Thursday, January 9, 2014

John Douglas contests the seat of Maryborough in the 1875 Queensland elections

Douglas’s political salvation came in the form of the seat of Maryborough, a timber and sugar-growing town on the banks of the Mary River 220 kilometres north of Brisbane.  With a week to go before nominations closed – none having been received[1] – the local mayor, Edward Booker, a butcher and prominent property-owner, nominated, following a request from several electors to do so.[2]  37 electors opposed to Booker then telegraphed Douglas in Brisbane agreeing to act as his committee if he would nominate as the ministerial candidate.[3]  Douglas readily agreed, much to the delight of the conservatives on the Darling Downs, who gleefully predicted that:

with his elastic principles, and the absolute necessity, under existing circumstances, of returned for somewhere, we have no doubt that he will receive a certain amount of support.[4]

However, the conservative Maryborough Chronicle, which represented plantation owners, was not as impressed, believing that Douglas was “not one of us.  He can have no acquaintances whatever with our wants.”  The paper also urged its Catholic readers not to vote for Douglas, darkly claiming that he was the “nominee of the Orange Institution” and therefore could not be trusted, bound, as he must be, by secret loyalties to them. [5]  This accusation was a deliberate attempt to fan sectarian division because it was widely known that Douglas had recently, when a member of the education commission, recommended against continuing state support for Catholic schools.  Nevertheless, the assertion that Douglas, a staunch Anglican, would join an Orange Lodge defied credulity, and Catholics rejected this “damaging fact.” [6]

Another of Booker’s supporters observed that Douglas was a man, “stained with a series of humiliating defeats” who had experienced, “signal failures as a public man in every relation of political life.”[7]  To the disappointment of many of his supporters, Douglas did not travel to Maryborough during the campaign.[8]  Nevertheless, despite his absence from the electorate and a concerted campaign against him by the Maryborough Chronicle, he was victorious on election day, gaining 348 votes to Booker’s 308.[9]

Douglas was elated.  In the four years since his return to Queensland, he had contested four elections without success.  At 47, he was no longer a young man.  Now he made the most of his opportunity.  Aligned with the government, he played the loyal party man all the way to the premiership.  Many newspaper editorials expressed relief that Douglas had finally re-entered parliament, one noting that “he is wanted in the house,”[10] and another asserting that “a gentleman of such proved fitness for parliamentary duties has been too long out of parliament.”[11]

Nevertheless, the Maryborough Chronicle was unrepentant, claiming that Booker had been beaten in a fight far from fair, crushed by the combined weight of a “secret organisation” and government influence; Douglas was living proof that a “man must go outside his own country to be accounted a prophet,” the paper concluded.[12]  The paper’s conservative backers had reason to be worried.  Douglas’s trenchant opposition toward the importation and employment of South Sea Islanders was well known, and the region’s planters feared the damage he could do to their interests.  As a subsequent chapter will show, their concerns were well founded.

Douglas, cognisant of these deeply held concerns by sections of the electorate, quickly travelled to Maryborough[13] and held several meetings, including one where he received a response “favourable in the extreme” from the 600 people present.  At the meeting, in a promising sign of bipartisanship and a healing of the divide, Booker, who was still mayor of the town, presided in the chair.[14]  Douglas denied being influenced by the “Orange Movement” and expressed a desire to represent his constituents to the best of his ability.[15]

The time Douglas spent in the town following the election, and the many meetings he held to acquaint himself with his new constituents successfully won over many of the conservatives who had opposed his candidacy as well as those who had demanded the election of a local candidate.  As the Maryborough correspondent of the Brisbane Courier remarked, “the great majority of people here are well pleased that he was elected,”[16] while his paper editorialised that Douglas had “not lost much time in giving his constituents a taste of his quality.”[17]

However, some were not prepared to give up without one last fight.  After Douglas had strongly criticised Palmer for placing seven of his supporters in the legislative council shortly before leaving office,[18] rumours began to spread querying his validity, it being alleged that the previous member for the seat (Berkeley Basil Moreton), was the legitimate member; having placed his resignation with the colonial secretary, to be used at the latter’s convenience.[19]  For a resignation to be effective, it needed to be placed on record in the speaker’s office, and this had not been done.[20]  This dispute was finally settled on the opening day of the new parliament, when it was decided that Douglas was indeed the legitimate member, as the governor, being satisfied that Moreton had resigned, had then authorised the issuing of the writ for the election.[21]
Douglas’s return to parliament was a rocky one, and many a time he would have despaired at ever being returned to the political fray.  Now, after several unsuccessful attempts, he had finally achieved this goal. 

1] Maryborough Chronicle, 25 March 1875, p. 2
[2] “To Edward Booker, Esq. JP.”  Maryborough Chronicle, 27 March 1875, p. 5; “Mr Booker’s Reply.”  Maryborough Chronicle, 27 March 1875, p. 5
[3] “The Maryborough Election.”  Maryborough Chronicle, 5 April 1875, p. 3; “Douglas for Maryborough.”  Maryborough Chronicle, 30 March 1875, p. 2
[4] Warwick Examiner, 3 April 1875, p. 2
[5] Maryborough Chronicle, 30 March 1875, p. 2.  In 1880, John Macrossan, then a member of the McIlwraith ministry, also accused Douglas of aiding and abetting the Orangemen.  (Harrison Bryan.  The Political Career of John Murtagh Macrossan.  MA  thesis University of Queensland, 1954, p. 170; Brisbane Courier, 2 September 1880:  Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 32, 1880, p. 541)
[6] Wyeth, p. 122; John Douglas.  “Mr. Douglas and the Orange Society.”  Brisbane Courier, 1 July 1876, p. 5.  For more information on the role of the Orange Society in the education debate, see Hunt, pp. 96-99.
[7] “Election Gossip.”  Maryborough Chronicle, 30 March 1875, p. 3
[8] “The Maryborough Election.”  Brisbane Courier, 5 April 1875, p. 3
[9] Maryborough Chronicle, 3 April 1875, p. 2
[10] “The Late Election.”  Darling Downs Gazette, 7 April 1875, p. 3.  There were six informal votes cast.
[11] Brisbane Courier, 13 April 1875, p. 2
[12]Maryborough Chronicle, 3 April 1875, p. 2; Maryborough Chronicle, 6 April 1875, p. 2
[13] “Maryborough.”  Brisbane Courier, 15 April 1875, p. 3
[14] “Maryborough.”  Brisbane Courier, 19 April 1875, p. 3; Maryborough Chronicle, 13 April 1875, p. 2
[15] Maryborough Chronicle, 13 April 1875, p. 2
[16] “Maryborough.”  Brisbane Courier, 19 April 1875, p. 3
[17] Brisbane Courier, 23 April 1875, p. 2
[18] Ibid.
[19] This was a common practice at the time.  As the Brisbane Courier remarked, Moreton “placed his resignation in the hands of the colonial secretary to be used when it might suit the convenience of his chief - an objectionable proceeding, but one commonly practised.”  (Brisbane Courier, 24 April 1875, p. 4)
[20] Brisbane Courier, 24 April 1875, p. 5; “Maryborough.”  Brisbane Courier, 3 May 1875, p. 3
[21] “The First Day of the Session.”  Brisbane Courier, 28 April 1875, p. 3. It was officially recorded that Moreton resigned the seat of Maryborough on 23 April 1875.  (Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 18, 1875, p. iv.)  Booker and his supporters had earlier agreed that were the election declared invalid they would not oppose Douglas’s re-election.  (“Maryborough.”  Brisbane Courier, 3 May 1875, p. 3)