Chapter 23 [A Short History of Australia, by Ernest Scott]

[Editor: This is a chapter from A Short History of Australia (6th edition, 1936) by Ernest Scott (1867-1939).]

Chapter XXIII

Democracy at work

(a) Government

Free scope left to the colonies — The protection afforded them — Napoleon III and his supposed designs on Australia — The Shenandoah incident — The ballot — Constitutional reforms — Women enfranchised — Elective and nominee councils — Cowper’s quarrel with the Council in New South Wales — McCulloch’s protection policy in Victoria — David Syme — The Victorian constitutional struggle — The Darling grant — Payment of members — Black Wednesday — Reform of Victorian Council.

The Australian colonies, having been endowed with complete self-governing powers in the manner previously described, were free to work out their own political destinies under the protection of the British flag, but with a minimum of interference from the British Government. They were at liberty to dispose of their lands as they chose, to raise revenue as they chose — they could tax imports from each other and from the mother-country, since no restrictions were placed upon their fiscal freedom — to make whatever laws they chose relative to their own form of government, the franchise, the relations of capital and labour, and everything else within the domain of social and political organization. They were enfranchised democracies, with scope for exercising democratic government under such favourable conditions as had rarely occurred before in the history of the world. They were relieved from trouble concerning foreign aggression, because they were sheltered by the greatest naval power in the world. That security is the dominating fact in the history of Australia. Her people, while they were developing their resources and shaping their institutions, never had any serious anxiety about the safety of their country.

There were occasional ‘scares,’ when wars and rumours of wars occupied the public mind, but there never was any serious danger. During the Crimean War, in 1854, the people of both Sydney and Melbourne were alarmed lest Russian cruisers should raid their ports. Sir William Denison, who was Governor of New South Wales at the time, had been an officer of the Royal Engineers, and took a lively interest in the fortification of Port Jackson. Fort Denison, which in later years came to be variously regarded as a picturesque survival or as an impediment to navigation, according to the disposition of the beholder, was constructed. Guns were also placed so as to command the entrance to the port and its channels. But the excitement was soon allayed, and there was no real cause for it, though it can be understood in view of the paucity of information as to what was happening in Europe; for there was no submarine cable at that time.

A curious document exists which, if genuine, shows that the Emperor Napoleon III at one time gave thought to the possibility of making an attack on Australia. While Lord John Russell was Foreign Secretary in Great Britain this paper came into his possession. Having read it, he put it in an envelope, sealed it up, and endorsed it with the words: ‘Private. Very important. Questions drawn up by Empr. Napoleon with view of seizing our Australian colonies and reviving privateering. 1853.’ The paper itself purports to reveal a series of questions ‘upon the English colonies in Australia.’ The questions related to the distribution of the population, whether the rule of the mother country was popular, how many soldiers were in the country, what places were fortified, what artillery there was, whether 10,000 men would suffice to hold Victoria against any force which the English might bring to retain the colony, which would be the best points for a landing, what would be the principal obstacles to the success of such an expedition, whether Algerian troops would be well adapted for such an enterprise, and whether ‘Geelong, Melbourne and Mount Alexander could be well fortified in a short space of time.’ The spelling of Port Phillip as ‘Port Phillippe’ suggests that the person who supplied Lord John Russell with the information was a Frenchman; but the document is not in French, though it professed to be copied from an original written by Napoleon III. The copyist said, ‘want of time, or rather the danger of discovery, did not allow of a complete copy being taken.’

Russell’s informant was therefore, clearly, a spy, and was probably paid for the information he supplied. Whether in this instance he was supplying correct information is doubtful. Two of the questions do not indicate an intelligent knowledge of Australian geography. (1) The sensational gold discoveries at Mount Alexander in 1851-2 gave prominence to that place in the newspapers, but it is not easy to believe that Napoleon III considered that inland hill, near Castlemaine, a suitable position for fortification. (2) Another question referred to ‘the colonies of Victoria and Sydney.’ Although Lord John Russell thought the document ‘important’ in 1853, we should not now consider it as more than interesting. There is certainly nothing to corroborate the assertion of the spy that Napoleon III thought of attacking Australia.

During the last period of the American Civil War, in January, 1865, the Confederate steamer Shenandoah entered Port Phillip, and her commander, Lieutenant Waddell, asked permission of the Governor of Victoria, Sir Charles Darling, to effect certain repairs to her machinery, and to take on board coal and supplies. The ship had put to sea from a port in Great Britain under the name of The Sea King, but her name had been changed to Shenandoah during her cruise, she had mounted guns as a ship of war, and had been employed in sinking vessels belonging to the Federal (or Northern) States of America. All British possessions were warned, when the civil war broke out in 1861, that it was necessary to observe strict neutrality, and the Foreign Enlistment Act forbade British subjects to take any part in the contest. The Shenandoah was entitled, under the international rules of war, to the consideration for which Lieutenant Waddell had asked, and no offence was committed against the Government of the United States (the ‘Federal’ Government) in permitting her to make repairs and take in supplies.

But while the ship was in dock, the American Consul in Melbourne warned the Governor that the crew of the Shenandoah was being strengthened by the enlistment of British subjects, and that at least one man had already gone on board. The Governor sent a police officer with a warrant to arrest the man. But Lieutenant Waddell refused to allow his ship to be searched for the purpose of executing the warrant. He said that the deck of a man-of-war was ‘inviolable,’ and that sooner than allow the police officer to make a search he ‘would fight his ship.’ At the same time he gave to the Governor ‘his word of honour as an officer and a gentleman’ that he had no British subject on board, nor had he engaged anyone, nor would he do so while he was in the port. There is no doubt that Lieutenant Waddell was not truthful in these undertakings and statements.

The Victorian Government placed a police guard to watch the ship and prevent British subjects from going on board. But despite these precautions the Shenandoah did augment her crew while she was within the port of Melbourne; and after leaving the port she committed further depredations against shipping belonging to subjects of the United States, which were computed by the Government of that country to amount to 6,300,000 dollars.

At the conclusion of the war, the United States Government made claims against the British Government for compensation on account of damage done by Confederate ships which had been allowed to sail from British ports. The greatest amount of damage was committed by the Alabama, and the whole case is consequently known by that ship’s name. The claims were referred to a court of arbitration which sat at Geneva in 1872. The total amount awarded to the United States was 15,500,000 dollars (£3,250,000). The arbitrators were not unanimous as to whether any sum ought to be awarded on account of the Shenandoah. Two were of opinion that no fault was committed at Melbourne; but three held that the Victorian Government had been negligent. By a majority of one, therefore, the court decided that Great Britain was liable for ‘all the acts committed by that vessel after her departure from Melbourne on February 18, 1865.’ As the court decided to award what it termed a ‘sum in gross,’ without specifying how much was allowed in particular instances, the official record does not state what sum was awarded on account of the Shenandoah; but though the amount cannot be precisely ascertained, there is evidence to show that it was about one-fourth of the total sum. Sir Alexander Cockburn, afterwards Lord Chief Justice of England, who was a member of the court of arbitration, held that the award in respect to the Shenandoah was unjust; and the Secretary of State wrote to Governor Sir Charles Darling, informing him that in the opinion of the British Government the actions of the Victorian Government in the matter had been correct.

The constitutions conferred upon the colonies were not unalterable instruments. They contained within themselves power to ‘repeal, alter, or vary’ any provision. Thus, if New South Wales had desired to substitute an elective for a nominated Legislative Council, she could have done it by the simple passing of an Act for the purpose, provided that the Act was passed by an absolute majority of the members of each House. That the colonies would wish to alter their constitutions in some respects was soon evident. As has already been pointed out, a very large number of those who immigrated to this country in the gold-digging era were English Chartists or men strongly imbued with Chartist or extreme radical political ideas. Men like Henry Parkes, David Syme, Graham Berry, James Service, and many others who influenced thought or directed policy in Australia, had either been actively connected with English Chartism or were imbued with Chartist principles. They quickly saw opportunities for realizing their opinions in Australia years before there was a possibility of securing substantial reforms along such lines in Great Britain.

The attainment of voting by ballot presents a good illustration of this statement. The principle was one of the six ‘points’ of the English Chartists, and at the time when responsible government was conferred upon the Australian colonies it had not been adopted anywhere within the British Empire. It was brought forward in the Legislative Council in December 1855. On a resolution in favour of voting by ballot in the Electoral Bill then under consideration being carried against the wish of the Government, the first Victorian Premier, Haines, resigned office. But the motion, which was submitted by William Nicholson, was adhered to by the House. Clauses embodying the ballot principle were prepared by Henry Samuel Chapman, then a member of the Victorian Legislative Council, and afterwards a judge in New Zealand. Nicholson, though his motion secured the adoption of the ballot principle, was unable to work out a practical method of giving effect to it. Chapman’s legal skill came to his assistance, and he was therefore the real author of the Victorian ballot system, which was passed into law in March 1856. In April 1856, South Australia also adopted a ballot system. The other Australian colonies soon followed these examples.

Yet there were many at the time who had grave misgivings about abandoning the old, familiar method of open voting at the hustings, and, curiously enough, amongst them was Hugh Childers, then the Victorian Commissioner of Customs, but afterwards a member of several Liberal Governments in Great Britain. In England, where bills to institute voting by ballot were rejected twenty-eight times by the House of Lords, and where the supporters of the principle did not succeed till 1872, the system proposed was generally called during the discussions ‘the Victorian ballot’; and a learned critic of American institutions records that in that country ‘secret, or as they are called “Australian,” official ballot laws are now in force in all the States except Georgia and South Carolina’ (Bryce, American Commonwealth, vol. ii, 148).

The Australian reformers brought with them from Great Britain a stock of political ideas which those who advocated them had failed to embody in legislative shape there, but which it was much easier to enact in Australia. Phrases of English origin became the common stock of Australian politics. The phrase ‘one man one vote,’ which expressed the aspiration to abolish dual or multiple voting powers for the propertied classes, was coined by Major Cartwright, the English radical, in the great days of Pitt and Fox. It is the law in all the Australian States, and the Commonwealth constitution enacts that ‘in the choosing of members each elector shall vote only once.’

The principle of payment of members of Parliament, adopted in all the Australian colonies, was a Chartist demand. The abolition of the property qualification for members of the popular house of legislature, which all the Australian colonies likewise adopted, was taken from the Chartist programme. So was manhood suffrage. The ‘People’s Charter’ of the early Victorian radicals did not, it is true, embody women’s suffrage; and the main arguments for that principle were borrowed by its Australian supporters from John Stuart Mill and his school. South Australia was the first of the six colonies to confer the franchise on women (1894). Western Australia (1899) was the next. New South Wales (1902) was the third. Tasmania enfranchised women in 1903, Queensland in 1905, Victoria in 1908. When the Commonwealth was established, women were enfranchised under the constitution; and are also eligible for membership of Parliament.

The two colonies (New South Wales and Queensland) whose Legislative Councils were, in the commencement of responsible government, elected as nominee chambers, adhered to that system until 1922. In that year the Legislative Council of Queensland was abolished. In the four other instances the Councils were elected by constituents possessing property qualifications.

There was one sharp crisis with the New South Wales Legislative Council in the early years of its history. The constitution of 1855 — Wentworth’s Act — provided that the first Council of twenty-one members should be appointed by the Governor for five years, but that at the expiration of that term ‘all future members shall hold their seats for the term of their natural lives.’ It happened that during those first five years the Government headed by Charles Cowper had introduced a Land Bill designed to make it easier for poor men to acquire farms. The bill, whose author was John Robertson, embodied the contentious principle of ‘free selection before survey,’ which meant that a selector desiring to obtain a piece of land could enter upon any crown land — even if it were already leased to a squatter — pick out a block, and settle upon it. But the squatters who occupied large areas of land leased from the Crown objected to this proposal, because it would enable selectors to enter upon their sheep-runs, pick out the best pieces, such as well-watered and fertile parts, and leave them with the inferior land. It would also, they urged, enable men who had no real intention to settle to enter upon a leased run and select, in the hope that the squatter would pay them something to get rid of them. As the Legislative Council consisted largely of landowners and others who were friendly with the squatter class, it was quite expected that that House would amend the Cowper Government’s Bill.

The bill passed the Legislative Assembly in 1861. The five years’ term of the first Legislative Council was drawing to a close; and, had Cowper delayed the measure for a few weeks, he would have been able to nominate such a Council as would certainly pass it. But he was impatient to get his Land Bill upon the statute-book, and when the Council amended it so as to prevent a selector from picking out land upon a leased run, he adopted the startling course of advising the Governor (Sir John Young) to appoint twenty-one fresh members. But those nominees never took their seats in the first Legislative Council of New South Wales; for when they presented themselves to be sworn in, on the last day of sitting of the last week of the five years’ period, the President, Sir William Burton, at once resigned office and walked out, followed by the majority of the members. Governor Young was afterwards censured by the Secretary of State for the Colonies for accepting advice to create ‘upon a sudden and for a single night’ sufficient Legislative Councillors to convert a Government minority into a majority. The new Council — entirely nominated, of course, by the Cowper Government — carried its land legislation without demur.

After this incident the Cowper Government proposed to make the Council an elective body. Wentworth, who had watched the proceedings just narrated with indignation, now favoured the elective principle, since, he declared in wrathful scorn, the nomination system had enabled a Government ‘to sweep the streets of Sydney in order to attempt to swamp the House by the introduction of twenty-one members.’ But a committee to which the bill for establishing an elective council was referred reported strongly against establishing an upper house based on manhood suffrage; and, as Cowper had intended to make a wide franchise the complement of his scheme, and now saw no hope of doing so, he did not persist with it. In 1872 Henry Parkes made an attempt to introduce an elective element into the Council, but failed to convince Parliament that a change was desirable.

Not long after the commencement of responsible government the elective Legislative Council of Victoria became engaged in a bitter struggle with the Legislative Assembly, and public opinion in New South Wales, watching the exciting events which were occurring over the border, saw that the nominee system did after all afford a ready means of bringing the Council into harmony with the policy of the Ministry of the day, by the nomination of new members; whereas, under the system of election on a property qualification, there was a much graver risk of the two Houses getting into conflict and deadlock.

The Victorian quarrel, the first of a succession of such disputes between two legislative bodies, was of great interest in the history of parliamentary government in the British Empire; and the importance of it is increased by the fact that it was connected with the initiation of what ultimately became the economic policy of Australia as a whole. In 1864 the Ministry of James McCulloch gave its support to the principle of imposing customs duties upon imports, with a view of encouraging the manufacture of those goods in Victoria; that is, to the principle of protection. The conversion of McCulloch and his colleagues to this policy had been somewhat sudden; for in a public speech at the previous general election he had plainly declared, ‘I am opposed to protection; what the colony wants is to buy in the cheapest market and to sell in the dearest.’ But a strong body of public opinion had by this time been formed in favour of the protective system, largely under the influence of a man who played a silent but powerful part in Victorian politics for about half a century.

This man was David Syme, a tall, granitic Scotsman, reared on oatmeal and philosophy; a student, but also a keen man of affairs; a thinker deeply interested in the serious literature and problems of the modern world, but one who, whether engaged in cattle-breeding, or scientific speculation, or politics, brought to bear upon the question in hand the full force of a strong will and a hard, critical, somewhat sceptical intellect. He came to Australia in 1853 and tried his luck on the gold diggings. There he made some money, though he had not much taste for the work. But in 1860 he found the real vocation of his life, as well as his path to fortune, and — what he valued still more — power.

His brother, Ebenezer Syme, had also come to Australia, and was at this time writing articles for a newspaper called the Age, which had been started in October 1854. This journal had vehemently championed the cause of the Ballarat miners, but its original proprietors had no liking for the opinions expounded by the little group of men who wrote its leading articles. Ebenezer Syme and his colleagues were, indeed, slashing about in fine style; so that the proprietors, who had simply started the paper to make money and were disappointed in that regard, sold it in December to a co-operative group of printers, who had very little capital, but plenty of energy. Then David Syme came along with the money he had made from mining. His brother advised him to buy the Age, which was on the brink of extinction. David Syme had no belief in the speculation. He doubted whether there was scope for another newspaper in Melbourne. But he did believe in his brother, who had been assistant editor of the Westminster Review in London, and was a man of keen insight. So in 1856 when the Age, with its plant and type, was sold at auction, it was bought for £2,000 by James McEwan, a Melbourne ironmonger, in behalf of the Syme brothers. The newspaper did not make sufficient profit to maintain both of them, and David Syme engaged in contracting till his accomplished brother died in 1860, when, rather unwillingly, he took over the management himself.

On many subjects Syme had thought himself into opinions which were at variance with those commonly entertained. Nearly everybody in Australia who took a keen interest in politics at that time was a free-trader. Cobden and Bright and the Anti-Corn-Law League had triumphed in Great Britain in 1845, when they won Sir Robert Peel to their side; and English colonists, especially those who favoured liberal principles, accepted free trade as a fixed part of the British system. Syme himself said in a letter that, when he started to advocate protection for native industries in the Age, ‘there was not, so far as I knew, a man in the whole country but was a free trader.’ But he came to the conclusion that it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to establish successful manufacturing industries in Victoria as long as manufactures were exposed to the unrestricted competition of British and foreign firms, commanding large capital and great output. ‘A bar is put upon the attempt at the very outset,’ he said in the first leading article he wrote on the subject; and unless local efforts were protected by the imposition of duties on imported manufactures, the people of this new country would ‘be as utter strangers to all scientific skill and practical dexterity in the arts and manufactures of highly civilized nations as are the Bedouins of Barbary or the Tartars of Central Asia.’

Whether this was a true theory of trade or otherwise is not a subject with which we are now concerned. We have to do with historical causes and consequences; and the effect of Syme’s advocacy of protection, which he maintained with unflagging vigour, was very remarkable. During a period of commercial depression he persisted in his policy, and very soon there was a strong party in Melbourne which carried the agitation to the platform and forced it forward as a political issue. Politicians who had scouted protection began to realize that Syme’s journal was carrying weight with the electors. A parliamentary champion was found in Graham Berry, a London Chartist with a fervid oratorical temperament. After a general election in 1865 there was a majority of members of the Legislative Assembly in favour of imposing a protective tariff, and McCulloch, who, like many others, had swung round, pledged his Government to introduce one.

When McCulloch carried out his promise by submitting a tariff to Parliament in 1865, his Government was already engaged in a quarrel with the Legislative Council, which he had proposed to reform by reducing the property qualification and shortening the period for which the members were elected from ten years to five. The Council had promptly rejected this measure, and McCulloch judged from the tone of the debate and his knowledge of the political atmosphere that his tariff would be treated in a similar manner. He therefore determined to throw down a challenge to the combative Council by sending the tariff to it not in a separate bill, which would have been the proper procedure, but ‘tacked’ to the Appropriation Bill for voting money for the ordinary annual services of the country.

The expedient of ‘tacking’ a measure known to be repugnant to an upper house, to an annual appropriation bill, was not a new one. It had been done in England in the reign of William III, but had always been regarded by the House of Lords as an unconstitutional procedure. But McCulloch clearly meant not merely to force his protective tariff through Parliament, but also to break the Legislative Council, which he had failed to reform. By ‘tacking’ the tariff to the Appropriation Bill he threw upon the Council the responsibility of accepting or rejecting the whole measure, since under the Victorian constitution a bill appropriating revenue was one which the Council was not empowered to amend. It could accept or reject, but could not alter a line.

Then commenced a protracted conflict of exceptional acuteness. The Council ‘laid aside’ the bill. Consequently the Government did not obtain authority to spend the money which was required to carry on public works, pay the civil service, meet bills, and so forth. Meanwhile the Government continued to collect revenue from importers, who were compelled to pay duty on their goods. This they did in accordance with the British practice, which made duties of customs collectible from the time of the proposal of new rates to the House of Commons, and before they had been sanctioned by Parliament. Some of the merchants sued the Government to recover money which they held to have been illegally collected, and the Supreme Court decided in their favour. But the Government defied the Court and went on collecting the revenue, which it was legally neither empowered to take nor authorized to spend. McCulloch’s ingenuity hit upon the device of borrowing £40,000 from the London Bank of Australia, of which he was a director, and then inducing the Bank to sue the Government for the recovery of the money borrowed. The Government did not defend the suit, the Bank got judgement in its favour, and the Governor authorized the handing over of the £40,000. It was clever, and it enabled the Government to tide over present difficulties under shelter of law. By several repetitions of the processes of borrowing and of paying back under an order of the Court, the claims of the public creditor were met. But the difficulty between the two branches of the Legislature remained unsettled.

In November the controversy entered upon a new phase, when the Government consented to send a separate tariff bill to the Council, thus removing the ‘tack’ to the Appropriation Bill which had given such offence. But the bill now contained a retrospective clause, designed to render of no avail judgements which had been obtained from the Supreme Court by the merchants who had sued the Government. The Council objected to this and several other provisions of the bill, and refused to pass it. The position of deadlock between the two Houses was therefore unrelieved.

As there was no constitutional means of settling such differences, the Government determined to appeal to the country. The Governor, Sir Charles Darling, on the advice of his ministers, granted a dissolution of the Legislative Assembly. The Legislative Council, though an elective body, was not, under the constitution, affected by a dissolution. Its members held their seats during the ten years for which they were elected, no matter what happened to the other branch of the Legislature.

The general election evoked to the shrillest pitch the storm of controversy which had raged in the country during the discussion of these events. The opulent resources of the English language were fully exploited for terms of abuse which partisans hurled at each other. The issue was mainly that of protection, and the action of the Council in rejecting the tarifff. The Council itself, though thoroughly unpopular, certainly had constitutional justification for refusing to pass a money bill with extraneous provisions ‘tacked’ to it. But the set of public opinion against what was generally regarded as a compact body of landowners fighting for their own interests was so determined that the constituencies were little inclined to weigh technical justifications. The McCulloch Government was swept back to power on a wave of popular enthusiasm, and it faced the new Parliament in 1866 with a solid and resolute protectionist majority behind it.

Even now, however, the Council would not yield. Once more it rejected the Tariff Bill, which, it must be confessed, received little consideration on its merits as a measure of protection, because it was complicated with provisions which McCulloch’s pugnacious Attorney-General, Higinbotham, insisted on putting into it, and which, the Council held, ought not to form part of a bill imposing customs duties. The simple issue of tariff or no tariff was not laid before the Council. It was clogged with other principles.

McCulloch now resigned office, but the Assembly passed a resolution informing the Governor that it would not support any Government which did not persist with the bills already submitted to the Council. It was therefore plainly useless for the Governor to choose a Ministry from the opposition. No form of government which the wit of man can devise will work well unless those who live under it are prepared to oil its wheels with good-will. The British constitution, upon which the Victorian instrument was modelled, would break down unless in times of crisis a spirit of concession prevailed. But the two Victorian houses in 1865-6 had come to a condition of deadlock through a conflict of obstinate wills, and as the latter year wore on relations were strained almost to breaking point. There was much inflammatory rhetoric; revolution rumbled behind the menacing clouds of political conflict; something had to give way.

McCulloch resumed office, and reintroduced the Tariff Bill. It was passed for the fourth time and sent to the Council. But cool advice had been tendered to the members of that body, and they now proposed a conference between selected members of the two Houses. As the result of talks between fourteen representatives, the Tariff was at length accepted by the Council with the elimination of the retrospective clause and of certain expressions in the preamble declaratory of the rights of the Assembly, to which strong opposition had been made.

The protective policy, which was due mainly to Syme’s advocacy, was thus initiated in Victoria amidst furious storms. Incidentally the struggle made the fortune of the Age, and gave to Syme the pre-eminence in Victorian politics which he continued to exercise as long as that generation survived. He was a more vigorous thinker and a stronger personality than were most of the politicians, and he dictated policies to them from his newspaper office, confident that the electorate would follow his lead. His success was the result of hard fighting and a consummate understanding of how to manipulate political forces. But though the tariff issue was now settled, days of peace were by no means at hand. Rancours bubbled in the parliamentary cauldron, and fresh flames burst forth shortly.

The position of Governor Darling throughout the recent disputes had been one of exceptional difficulty. The disruption of the normal mode of financing the affairs of government, the resort to the expediency of borrowing money from a bank and getting the bank to sue the Government for the amount borrowed because Parliament had not passed the necessary Appropriation Bill, the uncompromising cleavage between the two Houses, the whole welter of bitter controversy, had thrown upon Darling responsibilities in discharging which he was bound to displease the one party or the other. He had acted upon the advice of his ministers, and that advice had been given in the heat of party conflict and for the purpose of winning party victory. But he had shown marked sympathy with his ministers, and had in an official despatch attacked certain petitioners against the action of the McCulloch ministry as guilty of ‘conduct highly discreditable,’ as ‘ministering to their own personal and pecuniary profit’ in what they had done, and as unworthy of ever holding responsible office. A review of Darling’s actions during the crisis induced the Secretary of State to write a despatch censuring and recalling him.

But, however much the Legislative Council and its supporters might hate the Governor, he was a popular hero. The stalwarts of the Assembly declared that he had been victimized by the Colonial Office because he had not thwarted the popular cause. The rich squatters, they said, had compassed his ruin because he would not be their creature. Torchlight processions and public demonstrations were held in his honour, and he might have papered Government House with the illuminated addresses which poured in. The Assembly voted an address wherein it stated that Darling had saved Victoria from anarchy by adhering to the principles of popular government. As he could no longer expect employment in the Colonial Office the Assembly voted £20,000 to Lady Darling.

Again the country boiled with excitement. The £20,000 item was included in the supplementary estimates of expenditure, and the Legislative Council promptly rejected the bill, contending that such a grant ought to have been the subject of a separate measure. Though the new Governor, Manners-Sutton, sent a message to the Council informing it that Darling had resigned from the colonial service in the belief that the grant would be made, and that failure to make it would be in the nature of repudiation, the Council would not yield. McCulloch adopted in regard to the Darling grant the method that he had pursued on the tariff. He resigned, but his solid majority would not grant supplies to the Ministry which Manners-Sutton induced to succeed him. Then he consented to resume office on condition that he secured a dissolution which would enable him to take the verdict of the country. Once more he and his party were triumphantly returned. But this time the Imperial Government, thinking that Victoria had had enough of bitter strife, ended it by granting to Darling a pension of £1,000 a year for life, whereupon he intimated that Lady Darling would not accept the £20,000 which the Assembly was determined to vote.

There was another deadlock between the Victorian Houses in 1877 on the question of the payment of members of Parliament. The principle had been approved by the country, and the Legislative Council had twice (1870 and 1874) passed Acts embodying it. But these had been temporary measures, lapsing after a prescribed time. The Government headed by Graham Berry now (1877) resolved to make payment of members the permanent rule. A bill for the purpose was passed by the Assembly, but was rejected by the Council. Berry thereupon resolved to fight the Council; and he threw down a challenge to it by including the required sum in the annual Appropriation Bill. It was another instance of ‘tacking,’ and the rejection of the measure was a foregone conclusion. Berry was determined to exert coercive pressure upon the Council which had so often and so defiantly thwarted the Assembly.

As the Council would not pass the Appropriation Bill containing the offending item, and the Assembly would not have the bill without the item, Berry resolved to reduce expenditure and carry on government by an expedient. On January 8, 1878 (known in Victorian history as Black Wednesday), by proclamation he dismissed a considerable number of public servants from their offices. They were principally heads of departments and well-paid officials, and their sudden ejection from office, by depriving them of the means of paying rents, interest on mortgages, tradesmen’s bills, and other debts, brought about an immediate collapse in the value of property. It was plainly intimated that other dismissals might follow. The plea was the necessity for reducing expenditure, but the political object undoubtedly was to bring pressure to bear on the Council and make its members sorry for their defiance. Next, Berry induced the Assembly to declare by resolution that grants of money voted by it were to ‘become legally available for expenditure,’ without the concurrence of the Council. Thirdly, he persuaded the Governor (Sir George Bowen), that he could legally sign what were called ‘Treasury warrants,’ authorizing expenditure which had been voted by the one house of legislature but not ratified by the other.

These were not strictly constitutional acts, but they were effective. In March 1878 intermediaries declared that the Council would now view the payment of members proposal in a more conciliatory spirit. The Appropriation Bill was passed without the ‘tack,’ and the Council agreed to a Payment of Members Bill to operate till the end of the existing Parliament, with the understanding that a permanent measure for the purpose would afterwards be accepted. In 1880 a bill making payment of members part of the regular governing system of Victoria was passed without dispute, the Council, however, stipulating that it should not apply to its own members.

There have been disputes between the two houses of legislature in other colonies, but none approaching in interest and constitutional importance, or in intense feeling, the celebrated Victorian struggles of 1865-6 and 1877-8. The memory of them caused the framers of the Commonwealth constitution to make especially careful provision for remedying deadlocks which might arise between the two houses of the federal legislature. The Victorian Council itself, moreover, recognized a little later (1881) that its own constitution was dangerously remote from popular influences, and reformed itself by reducing the property qualification of its members and electors and the size of its electoral provinces. After 1881 it became rather less of a squatting oligarchy, and somewhat more representative of human beings than of sheep than it had been in the years of its historical fights with McCulloch and Graham Berry.

Ernest Scott, A Short History of Australia, London: Oxford University Press, 6th edition, 1936, pages 250-268

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