Sir Henry Parkes at Tenterfield [25 October 1889]

[Editor: A report on the speech made by Sir Henry Parkes at Tenterfield (NSW), on 24 October 1889, which is regarded as one of the major events leading to the federation of the Australian colonies. Published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 October 1889.]

Sir Henry Parkes at Tenterfield.

Banquet to the Premier.

A brilliant reception.

[By telegraph.]

(From our special reporter.)

Tenterfield, Thursday.

Sir Henry Parkes left Brisbane at 7 o’clock this morning, and travelled by special train to Wallangarra on the Border, which place was reached about 5 p.m. He was met there by a special train, under the charge of Mr. Richardson, general outdoor superintendent, and Mr. C. H. Strange, locomotive engineer. The Premier was then brought to Tenterfield, where great preparations had been made for his reception. The whole town was en fete. All the stores were closed, and half the population gathered at the station to greet him on his arrival. Flags and banners were plentifully displayed, and the local brass band played an active part in the proceedings.

Sir Henry, who was accompanied by Mr. David Christie Murray, was met on the platform by Mr. Lee, M.L.A., Mr. E. R. Whereat, Mayor of Tenterfield, Aldermen W. Read, W. Merrell, A. G. Weir, D. Corney, J. Whereat, J. Williams, C. Burgess, and A. B. Butler, and also many prominent local men. A detachment of the Tabulam Mounted Infantry, under Lieutenant Readford, acted as an escort.

The Mayor on welcoming Sir Henry Parkes, read the following address, — “The Hon. Sir Henry Parkes, G.C.M.G., Premier and Colonial Secretary, New South Wales. Sir, — We beg, on behalf of the people of Tenterfield, to convey to you the welcome which we, its inhabitants, desire to accord you. It is not often we have the opportunity of meeting with a gentleman who has been entrusted by his country with the highest position which that country can confer upon him. All classes of the community, no matter on what side their opinions in politics may be, join in welcoming the Premier of New South Wales. We are fully cognisant of the talent and energy that have been displayed through your political life, which has received throughout a recognition than which there can be no higher, viz., that you are once again the head of the Government. In welcoming you, we desire to exclude all political considerations, and we feel that the harmony that should be attendant upon the welcome that we have an opportunity of giving you might be marred by allusions to any burning political subject. We trust that your short sojourn here may remain in your remembrance as a mark of the pleasant feeling that your presence creates wherever you go. We wish that in the present and in the future you may continue to be what all of us believe you are — a man who consistently does his best for his country, and a gentleman whose pleasing qualities are an ornament and delight to society. We trust that as years roll on you may long hold a position as one of the first and most earnest of our legislators, and we offer you, as a tribute to your long and faithful exertions in the service of our country, our best thanks and our very hearty welcome.”

Sir Henry Parkes, in reply, said that he had received their address with feelings of peculiar pleasure, and he did not think that he could find language in which to express all that he felt on revisiting their beautiful town and happy district. The kind things which they had been good enough to say to him he took exception to, as being more in the shape of compliment than reality. (No, no.) He knew well himself how far he had fallen below the standard which he had set up for his public life, but he knew equally well that he had at all times studiously tried to perform the duties which he had taken in hand. He knew in the inmost depths of his conscience that he had never allowed any consideration but that of what he believed to be the public good to influence him in the course which he had taken. It afforded him much gratification to know that the results of his labour were appreciated so highly above their value. He had come there with a sincere desire to make himself better acquainted with the town, although nothing which he could possibly learn now could assure him more than the circumstances of the past had done, of the generous confidence and honesty of the people of Tenterfield. (Hear, hear.)

The Premier was then escorted to Mr. Curley’s Commercial Hotel, where he is to stay during the remainder of his visit.

With regard to his visit to Queensland, Sir Henry expressed himself as being extremely satisfied as to its results. Unfortunately, owing to Mr. Morehead’s illness, he was not able to have a personal interview with that gentleman, but from conversations with the leading politicians of both parties, Sir Henry has come to the conclusion that the Queenslanders are by no means satisfied with the Federal Council. It is pointed out that the council does not really represent colonial opinion, and that it is very doubtful whether it has, under the Imperial Act, any power to deal with such an important question as the proposed scheme for federal defence. In order to bring about any united action in this direction a bill would have to be passed through the Imperial Parliament, and even then there would be no central executive authority qualified to take control of an army. Sir Henry Parkes, therefore, considers that some scheme of federal government should be agreed upon, and he has mainly devoted his efforts whilst in Brisbane to bring this about. Of course, nothing definite has been done as yet, but the Premier hopes that he has paved the way for future action in this direction.


Sir Henry was entertained at a banquet held in the School of Arts in the evening. Upwards of 80 persons were present, including a number of ladies. The chair was occupied by Mr. Whereat, Mayor of Tenterfield, and the vice-chairs by Messrs. J. B. Graham and J. H. Reid. Mr. Lee, M.L.A., Mr. David Christie Murray, and most of the prominent tradesmen were present. The usual loyal toasts were disposed of, and the chairman proposed “The Ministry,” coupled with the name of their guest, Sir Henry Parkes. He spoke in eulogistic terms of the various members of the present Ministry, and especially referred to Sir Henry Parkes, who, on account of his long and arduous services, deserved the gratitude of the whole community. He also referred to the Local Government Bill, the differential railway rates, and concluded by tendering the warmest of welcomes to the Premier.

Sir Henry Parkes, who was received with applause, said, in reply, that he could assure them he could not find words with which to acknowledge the toast, without recurring to the time when he had stood for a short period in intimate relations to them. This was one of the passages in his life which was not likely to fade away, for he remembered how generously they had elected him within a few hours after his defeat for East Sydney. He remembered also the generous confidence which they had displayed in refusing to accept his resignation on the occasion of his visit to England. He had afterwards felt compelled to suddenly resign his seat, but this arose from the same causes which had recently led to the appointment of the Public Works Committee. He had seen what had appeared to him such an utter profligacy in voting away large sums of money for public purposes, that he felt it was time he should refuse to sit in a Parliament where such things took place, although he saw occasion afterwards to return. The Premier then referred to the appointment of the Public Works Committee, pointing out the valuable services which it was likely to render, and he also dealt at some length with the constitution of the present Government, showing in detail the ability of its different members. The late session would, if it had come to a conclusion ten days earlier, have been one of the most creditable ever held in this colony. He then traced briefly the work of the session, and went on to refer to what the Government intended to do. They intended as soon as possible to ask Parliament to sanction a Local Government Bill — (Applause) — which would be framed on a comprehensive scale, and they would also introduce a new Mining Bill. They would also do their best to carry out as perfectly as possible the organisation of the defence force of the colony. He thought that they should by every means in their power encourage young men to enter the service, and to learn the use of arms, so that they might be of service to their country in case of need. They would do all they could to improve the organisation of the military forces of the colony in accordance with latest recommendations. They would doubtless be aware that a short time ago an Imperial officer inspected the forces of this colony and of the other colonies, and this officer’s opinion of our men was that they were calculated to make as fine soldiers as any in the world. Although he pointed out some defects, on the whole his report was favourable. General Edwards had also advised that the forces of the various colonies should be federated together for operation in unison in the event of war, so as to act as one great federal army. If an attack were made upon any of the colonies, it might be necessary for us to bring all our power to bear on one spot of the coast sometimes. More, however, was necessary if they were to have the federal system, so strongly recommended, and which must appeal to the senses of every intelligent man. The Government also proposed during the next session to introduce, if they possibly could, a measure to readjust the electoral system of the colony. (Hear, hear.) The policy of the Government was that taxation should only be imposed for tariff purposes. The Premier then proceeded to deal briefly with the question of free trade, quoting statistics from Mulhall to show how the trade of England had increased during the past fifty years, and to what extent the savings of the people had increased. He also compared the commerce of England with that of other nations, and stated that as long as he lived and could exercise power, he would use it to perpetuate the freedom which they inherited from their forefathers. (Applause.) The Imperial General who had inspected the forces of the colony had recommended that the whole of the forces of Australia should be united into one army. It would have pleased him greatly if they could rely on being safe without taking warlike measures, but as this was impossible, they must take measures to defended themselves, and the knowledge of this fact would be spread all over the world and make them additionally secure. There were two very important questions towards which their attention ought to be directed. They must have heard something of the Federal Council, on which New South Wales had not yet taken a place and which sat in Tasmania, and hold sessions which never appeared to interest any one; but if they were to carry out these recommendations of General Edwards, it would be absolutely necessary for them to have one central authority, which could bring all the forces of the different colonies into one army. Some colonial statesman had said that this might be done by means of the Federal Council, but this Federal Council had no power to do anything of the sort, as it was not an elective body, but merely a body appointed by the Governments of the various colonies It was therefore necessarily weak, and under the Imperial Act which appointed it no such tremendous power was given as that of originating and controlling a great Australian army. The Federal Council, also, had no executive power. It could propose, but could not execute. He would like to know what was to become of an army without a central executive power to guide its movements. One way which had been suggested out of the difficulty was that the Imperial Parliament should be asked to pass a measure authorising the troops of the colonies to unite in one federal army, but still, even if this were done, there would be an absence of the necessary central executive government. The colonies would object to the army being under the control of the Imperial Government, and none of the other colonies could direct it. The great question which they had to consider was, whether the time had not now arisen for the creation on this Australian continent of an Australian Government, as distinct from a local Government and an Australian Parliament. (Applause.) In other words, to make himself as plain as possible, Australia had now a population of three and a half millions, and the American people numbered only between three and four millions when they formed the great commonwealth of the United States. The numbers were about the same, and surely what the Americans had done by war, the Australians could bring about in peace. (Cheers.) Believing as he did that it was essential to preserve the security and integrity of these colonies that the whole of their forces should be amalgamated into one great federal army, feeling this, and seeing no other means of attaining the end, it seemed to him that the time was close at hand when they ought to set about creating this great national government for all Australia. This subject brought them face to face with another subject. They had now, from South Australia to Queensland, a stretch of about 2000 miles of railway, and if the four colonies could only combine to adopt a uniform gauge, it would be an immense advantage in the movement of troops. These were the two great national questions which he wished to lay before them. He had just returned from Brisbane, and the object of his visit had been not to force his advice on the authorities there but to discuss with them these matters. Unfortunately, owing to the illness of the head of the Ministry, his communications were rather more of a private character than otherwise; but, without disclosing any confidences, he thought he must state that he understood both sides in politics sympathised warmly and closely with the views which had been expressed by him. As to the steps which should be taken to bring this about, a conference of the authorities had been pointed to, but they must take broader and more powerful action in the initiation of this great Council; they must appoint a convention of leading men from all the colonies, delegates appointed by the authority of Parliament, who would fully represent the opinion of the different Parliaments of the colonies. This convention would have to devise the constitution which would be necessary for bringing into existence a federal government with a federal parliament for the conduct of this great national undertaking. (Applause.) The only argument which could be advanced in opposition to the views he had put forward was that the time had not come, and they must remain isolated colonies just in the same way as they were now. He believed, however, that the time had come, and, in the words of Brunton Stephens, the Queensland poet —

“Not yet her day! How long! Not yet!
There comes her flush of violet, and, heavenward, faces all aflame
With sanguine imminence of morn wait but the sun-kiss to proclaim
The day of the Dominion born.”

(Applause.) He believed that the time had come, and if two Governments set an example, the others must soon of necessity follow, and they would have an uprising in this fair land of a goodly fabric of free Government, and all great national questions of magnitude affecting the welfare of the colonies would be disposed of by a fully authorised constitutional authority, which would be the only one which could give satisfaction to the people represented. This meant a distinct executive and a distinct parliamentary power, a government for the whole of Australia, and it meant a parliament of two houses, a house of commons and a senate, which would legislate on these great subjects. The Government and Parliament of New South Wales would be just as effective as now in all local matters, and so would the Parliament of Queensland. All great questions would be dealt with in a broad manner, just as Congress dealt with the national affairs of the United States, and as the Parliament of the Dominion of Canada dealt with similar questions. He, therefore, took advantage of the opportunity which had arisen for the consideration of this great subject, for he believed that the time was at hand when this should be done. One great thing to be accomplished was the massing together of their military forces, and this could not be controlled by any other power than one representing all the colonies. In conclusion, he thanked them for the kindness which they had shown him, and said that he had no fear but the Federal Parliament would rise to a just conception of the necessities of the case. The thing would have to be done, and to put it off would only tend to make the difficulties which stood in the way greater. In the meantime, there was this substantial work which they could not do by any other means to be carried out, and it could not be done by any existing machinery.

A number of other toasts were proposed, and responded to, and in reply to the toast of “The Press,” Mr. Murray delivered an interesting speech.

Sir Henry will visit the various public buildings in the town to-morrow, and will be driven round the district, and he intends to leave for Sydney on Saturday morning.

The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW), 25 October 1889, p. 8

Editor’s notes:
General Edwards = Major-General James Edwards, of the British army, who came to Australia in July 1889 to conduct a review of the military forces of the Australian colonies [See: A. J. Hill, “Edwards, Sir James Bevan (1834–1922)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University (accessed 5 October 2013); “Major-General Edwards on federation”, The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW), 22 November 1889, p. 5]

Mulhall = Mulhall’s Dictionary of Statistics [See: Michael G. Mulhall, Mulhall’s Dictionary of Statistics (revised edition), George Routledge and Sons, London, 1886]

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