Wednesday, August 7, 2013

John Douglas and the 1866 Queensland elections

Douglas was quick to contest a parliamentary seat once the elections were called.[1]  This meant he had to relinquish his seat in the legislative council.  Macalister and his backers had successfully prevailed upon him to contest a targeted lower house seat, thereby assisting their return to government.  Douglas willingly obliged, because his five months in the legislative council had been a frustrating experience, one that failed to involve him in the decision-making and political-influencing he had experienced when in the legislative assembly. 
The Brisbane Courier supported Douglas’s candidature, reporting, even before parliament had been adjourned, a rumour that Douglas intended to contest Eastern Downs, held by John McLean, the new colonial treasurer.  The paper believed Douglas would perform strongly there, for he was well known in the district and when in opposition had assisted its constituents with various land matters.[2]  However, when Douglas did stand for election, it was in the electorate of Western Downs rather than Eastern Downs.[3]  The incumbent, John Watts, had six days earlier been appointed secretary for lands and public works in the Herbert ministry. Judging by subsequent events, it appears that Macalister had convinced Douglas to stand for this particular seat.[4] 
In his election manifesto Douglas claimed that Watts, a “large pastoral landowner on the Darling Downs,”[5] was the wrong man for the position, while himself affirming that the Darling Downs should be available to “farmers or other resident and improving tenants” rather than squatters.[6]  In persuading Douglas to contest this seat, Macalister sought to unseat a squatter, who, in the previous session of parliament, had helped prevent his government from implementing its land reform measures.[7]  Unfortunately for Douglas the electorate was one dominated by squatters.[8]
His address, which concluded that he wanted to oppose Watts on political rather than personal grounds,[9] read as if his heart was not in it.  Why then was he contesting the seat?  The Macalister ministry, by resigning over the financial crisis the previous week, had forced the members of the incoming Herbert ministry to recontest their seats. [10]  Herbert was departing for England in August and, if his ministers could be defeated at the polls then Bowen would have to request Macalister to form government.  Douglas was the trump card for the Macalister team.  Being in the legislative council, he was the only member of the previous ministry able to contest one of these seats and was well known and respected in the colony.[11]  Watts, however, was derided as being “imbued with deep-seated party views and feelings, and adverse to the growth of any new interest,” a man afraid to meet his constituents.[12]
Douglas knew that he was contesting the wrong seat, because he would have been almost certain of victory in Eastern Downs due to the large number of settlers at Allora and Warwick, as well as the manifest unpopularity of the incumbent, John McLean.[13]  But with the seat of Western Downs unwinnable, Douglas did not even visit the electorate.  He was never comfortable with this type of ‘wheeling and dealing,’ a situation in which the spoils of office were carved up in back rooms behind closed door.  Subsequent events demonstrated the truth of this observation, with Douglas - an active, if somewhat unwilling, participant - shortly afterwards receiving a ministerial office.
The elections were staggered, with the first contest taking place at Ipswich.  There a member of the new ministry, Ratcliffe Pring, was defeated, resulting in the resignation of Herbert and his ministry, and Macalister was then requested by Bowen to form a government.[14]  In so doing, Macalister amply displayed why he was known by the sobriquet ‘slippery Mac,’[15] for it contained several surprises, including the inclusion of two members of the former Herbert ministry - John Watts, and John McLean.[16]  Douglas was not included.  Macalister had included Watts and McLean in order to bolster his political fortunes, in the same manner that he had brought Mackenzie and Douglas into his previous ministry.  While the Queenslander believed that their inclusion was the price Herbert had demanded of Macalister for his resignation, it was concerned that their inclusion would lead to “doubt and distrust.”[17]
This development left Douglas in an intolerable position, because he was a member of the previous Macalister ministry, now contesting a seat against a sitting member of Macalister’s new ministry!  A deeply disappointed Douglas withdrew his candidature the following day.[18]  Even worse, he was now no longer a member of parliament, having resigned from the legislative council to contest the seat.[19]  This episode raises many questions.  Why was he omitted from the ministry?  Was he ‘double-crossed’ by Macalister?  Why did he contest the unwinnable seat of Western Downs when he could have easily defeated McLean in Eastern Downs?
Macalister persuaded Douglas to challenge Watts because no one else possessed the necessary credentials and popularity on the Darling Downs to defeat him.  However, Herbert had insisted that Macalister include both McLean and Watts in the ministry and Douglas therefore lost both his seat in the legislative council and his position in the ministry.[20]  Douglas then withdrew from contesting the seat of Western Downs on the understanding that he would be included in the ministry at the earliest possible opportunity.[21]  He had plenty to keep him busy while he waited for the expected vacancy for his community duties continued to be extensive, and he was actively involved with a number of Brisbane organisations.[22]

[1] Douglas’s manifesto, appearing in the Brisbane Courier on 26 July 1866, was the first the paper published, appearing even before the gazettal of a notice of election for his seat!  (John Douglas.  “To the Electors of the Western Downs.”  Brisbane Courier, 26 July 1866, p. 1; Brisbane Courier, 26 July 1866, p 2)
[2] Brisbane Courier, 24 July 1866, p. 2
[3] John Douglas.  “To the Electors of the Western Downs.”  Brisbane Courier, 26 July 1866, p. 1; Brisbane Courier, 26 July 1866, p 2.  In order to contest the seat, Douglas resigned his position in the legislative council, doing this on 25 July.  (Queensland Government Gazette, vol 7 no 75, 28 July 1866, p. 673)
[4] Brisbane Courier, 26 July 1866, p 2
[5] John Douglas.  “To the Electors of the Western Downs.”  Brisbane Courier, 26 July 1866, p. 1
[6] Ibid.
[7]  Wilson (1978), p. 50.  For example, only two weeks previously, the Macalister government, debating the issue of the upset price of alienated land, a measure in The Crown Lands Sale Bill, had been defeated by four votes.
[8] “Toowoomba.”  Brisbane Courier, 1 August 1866, p. 3
[9] John Douglas.  “To the Electors of the Western Downs.”  Brisbane Courier, 26 July 1866, p. 1
[10] The Herbert Ministry was described as:  “that they do not, and are never likely to, possess the confidence of the country.”  (Brisbane Courier, 24 July 1866, p. 2)
[11] Brisbane Courier, 22 December 1866, p. 4
[12] Brisbane Courier, 24 July 1866, p. 2
[13] “Toowoomba.”  Brisbane Courier, 1 August 1866, p. 3.  The paper hoped that “Douglas will permit himself to be put in nomination for the Eastern Downs, where we are confident his success is a certainty.”
[14] Queenslander, 11 August 1866, p. 9; Wilson (1978), pp. 50-51
[15] See Wilson (1978), p. 45.  Macalister gained this political nickname because he was notorious as a breaker of promises.
[16] Queenslander, 11 August 1866, p. 9
[17] Ibid.
[18] Brisbane Courier, 8 August 1866, p. 3; Queenslander, 11 August 1866, p. 5; John Douglas.  “Address in Reply to Opening Speech.”  Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 4, 1867, p. 49
[19] John Douglas.  Western Downs Election.”  Darling Downs Gazette, 14 August 1866, p. 2.  Always the gentleman, Douglas was characteristically sanguine about the situation, remarking in a published letter to Watt’s nominator, James Taylor, that he was “most sincerely glad that a compromise has been affected.”
[20] Nevertheless, Macalister and Douglas remained political allies and shortly afterwards Douglas accompanied him to New South Wales to inspect the railway system there.  (Brisbane Courier, 22 August 1866, p. 2; Paul Wilson.  The Political Career of the Honourable Arthur Macalister, C.M.G.  BA Hons thesis, University of Queensland, 1969, p. 106)
[21] Queenslander, 17 November 1866, p. 4.  McLean remarked soon after the reconvening of parliament that because he lived in Sydney, his tenure in the ministry would be brief.
[22] These included the presidency of the Milton Mutual Improvement Association, vice-president of the Brisbane Philharmonic Society and the Caledonian Association of Queensland, a committee member of the Brisbane Diocesan Church Society, the Brisbane Hospital and Benevolent Asylum and the Brisbane Lying-in Hospital, and a warden and trustee of All Saints’ Church, Brisbane.  Douglas was also actively involved with the Freemasons, being on the executive of the Provincial Grand Masonic Lodge, Brisbane and the Scotch Constitution.  Lodge St Andrew’s no. 435, Brisbane.  For further details on these memberships, see Appendix 2.