The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Deakin, Hon. Alfred

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Deakin, Hon. Alfred, M.L.A., J.P., ex-Chief Secretary of Victoria, is the son of William Deakin, a well-known coach proprietor in the early days of the colony, and an emigrant from England, his mother being the daughter of a farmer in Monmouthshire. He was born at Fitzroy, Melbourne, on August 3rd, 1856, and educated at the Church of England Grammar School, under Dr. Bromby, and at the Melbourne University, but did not graduate. He was called to the Victorian bar in 1877, and adopted the profession of journalism, being connected with the editorial department of the Melbourne Age and Leader from 1878. He was elected to the Assembly for West Bourke in Feb. 1879, as a supporter of the second Berry Ministry, defeating Mr. R. Harper by fifty-six votes. There was one drawback to this gratifying success, that at Newham, an inconsiderable polling place, a complete poll was not taken. The result could not in any case have been altered, as if all the votes bad gone to his adversary they would not have exceeded at the outside thirty. Still, Mr. Deakin felt it a matter of principle, as a Liberal, that a full ballot should be taken; and so, after taking his seat and moving the address in reply to the Vice-regal speech when the House met in July, he, without any consultation with supporters or opponents, resigned his seat, much to the chagrin of a good many of the former, who thought his conduct Quixotic. At the election which ensued he again had Mr. Harper as an opponent, and after one of the severest contests on record was defeated by fifteen votes on a total poll of 4000. The strain had been so severe that, in order to recruit his health, Mr. Deakin went on a trip of some months to Fiji and the South Sea Islands. On his return he recurred to politics, and at the general election in Feb. 1880 again stood for West Bourke; but although he polled a larger vote he was thirteen behind Messrs. Harper and Stoughton. Five months later, Mr. Service, who had succeeded Mr. Berry, was beaten on his Reform Bill, and appealed to the country, when Mr. Deakin once more wooed the suffrages of West Bourke; this being the fourth time within eighteen months. On this occasion he was returned at the head of the poll along with Sir Bryan O'Loghlen, and continued to represent the district until 1889, when he was returned for Essendon and Flemington. Mr. Deakin married Pattie, eldest daughter of Hugh Junor Browne of Melbourne, on April 3rd, 1882. He was Commissioner of Public Works from March 8th to Nov. 13th, 1883; Commissioner of Water Supply from March 8th, 1883, to Feb. 18th, 1886, and Solicitor-General from Nov. 13th, 1883, to April 23rd, 1884, in the Service-Berry Coalition Government. In 1883 he carried an amending Water Conservation Act, which was the first measure passed in Australia providing for public irrigation on a large scale, and became President of the Royal Commission on Irrigation and Water Supply. In the latter capacity be visited America, with the view of investigating the various systems of irrigation in force in that country, and on his return prepared a report, of which 10,000 copies were, at the request of agricultural societies, distributed throughout the colony, and the recommendations of which have been endorsed by some of the highest authorities in England and elsewhere. In the same year Mr. Deakin became sponsor for another ameliorative measure, which, though mainly based upon the provisions of the English Factory Acts, is in some respects greatly ahead of them in providing for the effective protection of women and children. Towards the end of 1885 the Coalition Government was dissolved by the resignations of Messrs. Service, Berry, and Kerferd. Mr. Deakin was then, by a unanimous choice, elected to succeed Mr. (now Sir) Graham Berry, who went home as Agent-General, in the leadership of the Liberal Party. In this capacity he formed a junction with Mr. Gillies' following, assuming (Feb. 18th, 1886) the post of Chief Secretary and Commissioner of Water Supply in that gentleman's cabinet. The new Government, in the absence of contentious topics, went to the country on Mr. Deakin's irrigation policy, which was endorsed by a decisive majority. In view of this result, Mr. Deakin, in June 1886, submitted to the Assembly a measure which, in addition to an alteration of the law of riparian rights, provided for the carrying out of a national system of irrigation, under which the Government were to construct head works, the task of distribution being allotted to the local bodies, who were ultimately to be reimbursed by the private beneficiaries, and in their turn to reimburse the central Government. The measure was adopted in its main features, and a loan floated to effectuate its provisions, which have been largely availed of in various parts of the colony. Perhaps the most important outcome of the irrigation policy launched under Mr. Deakin's auspices was the arrangement entered into with Messrs. Chaffey Brothers for the sale to them of 250,000 acres on the Murray frontage at Mildura for the formation of an irrigation settlement. Mr. Deakin was senior delegate for Victoria to the Colonial Conference held in London in 1887, and took a prominent and successful part in its proceedings; he, however, declined the honour of knighthood (K.C.M.G.) which was offered him during its sittings. Mr. Deakin visited Egypt and Italy, and wrote a second report on irrigation. He was Victorian delegate to the Chinese Conference in 1888, member of the Federal Council, session 1889, and was one of the two delegates of Victoria to the Federation Conference in Melbourne in 1890; being also one of the seven delegates of the colony to the Federation Convention of 1891. Mr. Deakin was appointed First Minister of Health in 1890 and Solicitor-General, taking the place of the Hon. H. J. Wrixon, Attorney-General, during his absence in England in that year. Mr. Deakin resigned office in Oct. 1890 along with the rest of his colleagues, and was joint leader of the Opposition until the dissolution in April 1892, prior to which he had intimated his intention to take up an independent rôle, apart from any party trammels. Mr. Deakin is now devoting the major part of his attention to the practice of his profession, and was leading counsel for the defence in the Deeming murder trial in April 1892. He visited India to study its irrigation systems in 1891.