Friday, January 3, 2014

John Douglas and the Queensland Lilley Ministry of 1868-9

Following the resignation of the Mackenzie ministry,[1] Charles Lilley became premier.[2]  Douglas was not included, which was hardly surprising given the remarks made by him in parliament the previous week.  What was surprising was that it fell to Douglas to announce the new ministry in parliament.  The Brisbane Courier saw this as recognition of Douglas’s influence, although, given that he had missed a ministerial post, the paper was astonished that he had consented to be their spokesman.[3]

Entrusting Douglas with the honour of announcing the new ministerial arrangements in parliament clearly indicated that the government needed Douglas more than he needed them, for he was by now a very popular politician, with a well-deserved reputation for honesty and integrity.  It was therefore in the new government’s interest to have him onside.  However, although Douglas’s penchant for independence, coupled with a tendency to speak his own mind, greatly concerned Lilley, nevertheless, the latter correctly deduced that having Douglas onside was preferable to having him in opposition.  After all, it was Lilley, who in March 1866 had given Douglas his first ministerial position.

The best way to keep Douglas onside was to include him in the ministry.  However, this was fraught with danger, because Fitzgerald, who Douglas had so recently savaged, was colonial treasurer, and Macalister, who had had disagreements with Douglas over the East Moreton election, was minister for lands and works.  Nevertheless, the position of postmaster-general was vacant, and it was to Douglas that Lilley turned.  Douglas, not considered a candidate, was, to the surprise of many, given this position.[4]  He was also appointed to the legislative council to represent and lead the government there.[5]  Political necessity can make for strange bedfellows and given Douglas’s recent savage criticism of his colleagues, few were stranger than this.[6]

In summing up this episode, the Brisbane Courier concluded with some observations on Douglas’s political career, the impact of his recent parliamentary behaviour, and his future prospects in the Lilley ministry:

The day of Mr. John Douglas’s influence as a leading politician has passed away, and we fear is not likely to return …owing to some surprising exhibitions of indiscretion … He can no longer make or mar a government; he will not help an iota to keep the present ministry in office, unless his wisdom in council greatly surpasses his judgement in debate.[7]

As this thesis will show, subsequent events proved the newspaper wrong on all counts

[1] The Colonial Treasurer.  “Resignation of the Ministry.”  Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 8, 1869, pp. 75-76
[2] Mason, p. 106; John Douglas.  “Change of Ministry.”  Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 8, 1869, p. 79; “Ministerial Changes.”  Brisbane Courier, 26 November 1868, p. 2; Brisbane Courier, 1 December 1868, p. 4. The announcement of a Lilley government was treated with dismay by some conservative sections of the electorate.  For instance, this observation by Walter Cunningham Hume, a Darling Downs surveyor with marked squatter sympathies: “such a set of wretches never sat in a cabinet before, and it’s to be hoped will not again.”  As for the members of the ministry; he portrayed Lilley as a “confirmed drunkard,” Macalister “a clever but totally unscrupulous man, also given to drinking too much,” Taylor, “a perfect beast in every way,” Stephens, “a double faced politician who nobody appears to like,” and Hodgson, “a confirmed humbug.”  Douglas got off relatively lightly, Hume labelling him “an honest but unwavering and misguided man.”  (Nancy Bonin, ed.  Katie Hume on the Darling Downs:  A Colonial Marriage.  Letters of a Colonial Lady, 1866–1871.  Toowoomba, Darling Downs Institute Press, 1985, p. 177)
[3]  “Ministerial Changes.”  Brisbane Courier, 26 November 1868, p. 2; Brisbane Courier, 1 December 1868, p. 4
[4] Brisbane Courier, 1 December 1868, p. 4
[5] Brisbane Courier, 10 December 1868, p. 2; Queensland Government Gazette, vol 9 no 120, 11 December 1868, p. 1481 
[6] Brisbane Courier, 10 December 1868, p. 2
[7] Ibid.