Wednesday, August 7, 2013

John Douglas and the 1867 Queensland elections

Douglas now contested Eastern Downs for the second time in less than sixth months. [1]  Although not yet 40 years of age, he was a veteran parliamentarian and campaigner, as this was his sixth election campaign and he had yet to taste defeat.[2]  At a public meeting at a crowded Warwick Court House,[3] Douglas explained that he had acted honourably in tendering his resignation as treasurer in order to accept the post of secretary for the department of works and that he could not join the opposition because of their land policies.[4]

As he had in his previous campaign for this seat a few months earlier, Douglas again concentrated on land matters, calling for changes to the Leasing Act so that squatters would no longer be the principal beneficiaries.[5]  In advocating a liberal land policy that unlocked land reserves and encouraged small agriculturalists, he pitted himself against squatter interests and their squatter candidate, a Mr Green of Goomburra.[6]  Douglas, while a squatter himself, never identified with the squattocracy.  As he himself once explained, “he had never during his political career acted with the extreme squatting party … he was not one of them - he had never been one of them, and he was not likely to be one of them.”[7]  Douglas also observed how, as a young aristocrat, he was influenced by liberal ideals:
When in Scotland, a mere youth, he was even then much impressed with a great gathering of tenantry to meet their landlord, Fox Maule, the present Lord Penmure, and in addressing them, that nobleman said that it was not of the extent of his landed property that he felt proud, but of the farmers and tenants whom he had been the means of raising up around him, and to support him.[8]
Douglas wanted to use the Leasing Act to ensure that yeoman and small farmers would be able to purchase land for the benefit of themselves and the colony.[9] 

The election took place amidst high excitement, as this account of polling at Leyburn on the Darling Downs demonstrates:
This has been one of the most exciting days ever witnessed in this town; gaily decorated traps with their respective mottoes, and the partisans of the rival candidates were to be seen continually driving to and from the polling place, as usual on those occasions. Angry and not very complimentary epithets were freely exchanged.[10]
Douglas won the election by a landslide.[11]

The day after the new parliament (with Macalister as colonial secretary and Douglas secretary for public works) commenced, Robert Ramsay Mackenzie moved a motion of want of confidence against the ministry.[12]  Although it was defeated, the vote was so close that the government declined to carry on.[13]  Mackenzie formed a ministry, and once again, Douglas found himself in opposition.[14]  Douglas’s appointment as secretary of public works in May 1867 had resulted in the downfall of the previous Macalister Ministry and the calling of a general election.  On the resumption of parliament, the opposition had continued where they had left off before the last election and attacked at length his appointment as minister for works.[15] 

A parliamentary opponent, Ratcliffe Pring, had attacked Douglas personally, criticising him “for busying himself in various philanthropic ways about orphans.”[16]  In reply, Douglas had shown great dignity, defending the government’s program and declining to stoop to Pring’s level of personal vilification.[17]  This attack on Douglas by the opposition allowed them to attack the government through a perceived weakness in the Macalister ministry.  They detested the government because of its land policies and, by targeting Douglas, an aristocrat and squatter regarded by them as a ‘class traitor’ due to his liberal views, they besmirched his reputation and brought down a government intent on reducing the power of the squattocracy and opening up land for selection.[18]

Because Douglas had held three ministerial positions in only 18 months - that of postmaster-general, colonial treasurer, and public works,[19] he was unable to make a lasting contribution in terms of policy development and legislation.  Douglas found this deeply frustrating, because he had entered politics to serve society.  He had also made little impact regarding his twin passions of land reform and improved transport infrastructure.

The loss of the postmaster-general position, through no fault of his own, resulted in Douglas’s departure from parliament.  Returning after being offered the treasury portfolio, he moved to public works over a point of principle - an action that resulted in the colony being forced to the polls.  Despite the successful return of the government, Douglas again found himself on the outer, as the ministry, of which he was a senior member, lacked a sufficient majority to govern effectively.  Political factors ended each of his ministerial positions while the loss of his ministerial salary exacerbated his financial problems, and helped force the sale of Tooloombah.

Nonetheless, Douglas had won two elections in only four months:  one unopposed, the other by a landslide.  He was popular with his constituents and had served two years in parliament, including leading the government in the legislative council.  Now 39 years of age, Douglas was a very experienced politician.

[1] Queenslander, 1 June 1867.  The election date for Douglas’s now vacant seat of Eastern Downs was set for 21 June 1867.  Despite his seat having been declared vacant by parliament, Douglas insisted that:  “he still held his seat according to the constitutional law of the country.”  (“Mr. Douglas at Warwick.”  Queenslander, 1 June 1867, p. 7)
[2] In chronological order, they were Darling Downs, Camden, Port Curtis twice and Eastern Downs twice.
[3] Mr. Douglas at Warwick.  Queenslander, 1 June 1867, p. 7
[4] Ibid.
[5] “Mr. Douglas at Warwick.”  Queenslander, 1 June 1867, p. 7
[6] Mason, p. 92; Warwick Argus and Tenterfield Examiner, 28 May 1867, p. 2
[7] “Mr Douglas at the School of Arts.”  Brisbane Courier, 31 October 1873, p. 3
[8] “Mr. Douglas at Warwick.”  Queenslander, 1 June 1867, p. 7
[9] “Mr Douglas at the School of Arts.”  Brisbane Courier, 31 October 1873, p. 3
[10] “Leyburn.”  Queenslander, 29 June 1867, p. 6
[11] Douglas’s winning margin of 69 votes was a landslide, for of the 302 registered voters, only 223 (74 per cent) voted.  (“Warwick.”  Queenslander, 6 July 1867, p. 7; Statistical Register of Queensland for the Year 1867.  Brisbane, Government Printer, 1868, p. 26)
[12] Bernays, p. 43
[13] Queensland Government Gazette, vol 8 no 51, 29 June 1867: Mason, p. 93
[14] Queenslander, 17 August 1867, p. 7; Queensland Government Gazette, vol 8 no 66, 15 August 1867; Bernays, p. 43.  This was a double blow for Douglas, demoted to the opposition benches and losing his ministerial salary of £1,000 per annum.
[15] Brisbane Courier, 9 August 1867, p. 3
[16] “Mr. Pring.”  Queensland Parliamentary Debates, 8 August 1867, p. 60.  For information on Douglas’s advocacy of orphanages in Queensland, including his opposition to them being run on denominational lines and his desire to see orphans placed with foster parents in private homes, see J. Pearson.  The Growth and Development of Social Services in Queensland.  BA Hons thesis.  University of Queensland, 1953, p. 22
[17] Hon. John Douglas.  Queensland Parliamentary Debates, 8 August 1867, p. 66.
[18] Queenslander, 17 August 1867, pp. 4 & 7 
[19] The dates were; postmaster-general, March to July 1866, colonial treasurer, December 1866 to May 1867, and public works, May to August 1867.