. For months past the Land Bill embodying Mr. Stuart's famous principles, as enunciated in the debate at the close of the Session of 1882, had been struggling through Parliament. The Session itself had been dragging its toilsome length along since Oct. 9, 1883, and it actually did not come to an end until Nov. 1, 1884; that is, it continued twenty-two days over the entire year. Notwithstanding the unprecedented length of the Session which passed the Stuart Land Act, there were five other Sessions in the three years' life of the Parliament; one of four months within a day, one of four days, one of eight days, one of ten days, and one of twenty-two days. These facts alone are sufficient to satisfy any mind acquainted with


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the principles of Parliamentary government that the ‘new party’ had succeeded in producing a rich harvest of confusion and some monstrous anomalies. They carried one measure by the prodigious toils of 1884, but even that measure has been recast by several amending Acts since.

During the latter part of 1884, I addressed several public meetings in different parts of the country, and pointed out what I believed to be abuses charged with evil consequences to the country; and it is certain, from the evidence of subsequent events, that public dissatisfaction was fast rising to a head. But circumstances arose which led me to resign my seat for Tenterfield.

The Government had submitted to the Assembly some new railway proposals, one of which was from a small town on the tableland of New England to the town of South Grafton on the Clarence river,—the greater part of the distance, 103 miles, being over an unproductive, rugged, mountainous country where no settlement existed or could exist. The estimate was 2,000,000l. sterling. A member of the Government a short time previously had condemned this route as utterly indefensible, and other members of the Assembly, who were personally acquainted with the character of the country, described it privately to their fellow members as one which only a madman would think of, and declared their intention of voting against it at all hazards. Yet I afterwards saw these very members, without a word of explanation, vote for the proposal which they had so vehemently condemned. This vote


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did not stand alone, though it appeared to be the most profligate. I had joined with the minority in resisting these proposals, but they were approved with insolent triumph. I felt that my life could be better employed than in this kind of warfare, and I said so in a letter to the electors of Tenterfield, informing them of my resignation. I dare say my resignation was an imprudent act, but I fear I have often been guilty of imprudence. At that time I had no intention of seeking re-election to the Assembly, and was endeavouring to shape my life in the direction of other objects. Indeed, I can say with truth that Parliamentary life of itself has never had supreme attractions for me.

I advert to these circumstances, not with any view of reviving a discussion on the railway proposals of the Stuart Ministry (any such discussion would be outside the scope of this book), but because it is necessary in connection with a Ministerial effort made in the following year to degrade me in public life. A little more than three months later, the ‘brilliant idea’ of sending a military contingent to Egypt was opened upon the country by one of the Ministers (Mr. Attorney-General Dalley) in the absence of both the Prime Minister and the Treasurer. ‘Brilliant’ was the key-note to the foolish and ephemeral excitement. ‘A History of the Patriotic Movement,’ issued from the Government Printing Office a few months afterwards, presumably under properly instructed editors, announced to the world that the action of the Government was approved by the virtually unanimous voice of the country, ‘as a bold and brilliant inspiration of genius.’ But there


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were two claimants for the ‘flash of inspiration,’ Sir Edward Strickland, K.C.B., as well as Mr. Dalley. The former in a published letter of Feb. 12, 1885, called upon, not New South Wales alone, but all Christendom, to rise and crush the Saracens led by the Mahdi before they became as formidable as their renowned ancestors. The Rump Ministry under Mr. Dalley met on the same day, and decided to send the following telegram to the British Government:—

The Government offer to Her Majesty's Government two batteries of its Permanent Field Artillery, with ten 16-lb. guns, properly horsed; also an effective and disciplined Battalion of Infantry, 500 strong. The artillery will be under the command of Colonel Roberts, R.A., the whole force under the command of Colonel Richardson, the commandant; and undertaking to land the force at Suakim within thirty days from embarkation. Reply at once.—W. B. DALLEY. Feb. 12, 1885.

The reply was not immediate, but on the third day after the ‘brilliant inspiration of genius,’ it came in these sober words:—

Her Majesty's Government accept, with much satisfaction, offer of your Government, upon the understanding that force must be placed absolutely under orders of General Commanding as to the duties upon which it will be employed. Force of artillery is greater than is required; only one battery accepted. Transport should call at Aden for orders. If your Government prefer the immediate despatch of your contingent, the War Office does not desire to delay it. Press comment very favourably on your splendid offer.

From the first moment all my faculties of commonsense and discernment, all my feelings of patriotism and loyalty to the Empire, were opposed to this movement,


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which I looked upon as uncalled-for, unjustifiable, and Quixotic. Having no seat now in Parliament, I embodied my views in the following letter to the leading metropolitan journal:—

To the Editor of the ‘Herald.’

Sir,—If it be the case that the movement for sending the greater part of our military force to Egypt is enthusiastically supported by the people of this country, then there is all the more justice in hearing what the unsupported minority have to say. So far as I am concerned, I am quite content to stand alone. If obloquy, or even denunciation, is to be measured out to those who dissent from the Government, I do not shrink from my share of the punishment. I think I see grounds for raising my voice as a citizen against the thing which is being done, and I will endeavour to explain what those grounds are.

I have no hard word to say of Mr. Dalley. Since he has been in office, Mr. Dalley has done many things well, and he has done some things in which I heartily concur. I shall be as well pleased as any of his friends to see his public services receive a fitting recognition. But Mr. Dalley has taken his view of the situation, and given effect to it with a vengeance; and I desire only to be allowed to take my view of the same state of circumstances.

In the first place, I deny the existence of any national crisis calling for the interference of a colony of 900,000 souls in the military movements of the Empire. The war in Egypt is a war of invasion against barbarous tribes, who, in comparison with us, are fighting on their own soil. There is no pretence on our part of conquest on the one hand or of the defence of human rights on the other. The whole lamentable struggle, as avowed, is to establish a government of purity and order out of elements of corruption and disorder, and then to retire from the soil of Egypt. England has set her hand to this sad task, and if she cannot accomplish it without our aid, she certainly will never succeed with our aid.




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In the next place, I assert that there can be no greater folly than to foster a spurious spirit of military ardour in a country like ours, where every man is wanted to take his part, in some form or other, in colonising work. The economic aspect of the question presents features which would be ludicrous if they were not suicidal. With the right hand we are expending our revenues to import able-bodied men to subjugate the soil, while with the left hand we propose to squander our revenues to deport men to subjugate Sir Edward Strickland's ‘Saracens.’ However men may delude themselves, this is not patriotism; this is not loyalty; this is not true British sense of duty. It is the cry of ‘Wolf’ when there is no wolf; and it is to be earnestly hoped that the fable will have no application when the wolf verily comes. All the misty talk about the ‘tight little island’ and ‘heroic federation’ will dissipate itself in the clear atmosphere of time and reason. Six months hence the colony will be ashamed of what is now being done.

But we are told that England accepts our noble offer. Yes; and has not Lord Rosebery telegraphed out to Mr. Dalley the inspiriting words, ‘Well done!’ But it is added on the other side of the world that the offer has been accepted ‘in compliment to New South Wales.’ For some little time past the good old colony has been of much use to the Imperial Government. It has enabled Her Majesty's Ministers to declare that the Australian colonies are not united in their claims about New Guinea and the islands of the Pacific. And within the last few days Mr. Dalley has piped bravely to the tune of Lord Derby and international colonisation. The good old colony deserves a special compliment.

The offer of our small body of artillery and infantry is accepted in a modified form, on an express condition which is worthy of consideration. It is accepted not simply ‘on the understanding that the force must be placed absolutely under the orders of the General Commanding’—that would be easily understood, and only what all men would expect—but the force is to be placed absolutely under the orders of the General Commanding ‘as to the duties upon which it will be employed.’ The


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words I have placed in italics are in no sense necessary to express obedience to military orders, but, combined with the refusal to accept the two batteries of artillery, they point clearly enough to the use which will be made of the soldiers from New South Wales. The pride of England must have fallen very low if she is prepared to exhibit the spectacle before the military Powers of Europe of her armies marching against the Mahdi and his barbarous hordes, supported by 600 men from one of her colonies. But putting aside all considerations of national dignity, is it conceivable that the New South Wales contingent will be sent to the front and Imperial troops left behind to do garrison duty? I attach every weight to the characteristic telegram from Lord Wolseley; but the genius of command in military as in civil affairs consists largely in the sagacity to dispose of available forces to most advantage; and in the practical settlement of matters we may be sure that, while other duties have to be performed, our Australian heroes will have little chance of distinguishing themselves on the field of battle. In confirmation of this view of the case, your telegram this morning tells us that our men will be employed in protecting the navvies on the railway works between Suakim and Berber.

I have every confidence in the material of our little army of defenders, and believe that, if the occasion arises, they will give a good account of themselves. I see no reason why they should be of inferior metal or wanting in the highest qualities of the soldier. But we know the bias of officers who have commanded large bodies of regular troops; and it would be folly to expect a preference given to any colonial force over the highly disciplined men of the British army.

One word on the higher question of genuine loyalty. I yield to no man in attachment to the throne and institutions of England. But my notion of loyalty is a steady and consistent performance of duty as citizens of the Empire, at all times and under all circumstances, in principle and in policy, and as much in peace as in war. If a time should unhappily come when England shall be engaged in a great conflict with a great Power, even then, as I have already said, our first duty will be


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to hold inviolate the part of the Empire where our lot is cast; and, this sacred trust secured, to give life and fortune freely, if we have them to spare, beyond our own shores.

I am, &c.

HENRY PARKES.

Sydney, February 18, 1885.

I followed up this with other letters in support of my views; and soon other correspondents came into the field on the same side.

I do not think many persons who may calmly read this letter now will see in it anything more than a fair expression of my views of dissent. But all the papers published in Sydney set upon me like ravenous wolves. No term of obloquy was too black to be applied to me. If I had committed some shocking outrage upon public liberty, or if I had been a veritable ‘Saracen,’ I could not have been abused more thoroughly. Fortunately for me, I had already learned to coldly appraise the wild censures or the wild praises of the newspaper press at their true value, and I do not think I slept less soundly for all this abuse. At first I stood almost alone in my opposition, but I felt assured the country would soon recover its senses. In the midst of the commotion—the foolish craze on the one hand, and the slow awakening of reason on the other—it appeared to me that there was but one way of constitutionally testing the opinion of the country, and I determined that, on the first occurrence of a vacancy, I would offer myself again for a seat in the Assembly as the most conspicuous opponent of the Government in respect to the Soudan Expedition, without regard to any other circumstance. The first vacancy occurred


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on March 17, 1885, for the Electorate of Argyle, a district where I had no connections and was personally a stranger, and where it was known that a large section of the electors would on sectarian grounds vote against me to a man. I offered myself on the ground I had taken up, and certainly I should never have offered myself at all if the Soudan contingent had not been sent away. The opposing candidate was a man of education and a fluent speaker, and he had the advantage of being connected with one of the Metropolitan daily papers which were engaged in the pleasant work of writing me down. The Government did not hesitate to use whatever influence they could command against me. One gentleman who was a member of the Stuart Ministry when it was first formed, though he afterwards retired, Mr. Henry Copeland, travelled all the way from Sydney with congenial companions to fight on the side of my opponent. Money was freely expended against me which, if it did not bring votes to the other side, brought custom to the public-houses. For my part I refused to sanction the expenditure of a single shilling in the public-houses, and in point of fact the forty pounds, which the law required me to deposit with the Returning Officer before the nomination, covered my election expenses, leaving a small balance. As the result of the polling I was returned by a majority of some fifty votes. From this point the sickly enthusiasm over the ‘brilliant inspiration of genius’ paled away; and nowadays no one thinks of saying a word to excuse the Soudan Expedition.

The Legislative Assembly did not meet until


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September 8, when I took my seat as member for Argyle. Sir Alexander Stuart at once called attention to my letter to the electors of Tenterfield in November of the previous year, which was read by the clerk. I was called upon from the Chair for any explanation I desired to make; and I give the first part of my short speech:—

As I have said, Sir, I shall not seek to shelter myself behind a question of order, or avail myself of the circumstance that I was not a member of the Assembly at the time I uttered the sentiments complained of. As I understand the Colonial Secretary, he has felt it his duty to complain on behalf of some honourable members that on November 3 last I uttered these words:

In the present Parliament political character has almost disappeared from the proceedings of the Legislative Assembly, and personal objects—to put the matter in the mildest form—have, to a large extent, absorbed that kind of consideration which has taken the place of deliberation and legitimate debate. I have lately seen immense sums of public money voted away by private pressure and bargaining in the face of the openly avowed convictions of members so pliantly yielding up their consciences.

Those are the words which I understand have given offence. Those words are mine. Those words are sufficiently plain. I do not profess to be a very able exponent of the English language, but I think they are sufficiently clear to convey my meaning. That was my meaning then; that is my meaning now; and I see no reason to say one word to qualify, still less to withdraw, the words. I contend that I have said no more than the most illustrious members of the two Houses of the Imperial Parliament have continually said of conduct of which they strongly disapproved.

Sir Alexander Stuart, in a short condemnatory speech, then moved:—

That, in the opinion of this House, the statements made by


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the honourable member for Argyle, Sir Henry Parkes, in his address on November 3 last, announcing his retirement from the representation of Tenterfield, and published in the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ of November 4 last, are a gross libel on this House.

This resolution, after a long and acrimonious debate, was passed by 31 to 27 votes.

Undoubtedly the intention was to follow this up by a motion for my expulsion, but after this rather unsatisfactory division, and a still more unsatisfactory count of votes, Sir Alexander and his friends agreed to drop the matter as disagreeable.

When the Speaker intimated that there was no motion before the House, I rose and uttered the following words as reported in the official debates:—

I shall feel highly dissatisfied unless some further step is taken. If we are to rest with this motion, the Government are doing that which to me is a far higher consideration than anything which can affect me personally—they are making a laughing-stock of the Parliament of the country. The matter as it stands now cannot affect me. There will not be one man in the country who will think less of me, but there will be tens of thousands who will think more of me, in consequence of this motion. It cannot injure me; but if the matter stops here with a declaration of the opinion of the persons who admit that they are the objects of my censure—if it stops here with the condemnation of the very men who are the objects of the censure in which I indulged, what can it do but make the Parliament of the country a laughing-stock? It is the crown of the folly of this House. From the time it first met until now, it has proceeded by one gigantic step after another in a course of folly, and this is the very crown of its folly. I snap my fingers at the motion, and I appeal from you to your masters, the electors of the country.




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Hereupon Mr. Copeland, the same Mr. Henry Copleand who travelled all the way to Argyle to oppose my election, leaped into the gulf. He ‘quite agreed with my remarks,’ and notwithstanding the expressions of opinion of the Government ‘it was their clear duty to move the expulsion of the honourable member.’ Mr. Copeland quoted numerous authorities in support of the course he proposed to take. In conclusion he said: ‘If honourable members sit quietly by and say that because he (Sir Henry Parkes) is a prominent man, they will allow him with impunity to spit upon them, that was not his temperament. If that honourable member were twenty times as big as he was, he should under like circumstances take the same course.’ He moved:—

That in consequence of this House having voted that the statements made by the honourable member for Argyle, Sir Henry Parkes, in his address of November 3 last, announcing his retirement from the representation of Tenterfield, and published in the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ of November 4 last, are a gross libel upon this House, and in further consequence of the honourable member not apologising or offering to retract such statement, he be expelled from the membership of this House.

Not Sir Alexander Stuart, who made the first motion in such heroic form, but Mr. Dibbs, announced that the Government was satisfied with their majority of four, and had no intention of proceeding further, and that Ministers would vote against Mr. Copeland's resolution. After all his bluster and his trouble in searching for precedents and the waste of hours of the public time,


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Mr. Copeland quietly proposed to withdraw his resolution. This, however, was objected to by one of his own supporters.

When the votes were taken, the Ministers did not vote against the motion, only three of them taking their seats in the division, Sir Alexander Stuart and the rest of his colleagues being bravely absent.

I extract the division from the records of Parliament:—

AYES 2.

                                 
Tellers
Coonan, W. T.  Copeland, H. 
NOES 25. 
Abbott, J. P.  Proctor, W. C. 
Abigail, F.  Smith, R. B. 
Burdekin, S.  Smith, S. 
Burns, J. F.  Smith, T. R. 
Cameron, A.  Spring, G. 
Dangar, T. G. G.  Taylor, H. 
Dibbs, G. R.  Teece, W. 
Farnell, J. S.  Wisdom, R. 
Fletcher, J.  Young, J. H. 
Garrett, T. 
Gould, A. J. 
Heydon, L. F.  Tellers
Mackinnon, J. A.  De Salis, G. F. 
McQuade, H. M. H.  Hammond, M. J. 

Question so resolved in the negative.

House adjourned at midnight.

From the circumstances connected with the railway votes of 1884 which led to these proceedings, I had


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made up my mind, if ever the opportunity came to me, to do my utmost to change the system of originating railway expenditure, and the principles of the Public Works Act of 1887 were already thought out and determined.

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