Thursday, January 9, 2014

John Douglas contests the seat of Darling Downs in the 1875 Queensland elections

The next opportunity for John Douglas to contest a parliamentary seat came in the form of the Darling Downs electorate in March 1875, following the resignation of Edward Wienholt over, amongst other things, dummying irregularities.[1]  The liberal side of politics was expected to retain government following the upcoming general election.  Douglas’s years in the political wilderness had made him an older and wiser man.  No longer did he trumpet his independence as loudly as before.  In his absence, politics had evolved to the stage where political representatives now aligned themselves with nascent parties (parties in all but name) representing liberals or conservatives.  It was more important than ever that representatives supported their groups on matters of national importance and it was a measure of Douglas’s political maturity that he understood this and was prepared to abide by it.

The Downs electorates were known for returning conservative men to parliament and for their hostility to any candidate who was not “a local man, and presumably unacquainted with the inhabitants and their needs.”[2]  Although Douglas once lived in the area and represented it in parliament, that was over 15 years ago and he was now perceived as a Brisbane resident contesting the seat against a local candidate, William Graham, a squatter who had settled in the district in 1855.  Graham exploited this advantage, informing the electorate that they should select “a local man, and not a stranger,” one who was not “a resident of Brisbane.”[3]  His accurate labelling of Douglas as the nominee of the anti-squatting government further assisted his cause.[4]

Douglas, in his electoral manifesto, strongly supported free selectors against the ‘squattocracy’ and raised a recent case involving Wienholt and others in dummying irregularities before announcing that he was “no friend of dummies, past, present, or future, and I ask none of them or of their friends to vote for me.”[5]  This remark demonstrates that Douglas was not a populist politician, one prepared to garner votes at the expense of his beliefs.  He held strong views on a number of issues, including dummying, and refused to modify his views to gain additional votes.  While many candidates expressed firm opinions on the campaign trail, Douglas was unusual in that he maintained them once the election was over; the electorate could vote for him confident that his convictions would not change once elected.

The Brisbane Courier believed that Douglas’s return was “pretty certain.”[6] However, he had to contend with some opposition from Catholics because he firmly refused to endorse the use of state funding for Catholic schools.[7]  This opposition firmed following a dispute at an election meeting held by him in the Warwick Town Hall.  Asked by the Rev. S. H. McDonough if he was in favour “of continuing the present system of non-vested schools,” Douglas refused to pander to the crowd and replied that he wished to see the end of the non-vested system.  McDonough then cogently presented his reasons for differing with Douglas on the “education question,” and this altered the tone of the meeting to the extent that when the vote of confidence in Douglas was called for, only 25 people of the 300 present assented.[8]

Election day saw Graham poll four more votes than Douglas. [9]  However, the declaration of the poll was delayed because there were four more ballot papers cast than had been ticked off by the returning officers.  It was not possible to ascertain which ballot papers were the excess ones or which candidate they were cast for.  Nevertheless, if all four had been in favour of Graham, then Douglas and Graham would each have received an equal number of votes.[10]  The returning officer, Sandy Creek grazier George Affleck, was in a quandary, and appealed to the attorney general for advice.[11]  However, before a reply was received, other events came into play and the poll was never formally declared.[12]

[1] Waterson (1968), p. 219; John Douglas.  “To the Electors of Darling Downs.”  Darling Downs Gazette, 17 March 1875, p. 2
[2] Waterson (1968), p. 256
[3] William Graham.  “To the Electors of Darling Downs.”  Darling Downs Gazette, 17 March 1875, p. 2
[4] Ibid.
[5] John Douglas.  “To the Electors of Darling Downs.”  Darling Downs Gazette, 17 March 1875, p. 2
[6] Brisbane Courier, 24 March 1875, p. 2
[7] Waterson, pp. 260-61.  In Douglas’s words, “they must not look to him for any further development of the system of connection between church and state applied to education.”  (Brisbane Courier, 31 October 1873, p. 3)
[8] Darling Downs Election, Warwick Examiner and Times, 6 March 1875, p. 2.  Waterson claims that Douglas lost this election because he failed to secure the votes of those Catholics who wanted their schools funded by the government.  (Waterson, pp. 260-61.)  However, James Morgan, the member for Warwick, asserted during the debate on the 1875 Education Bill that his Catholic constituents, “did not care one snuff how he voted” on the question of state funding for denominational schools, being “far more interested in the settlement of the land question and in getting their roads and bridges improved.”  (Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 19, p. 871, quoted in Lawry (1968), p. 251)
[9] Warwick Examiner and Times, 27 March 1875, p. 2.  Douglas strongly out polled Graham in Warwick by 178 votes to 82.  However, the result in Leyburn, although in Douglas’s favour, was much closer, the margin being just six votes, 44 to 38, while in Jondaryan and Cambooya, Graham won handsomely, 36 to 0 and 65 to 36 respectively.  Yandilla and Cecil Plains also went to Graham, 34 to 22 and 29 to 0 respectively.
[10] Brisbane Courier, 31 March 1875, p. 2
[11] Ibid.
[12] Parliament reconvened on 27 April 1875, with the seat still vacant, as no writ had been returned.  On 4 May 1875, parliament resolved that Graham had been duly elected to represent the seat, and he was sworn in the following day.  (“Election for the Darling Downs.”  Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 18, 1875, pp. 82-85; Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 18, 1875, p. Iv.)  For a detailed account, see Waterson (1968), pp. 243-44