Thursday, November 29, 2012

John Douglas representing the seat of Darling Downs in the New South Wales Parliament

Douglas’s candidacy for the lower house seat of Darling Downs was rumoured as early as February 1859, but it was late March before he was formally approached to stand, mainly by Warwick voters.[1]  Douglas, now 31, accepted with alacrity.  So began a political career that would eventually result in him becoming the premier of Queensland.
Douglas later airily remarked that he decided to enter politics “as a kind of relaxation.”[2]  In reality, he embarked on this course of action due to his highly developed sense of duty and service, one that, in the best traditions of liberalism, compelled him to be useful to his fellow man.  His faith in his own abilities was such that he unquestioningly felt that he could represent the electorate in a manner calculated to defend and advance its interests.  However, he would never be comfortable as a party man, and once ran for public office so he:
might do something towards reconciling men who, forced by party associations into opposition with one another have yet no doubt the common good at heart.[3]

Douglas was never an ambitious man in the sense of wanting to accumulate fame and wealth.  He reserved his energies for pursuing public office and those government appointments in which he believed he could make a positive contribution to society through putting into practice his liberal ideas and beliefs.  He was reported candidly informing his constituents in 1878 when the premier of Queensland and reflecting on his parliamentary career:
He had no ambition for the office.  He had a kind of ambition which had not as yet been rewarded, and, perhaps, never might be, but it was one to which all might aspire.  It was simply to do his duty in a straightforward honest way, without selfish intentions, for the good of his fellow beings, and with a consciousness that he was working not only for the benefit of his fellow human beings now living, but for those which might follow.[4]

As with everything Douglas did, once he had made up his mind to run for public office, he devoted all his energies and talents to successfully achieving it.  The Darling Downs electorate was a large one, and during the course of his campaign, Douglas rode, on horseback, from one end of it to the other, a distance of 800 miles.[5]
In a lengthy advertisement appearing in the Darling Downs Gazette in April 1859, Douglas endorsed and vigorously defended the extension of the franchise while thanking the eighty supporters who had requested him to run for office.[6]  Douglas, the liberal Talgai squatter, was seen as the front-runner in the multi-member electorate, with the battle for the electorate’s second seat between William Handcock, a Drayton storekeeper, and John McLean, a founding director of the Australian Agricultural Company and owner of Westbrook Station.
Douglas, when nominating, gave an “elegant speech” in which he outlined his views on the major issue of the day: land selection.  He believed that cheaper land was not desirable and “that land sales by public auction should be abolished.”  He also disagreed with Handcock’s plan of “free selection of land and payments deferred.”[7]  Douglas put forward a policy that further extended the franchise, supported loyalty to Britain, encouraged habits of self-reliance, and favoured enhanced progress in the Darling Downs’ district.[8]  He considered himself to be:
a man of progress, but of that progress only which rough and difficult had an upward tendency and [he] warned the electors that there was another kind of progress which was smooth and easy but tended downwards towards ruin.[9]

A show of hands at the nomination meeting revealed overwhelming support for Handcock, about fifty for Douglas, and only six for McLean, who nevertheless demanded a poll.  Several election meetings were therefore held over the next few weeks, McLean being shouted down at Drayton in contrast to the “three cheers for Douglas and Handcock.”[10]
In his nomination speech, Douglas outlined his views and ideas on the issue of central concern for him - the land question.  They resonated with his constituents, for:
the politics of the second half of the century were largely the politics of the struggle for land.  It seemed at times as though the desire for land had become symbolic, transcending the immediate economic experience of an urbanised community which was to draw its social message not from the city but from the bush.[11]

Douglas, although a large-scale squatter, supported the opening up of land selection on terms and conditions the ordinary man could afford and share in.  This support was received favourably by the electorate, for the desire to own one’s one piece of land was a recurring theme running throughout Australian history.[12]
The Moreton Bay Courier’s Drayton correspondent characterised Douglas’s nomination address as “a curious document” before concluding that: “despite a few local prejudices, he will be returned as one of our members.”[13]  An Ipswich paper, the Northern Australian, thought it an “unusual address,” with no bunkum and no promises, but clearly showing evidence of responsibility.  It concluded that Douglas “was the most reasonable of his class, too young to be prejudiced, yet old enough to have ascertained by self-examination that he is not infallible.”
The Moreton Bay Free Press, too, considered him “one of a thousand among his class.”  The Darling Downs Gazette strongly recommended him as “a thinking man” with a “sensible and manly tone,” although it did have some doubts about a squatter who professed a belief in liberalism and support for electoral reform and the secret ballot.  The paper further considered Douglas to be one “of the upper ten thousand” who had nothing to gain from political service and would therefore represent the electorate unselfishly.[14]
The Douglas clan in Scotland were known for their compassion and generosity to those less fortunate.  Lord Alfred (Bosie) Douglas could have been writing about John, his older first cousin twice removed, when he stated:
From more than a thousand years of ancestors I have inherited all the instincts of the true aristocrat, the chief of which I take to be the instinct to be generous and open-handed, and to be the helper and defender of the poor or oppressed ... It has been the passion of my life to sacrifice myself for others.[15]

For John Douglas, these “instincts” were a product of his social class, education and religious beliefs, and instilled in him a profound sense of social obligation and responsibility.  He was not driven by the lure of monetary gain or personal ambition.  His rewards were less tangible but ultimately more satisfying for him, namely the satisfaction gained from being true to his conscience and ideals.
Following a speech by Douglas in Toowoomba, the Sydney Morning Herald’s correspondent observed that Douglas “is very popular; and as he is a liberal, in heart as well as principle, he will be returned at the poll.”[16]  The Darling Downs Gazette concurred:
His pretensions are so immeasurably beyond any other candidate in the field and so fully appreciated by the thinking portions of the electorate that his election is considered a safe certainty.[17]

One elector preferred Douglas to McLean because he was “more liberal and will not be influenced by any party.”[18]
On election day, the expected landslide for Douglas failed to materialise and the final result was extremely close.  This was because, despite the election being fought throughout the colony on the twin issues of electoral and land reform, on the Darling Downs it largely focussed on personalities.[19]  Handcock was not only popular with the townspeople, but also picked up the votes of Warwick voters who resented the ‘squattocracy,’ be they liberal or otherwise.  McLean, a conservative squatter, not surprisingly attracted the bulk of the squatter and conservative votes.  The election itself was a lively affair, with feelings running high and being strongly expressed.  At one of McLean’s meetings, “no one could be heard above the noise of the uproar,” while “broken chairs and glasses flew about in all directions.”[20]  Democracy, in the form of responsible government, was in its infancy, and, particularly on the frontier, was exercised in a robust and energetic manner.
Representing Darling Downs
Douglas topped the polls with 385 votes to Handcock’s 377 and McLean 375.[21]  Douglas and Handcock were placed in a carriage and pulled around the town by their supporters.[22]  Handcock owed his success to his being considered the “defender of the poor,” while McLean’s loss was seen as a defeat for the squatters and a victory for the townspeople.[23]  Douglas, although a squatter, had stood as a liberal, prepared to fight the “wicked pure merinos” in the interests of the country-town radical and rural selector.[24]  Almost all those elected to parliament were large-scale property-owners, and later on, also businessmen or those from the professions, because until the 1880s parliamentarians received no payment for their services, and money was required to successfully conduct election campaigns.[25] 
Duncan Waterson has observed that it was somewhat ironic that many of these squatter candidates successfully contested electorates where and when the selector-squatter controversy, carefully inflamed by them, was at its peak.[26]  However, while Douglas may have been a squatter, he was certainly no “fair- weather liberal,” for he had early on developed his liberal beliefs and held steadfastly to these throughout a long and productive life. 
Unlike many of his class, Douglas was strongly in favour of an elected upper house and had no time for a “spurious colonial aristocracy - a poor imitation of the English House of Lords.”[27]  As he observed, it was also a “source of gratification to him” that most men could now vote in elections.  A correspondent remarked that:
This from a squatter is somewhat marvellous.  I really thought there was not a squatter on the Downs who would pronounce, what our late M.P. termed the most diabolical portion of Mr. Cowper’s Reform Bill, as ‘a source of gratification to him.’[28]

Another demonstration of Douglas’s liberal leanings took place in October 1858, when he chaired a meeting in Warwick to protest the exploitation of the livestock impounding laws by squatters and to consider a petition to the government for a town common.[29] 
Douglas’s candidature and victory were exceptional, for here was an aristocrat and a squatter successfully garnering the vote of working-class people.  He had won his seat by specifically attacking the squattocracy and campaigning for land and parliamentary reform.  It is doubtful that a comparable victory could have been achieved in England, where class and privilege were more entrenched.
That he was a man of privileged upbringing standing for the masses against his own made him, in their eyes at least, a certainty for office.  He embodied all the qualities they wanted a successful representative to have:  wealth, class and connections, a superior education, and independence of thought and action.  He was on their side, and prepared to represent them in the parliament and act in their best interests.[30]  A ‘feral’ aristocrat was infinitely more preferable than one of the ‘bunyip’ variety![31]  While the general populace welcomed Douglas’s victory, most squatters were considerably less enthusiastic.[32]
Following the election, rumours ran rife that the Downs squatters were manoeuvring to ostracise the successful and independent Douglas for displacing McLean.[33]  Most squatters found Douglas’s liberalism objectionable,[34] but the Moreton Bay Courier saw greater promise:
It appears that he is a man of views far more enlightened and progressive than those of the generality of his class  ... The man, thoroughly identified with squatting pursuits, who shall take his place loyally and boldly beside the political reformers of the country will, so far as the two circumstances may be compared, occupy a similar position to that of Robert Peel, when at one step he ascended to the very summit of popularity.[35]

However, Douglas’s first period in the colonial legislature was all too brief.  He and Handcock travelled from Brisbane by ship to Sydney for the commencement of parliament on 30 August 1859.[36]  Almost 60 per cent of the members of the third New South Wales parliament were new, while 38 per cent were pastoralists.[37]
Douglas supported the Cowper ministry and was, along with Moreton Bay members Richardson and Macalister, considered among those who would “stick to their business well.”[38]  The same could not be said of Handcock, who was frequently absent from parliament on crucial votes. After only two and a half months in parliament, Douglas resigned in protest over problems occasioned by the imminent establishment of the colony of Queensland, including the obstructionism of the assembly over border demarcation and the amount of public debt to be transferred to the new colony.[39]
This action by Douglas would be the first of a number of resignations from elected positions over matters of principle.  On this occasion, it was of symbolic value only, for less than a month later the seat ceased to exist, because the electorate was included in the newly formed colony of Queensland.[40]  John Douglas then left Sydney for Talgai,[41] but by September 1860 had returned to Sydney after commencing selling his share of the property.[42]
Douglas relocated to Sydney[43] because he had met Mary Ann Howe there.  They were married there on 22 January 1861 at St James Church.[44]  Douglas was 32 years old, Mary a year older.  She was a widow, the third daughter of the Rev. William West Simpson, the second headmaster of King’s School, Parramatta.[45]  Mary brought to the marriage the sum of £700 per annum and an infant daughter.[46]  In Mary Anne, John Douglas had found a like-minded soul, one who was dedicated to helping others less fortunate.  Passionately committed to helping destitute and orphaned children, she was instrumental in the success of the Diamantina Orphanage in Brisbane later that decade.[47] 

[1] French (1990), p. 157
[2]Joyce (1972), p. 89
[3] John Douglas to William Macarthur, 24 November 1860.  Macarthur Papers, Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, ML A2937, Cy Reel 1002
[4] “The Premier at Maryborough.”  Brisbane Courier, 21 October 1878, p. 4
[5] “Mr Douglas at the Albert Hall.”  Brisbane Courier, 3 August 1883, p. 4
[6] John Douglas.  “To the Electors of the District of Darling Downs.”  Darling Downs Gazette, 28 April 1859, p. 1
[7]Moreton Bay Courier, 22 June 1859, p. 2.  French has taken this to mean, “free selection and deferred payments were anathema to him.”  French (1990), p. 157.  This is not correct, for two weeks earlier, on 7 June, Douglas had come out strongly in favour of free selection, a position he would consistently reaffirm over the next couple of years.  Douglas is actually indicating here that he was opposed to the type of free selection supported by Handcock, with Douglas preferring to have land first surveyed so that prospective selectors could see what they were purchasing.  Douglas always held firm to the principles underlying free selection, namely that land should be unlocked and made available to those who wished to establish themselves on it.  How that was to be done, and the price to be paid, were open to discussion and debate.  Further on in this chapter free selection is discussed in some detail, for it was one of the major issues of the time.
[8] Moreton Bay Courier, 22 June 1859, p. 2
[9] Ibid.
[10] French (1990), p. 160
[11] Nadel, p. 30
[12] See Humphrey McQueen.  A new Britannia:  An Argument Concerning the Social Origins of Australian Radicalism and Nationalism.  Melbourne, Penguin, 1970, p. 147
[13] Moreton Bay Courier, 4 May 1859, p. 2
[14] French (1990), pp. 157-58
[15] Alfred Douglas, p. 4
[16] Sydney Morning Herald, 20 June 1859, p. 2
[17] Darling Downs Gazette, 9 June 1859
[18] An Elector.  “Original Correspondence.”  Moreton Bay Courier, 11 May 1859, p. 2
[19] Maurice French.  “The Leading Man of Drayton; William Handcock, Frontier Storekeeper, and the Election of 1859.”  Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, vol 13 no 3, August 1987, p. 104
[20] “Drayton.”  Brisbane Courier, 22 June 1859, p. 2
[21] Mason, p. 33.  Douglas topped the poll in Clifton, Canal Creek (both near Talgai), Jimbour, Dalby, Cecil Plains, Maryland, and Surat on the fringes of the electorate, but failed to poll well in Warwick, the largest polling station in the district, and a Handcock stronghold.  (French (1990), p. 160)
[22] Ibid.
[23] Maurice French and Duncan Waterson.  The Darling Downs:  A Pictorial History, 1850-1950.  Toowoomba, Darling Downs Institute Press, 1982, p. 251
[24] Waterson (1968), p. 217
[25] Ibid., p. 216.  Members of parliament were only paid in New South Wales in 1889 and in Queensland from 1886 onwards.  (Mark Howard.  Shaping a New Nation:  Australian History to 1901.  2nd ed.  Melbourne, Longman Cheshire, 1993, p. 154)
[26] Waterson (1968), p. 217
[27] Mr Douglas.  “Legislative Council Bill.”  Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 2, 1865, p. 324
[28] Moreton Bay Courier, 4 May 1859, p. 2
[29] French (1992), p. 167; Moreton Bay Courier, 30 October 1858, p. 2
[30] There was a general acceptance on behalf of the working-class that they were best represented by “educated liberal gentlemen.”  (McQueen (1970), p. 182)
[31] The bunyip was a mythical Australian monster and the term ‘bunyip aristocracy’ was a derogatory term used to discredit William Wentworth’s proposal for a New South Wales upper house comprised of colonial nobility.  (Macintyre (1999), p. 93; John Hirst.  Australia’s Democracy:  A Short History.  Sydney, Allen & Unwin, 2002, p. 43)
[32] Sections of the press had also misjudged Douglas, with a correspondent from the Moreton Bay Courier initially describing him as being unpopular on account of “his haughty, imperious manner and aristocratic notions, his disbelief in the powers of the people and his extreme squattocratic notions.”  (Undated newspaper clipping, titled “Drayton.”  In, Douglas Papers, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, OM 89-3/C)
[33] French (1990), pp. 161-62
[34] Torres Straits Pilot and New Guinea Gazette, 19 December 1903
[35] “Fifty Years Ago” (from the Courier Files of 3 August and 6 August 1859.)  Moreton Bay Courier, 7 August 1909.  Sir Robert Peel, prime minister of England in 1834 and again from 1841-46, was the son of a wealthy textile manufacturer who, despite founding the Conservative Party, repealed the English Corn Laws in 1846.
[36] Richards, p. 300; Moreton Bay Courier, 27 August 1859, p. 2
[37] P. Loveday and A. W. Martin.  Parliament Factions and Parties:  The First Thirty Years of Responsible Government in New South Wales, 1856-1889.  Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1966, p. 29; Mason, p. 35
[38] Moreton Bay Courier, 26 October 1859
[39] French (1990), p. 162
[40] Richards, pp. 307 & 735
[41] In 1860, his partner, Thomas Hood, purchased the property Langton Downs near Clermont in Queensland.  It is possible that Douglas was involved in this purchase as well.  (Eve Douglas, p. 7)
[42] Eve Douglas, p. 7.  The sale of Talgai was a complex one, affected in stages over two years.  On 2 April 1860 Edward Douglas and Thomas Hood sold part of their equity in the property to Charles Clark for £39,000.  (Book of Stock Mortgages no 35, 2 April 1860.  Queensland State Archives, quoted in Mason, p. 43; McKey, p. 102.)  By September of that year Edward Douglas had entered into a private arrangement with Hood to relinquish his share in Talgai and on 13 September Hood sold a quarter of Talgai, including a share in the stock, to Clark’s partner, Thomas Hamner, for a further £9,000.  (Book of Stock Mortgages no 106, 13 September 1860, quoted in Mason, p. 44; McKey, p. 102.)  The final settlement for the sale of Talgai to Clark and Hamner took place on 26 November 1862 for £72,000, and was preceded by John Douglas transferring his share of the run to Hood. (Mason, p. 44; Queensland Government Gazette, vol 4 no 2, 3 January 1863, p. 10; McKey, p. 99 & 102; R. C. Sharman, Queensland State Archives, to R. B. Joyce, 26 May 1969.  Joyce Papers, National Library of Australia, MS 7691, Box 133, Douglas folder.)  Despite having sold his share of the property, Douglas was still on the Eastern Downs Electorate Roll in 1864 with his place of residence listed as Talgai.  (“Roll of Electors in the Eastern Downs Electorate for 1864-5 no 29.”  Queensland State Archives Electoral Rolls Microfiche no 3.)  Edward Douglas, having sold his share in the property, returned to Scotland with his cousin, Hannah Charlotte Scott-Douglas, whom he subsequently married, the couple settling at Killiechassie, near Aberfeldy in Perthshire.  (Eve Douglas, p. 7; Mason, p. 43; Burke’s, pp. 2053-54)
[43] John Douglas to William Macarthur 24 November 1860.  Macarthur Papers vol 41 pp. 134-38, ML A2937.  Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales
[44] “Marriage certificate registration no. 1861/48.”  New South Wales Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages; “Marriages.”  Sydney Morning Herald, 23 January 1861, p. 1.  The Lord Bishop of Sydney, the Right Reverend Frederick Barker, officiated at the wedding.
[45] Eve Douglas, p. 7.  Mary Ann was born in London on 25 August 1827.  (Mary Douglas tombstone inscription.  Toowong Cemetery, Brisbane, portion 9, section 34, allotment 5.)  Her parents, William Simpson (27 June 1794-1869) and Jane (Nee Leake), along with their then eight children were unassisted passengers aboard the Earl Grey, which sailed from Plymouth on 29 October 1839, and arrived in Sydney on 25 February 1840.  (Colonial Secretary.  Vessels Arrived, January-March, 1840.  State Records New South Wales, COD 38.)  Her parents were married in London on 9 March 1824 and had a further four children after their arrival in Sydney.  At the time of her marriage, Mary was living in Liverpool, Sydney.  Her Christian name in the extant literature was spelt as Mary Ann until the 1860s when it changed to Mary Anne. This was her third marriage, her first being to Henry Callander on 29 November 1848.  (Sydney Morning Herald, 2 December 1848, p. 4)  Henry, an employee of the Customs Service, died in an accident on 19 August 1852, aged 31 years.  (Sydney Morning Herald, 19 August 1852; “Birth certificate registration no. 1848/0 (V1848252 33B.)”  New South Wales Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages.)  There were no children.  She then married William Howe, of Sydney, and they had a child, Mary West Howe, born on 1 March 1857.  (“Birth certificate registration no. 1857/5912.”  New South Wales Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages.)  William Howe subsequently died, leaving the unfortunate Mary Ann a widow for the second time.
[46] Mitchell, p. 262.  Blanche Mitchell was very upset over this turn of events, for not only had Douglas married, but also to a woman who was a widow twice over!  “Shame that the only gentleman at present in Sydney should throw himself away in such a manner.”
[47] For more information on her involvement in these and related activities, see Mary Douglas.  “Report of the Committee of the Diamantina Orphan School upon the Working of the Institution during the Year 1866.”  Queensland Legislative Council Journals, vol 6, Session two of 1867-68, pp. 993-95;  “Mrs. Douglas’s Report.”  Brisbane Courier, 19 January 1866; R. F. J. Wood.  “The Diam.  A History of the Diamantina Hospital.”  Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, vol 11 no 3, 1981-82, pp. 147-67; Carol McMullen.  “The Servants’ Home.”  In, Women in History:  Places of Purpose.  Brisbane, Griffith University, 1994, pp. 17-21; Lorraine Cazalar.  Diamantina, Lady Bowen.”  In, Women in History:  Places of Purpose.  Brisbane, Griffith University, 1994, pp. 56-63; Weekly Epitome.  Brisbane Courier, 25 September 1869, p. 5; “Presentation to Mrs. John Douglas.”  Brisbane Courier, 5 October 1869, p. 6; John Tyrer.  History of the Brisbane Hospital and its Affiliates:  A Pilgrims Progress.  Brisbane, Boolarong Publications, 1993, p. 87.  Mary also suffered from ill health.  (See “Farewell Banquet to the Hon. John Douglas.”  Brisbane Courier, 22 September 1869, p. 3)