The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Griffith, Hon. Sir Samuel Walker

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Griffith, Hon. Sir Samuel Walker, K.C.M.G., M.A., Premier of Queensland, is the son of the late Rev. Edward Griffith, formerly Congregational minister at Merthyr Tydvil in South Wales, but for many years residing in Brisbane, and was born at Merthyr on June 21st, 1845. In 1854 Sir Samuel Griffith's family emigrated to the colony of which he is now Premier, but which was then only the Moreton Bay district of New South Wales; settling first at Ipswich, then at Maitland, and finally at Brisbane. Sir Samuel was educated in the first instance under Mr. Horniman at Sydney, and subsequently at the High School, West Maitland, of which the Rev. W. McIntyre was head master. In 1860 he proceeded to Sydney University, graduating B.A. in 1863 and M.A. in 1870. He early selected a legal career as his future rôle, and was called to the bar at Brisbane in 1867. In 1870 he married Julia Janet, daughter of Mr. James Thomson, for some time Commissioner of Crown Lands at Maitland. Sir Samuel Griffith soon obtained a considerable legal practice, and in 1872 entered Parliament as member for East Moreton. The district being subdivided in 1873, Sir Samuel was returned for the Oxley portion, which he continued to represent till 1878, when he was elected for the metropolitan constituency of Brisbane, which he has since represented. In August 1874 Sir Samuel was appointed Attorney-General in the Macalister Ministry [becoming Q.C. in 1876], and continued to hold office under the subsequent Administrations of Messrs. Thorn and Douglas, with the additional portfolio of Minister of Education, and subsequently as Minister of Public Works, until Jan. 1879. In his first session he originated the Telegraphic Messages Bill, a measure which provided for the transmission by of all legal processes and other documentary matter requiring authentication. This was successfully carried, and in 1874, whilst still outside the charmed circle of the Cabinet, he introduced and carried an Insolvency Bill. The latter measure was based in its general principles upon the English Act of 1869, but included a great many provisions since embodied in Mr. Chamberlain's recent Act. It also contained clauses against fraudulent preference, which are asserted to be the most stringent in force in any part of the world. In 1875, whilst Attorney-General, Sir Samuel Griffith introduced a ministerial measure for the adoption of a free, secular and compulsory system of State education. This was successfully carried, and he assumed charge of the department formed under the statute. At this period, too, he participated in carrying Judicature and Local Government Acts. In 1879 the McIlwraith Government came into power, and continued to hold sway till 1883, when, mainly through the exertions of Sir Samuel Griffith, they were ejected from office, and a large majority returned in opposition to their policy regarding the importation of coolie labour for the purpose of working the northern sugar plantations, and their proposals for the construction of the Queensland transcontinental railway on the land grant system. In Nov. 1883 Sir Samuel became Premier, and in the following years carried a Land Act and measures for the regulation of the Polynesian labour trade, which largely mitigated the evils of a system which nearly approached the horrors of the African slave traffic. The Defence Act passed by the first Griffith Ministry contributed to the national security; and they also succeeded in carrying a Licensing Act, which embodied the principle of local option without compensation. Sir Samuel followed the policy of his predecessor in reference to Australian Federation, and was a prominent member of the Convention which met at Sydney in 1883; the drafting of the Federal Council Bill, which ultimately passed the Imperial Parliament, being confided to his hands. When the Federal Council held its first sitting at Hobart, Sir Samuel was appointed first Chairman of the Standing Committee, and was subsequently elected President. During the Queensland parliamentary session of 1886 Sir Samuel passed an Act which codified the entire body of law relating to the duties and powers of justices of the peace. His Offenders' Probation Act was also a piece of advanced legislation. In 1887 Sir Samuel was associated with Sir James Garrick in the representation of Queensland at the Colonial Conference held in London in that year, and took a prominent and successful part in its proceedings. At the Conference he proposed a resolution, which was carried, affirming the desirableness of preferential treatment of British products throughout the British dominions. At the general election in the spring of 1888 the supporters of the Griffith Government were placed in a minority, and they accordingly resigned in June. After leading the Opposition to the McIlwraith and Morehead Ministries until August 1890, the latter resigned, and the Governor invited Sir Samuel Griffith to form a second Administration, which he succeeded in doing in combination with his former opponent, Sir Thomas McIlwraith, and still holds office as Premier. Sir Samuel was one of the representatives of Queensland at the Intercolonial Federation Conference held in Melbourne in 1890, and at the Sydney Convention of 1891. Of the latter body he was unanimously appointed Vice-Chairman. He has occupied for a number of years the leading position at the bar in Queensland. In 1889, while in opposition, he introduced, and succeeded in passing, a codification of the law of defamation, and also passed through the Assembly an Eight Hours Bill, which, however, was defeated in the Legislative Council. In the following year, being still in opposition, he introduced a Bill to declare the natural law relating to the acquisition and ownership of private property, the fundamental principle of which is that the products of labour (whether of mind or body) belong of right to the persons who have contributed to their production (including the possession of the property to which the labour is applied) and belong to them in proportion to the value of their respective contributions. He maintains that this principle is the only alternative to the rule that each man shall get and keep as much as he can from neighbour. This Bill, which was intended to be followed by another to define the procedure for assessing the value of the contributions of the several contributors to production, attracted some attention, but has not yet become law. On the whole Sir Samuel Griffith must be regarded as having occupied the premier position at the Federation Convention of 1891, the Commonwealth Bill being virtually drafted by him, though he received valuable assistance from Messrs. Barton, Deakin, Clark, and Kingston, and the measure was somewhat modified by the Convention sitting as a whole. Early in 1892 Sir Samuel Griffith astonished the world by announcing his conversion to the necessity of renewing the importation of Kanaka labour for the cultivation of the sugar plantations of Northern Queensland for a further period of ten years. He also announced the intention of the Government to encourage the construction of railways on the land grant system. In the former case his plea was that he could not allow the sugar interest to be ruined at the bidding of labour combinations which, whilst opposed to the importation of coloured labour, would not permit of the plantation work being done by white hands. As regarded the land grant railways, he justified his change of opinion on the ground that it was now impossible to borrow money on the English market for the construction of lines necessary for the development of the country. Measures for the effectuation of the policy thus announced were carried in the session of 1892, and though there has been a huge outcry alike from pseudo-philanthropists and genuine enthusiasts against the renewal of the Kanaka labour traffic, Sir Samuel Griffith relies on the strict enforcement of the more stringent regulations now enacted for the prevention of the evils which were prevalent prior to the revision of the system in 1884.