Wednesday, July 8, 2015

John Douglas and the Maryborough election in 1878

The elections were held over a six-week period and the nominations for Douglas’s seat of Maryborough closed on 12 November 1878.[1]  There were three candidates contesting the two seats in the electorate: Douglas, Barkley Basil Moreton, and the parliamentary speaker, Henry Edward King.[2]  Elections in provincial Queensland were frequently vigorous affairs:

… not decided by argument, or on the subjective merits of the cases presented by the several candidates, but are entirely an affair of free buggies, free drinks, flaring placards, bands of music and casks standing on tap in the street in the most unblushing manner, for the refreshment of the free and independent.[3]

Douglas addressed his Maryborough electorate in its town hall.[4]  At one of the largest election meetings held in the town up to that time, he spoke for over two hours, explained his party’s policy on railways, and justified his position on Chinese and Pacific Islander labor.  As he informed the sugar-growing town:

he would far rather have never seen a single South Sea Islander brought to the colony, even if it had been at the sacrifice of never growing sugar.[5]

The substantial Irish Catholic vote in the Maryborough district had to be courted by any politician seeking election or re-election there.  As a local commentator cryptically observed, Douglas was fortunate that he had married an Irish Catholic.

Sectarian antagonism – the old sore of Maryborough – will re-assert itself as a commanding factor in the issue; and in respect of at least one of the three candidates, on rather whimsical grounds.[6]

As it turned out, Douglas (and King) did capture the Catholic vote, despite his administration being seen as having “dealt most unfairly with Catholics” in relation to funding of Catholic schools.[7]  Douglas also secured the German vote[8] and on polling day the liberals were comfortably returned: Douglas first with 704 votes, King closely behind on 699, and Moreton trailing badly with 306 votes.[9]

Despite Douglas successfully retaining his seat, as the elections continued it gradually became clear that his party would struggle to form a ministry in the new parliament.  By 4 December it was considered that the opposition conservatives were slightly ahead, and would have a majority of four or five seats.[10]  As the results continued to trickle in, it became obvious that Douglas did not have the ‘numbers,’ and that his ministry would fall when parliament next sat.[11]

The eighth parliament met for the first time on 14 January 1879.  McIlwraith moved a vote of no confidence in the Douglas ministry two days later, which he won 30 to 16.[12]  The following day, Douglas resigned as premier, and McIlwraith became the new premier on Tuesday 21 January 1879.[13]  The conservatives were back in office, and it would fall to Griffith to oppose them. 
[1] “The General Elections.” Brisbane Courier, 15 November 1878, p. 6
[2] “Maryborough.” Brisbane Courier, 14 September 1878, p. 6
[3] “Maryborough.” Brisbane Courier, 7 December 1878, p. 6. See also Hirst (2002), pp. 68-69
[4] “The Premier at Maryborough.” Brisbane Courier, 21 October 1878, p. 4
[5] Ibid.
[6] “Maryborough.” Brisbane Courier, 14 September 1878, p. 6. All three candidates were members of the Church of England.
[7] The Australasian 15 March 1879, p. 478. This organ of the Catholic Church gallantly declared that Catholic’s voted for Douglas “on his own personal merits, combining, as he does, honesty and candour with a genial suavity of manner which has endeared the honourable gentleman to all who have come into contact with him.” However, his marriage to Sarah, with Catholic rites, would not have done him any harm either.
[8] “Maryborough.” Brisbane Courier, 7 December 1878, p. 6. Douglas was genuinely popular among German voters. (Alan Corkhill. Queensland and Germany: Ethnic, Socio-cultural, Political and Trade Relations, 1838–1991. Melbourne, Academia Press, 1992, pp. 114-15.) An instance of Douglas’s pro-German stance is in a letter objecting to the halting of German immigration in 1879; “We have always got full value from our German and Scandinavian immigrants. They do not leave the colony; they buy our land; they cultivate that land; and they become good and useful members of our community.” (John Douglas. “Stoppage of Immigration.” Brisbane Courier, 6 March 1879, p. 3)
[9] “Maryborough.” Brisbane Courier, 16 November 1878, p. 2
[10] “Summary for Europe.” Brisbane Courier, 4 December 1878, p. 3
[11] Brisbane Courier, 7 December 1878, p. 2
[12] Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 29, 1879, p. 66
[13] Ibid., p. 68. While Douglas resigned on 17 January, it was recorded in the Government Gazette as being on 21 January. (Queensland Government Gazette, vol 24 no 14, 21 January 1879, p.173