Australia and the Empire/The Moral of Queensland Imbroglio

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Although I have in the previous chapter dilated at such length on the general question of Colonial Governorships, the matter is of such supreme and pressing importance that I feel it essential to further discuss the recent dispute between Sir Thomas M'Ilwraith, the Prime Minister of Queensland, and the Colonial Office, on the subject of the appointment of Sir Henry Blake as Governor of that colony. In one sense I could not have wished for a better illustration of the utter break-down of the present system of nominating Governors at a time of any tension between the colony and the Colonial Office. So long as the political weather in both hemispheres is serene, colonists will readily enough pay the salary of the Secretary of State's nominee, especially if the latter boasts a high-sounding title. A political cynic would doubtless be able to extract entertainment from the spectacle of the "patriotic and Imperial-minded" Queensland Premier, who originally annexed New Guinea to the British Crown, thus wrangling with the Secretary of State on his right to nominate the highest Crown Official in the colony. But as Lord Randolph Churchill says, truly enough, we cannot govern mankind by "flouts and sneers."

The history of this Queensland imbroglio, briefly, I take to be this. Sir Thomas M'Ilwraith, despite his well-intentioned and historic effort to enlarge the Queen's dominions, found himself outdistanced as an "Imperialist" by his rival Sir Samuel Griffith, who was able to cut rather a prominent figure on behalf of his colony at the Colonial Conference in Downing Street. In revenge, Sir Thomas seems to have determined to poach on his rival's "Radical preserves" in the colony. Being a man of considerable force and individuality, with a party at his back, he had influence enough to upset the Naval Defence Bill which Sir Samuel Griffith introduced into the Queensland Parliament in fulfilment of his pledges to Lord Knutsford at the Colonial Conference. This was a very serious matter to begin with; and Queensland stands out, thanks to Sir Thomas, as the only Australian colony which has declined to ratify the agreement with the British Government for the maintenance of the local Australian fleet.

Sir Thomas M'Ilwraith next proceeded to formulate what he was pleased to call "The Australian National Party," by which adroit move he seems to have "dished" the local Radicals, and won over that solid "Roman Catholic vote," which is usually at the bidding of the political leader, who fathers what is believed to be an anti-British policy. It is not necessary to enter into the details of the squabble between Sir Thomas M'Ilwraith and the late Governor, Sir Anthony Musgrave, concerning the release of a criminal, further than to point out how adroitly the former turned to account any possible cause of quarrel or misunderstanding with the Queen's representative. The next important step was the Queensland Premier demanding a kind of vetoing power on Sir Anthony Musgrave's successor. To this Lord Knutsford very properly declined to accede, but as if to show the fatuity of Imperial red-tape, he forthwith appointed as Governor of the important Colony of Queensland an official who was chiefly known as an ex-police officer in Ireland; while at the same time an Under-Secretary of State and an Earl was sent to New Zealand.

The English reader may at once discount all the rubbish about "the general community of Queensland abominating the very idea" of having as Governor an "ex-administrator of coercion in Ireland." At the same time it is perfectly true, and should have been patent to the mind of Lord Knutsford, that such an appointment would be sure to arouse the more unruly spirits, and that to send Sir Henry Blake at a time of such tension to Queensland, was to play straight into the hands of such persons, and to redouble the popularity of the local Minister in his new but not altogether consistent or high-minded line of policy. We must, however, take human nature and the exigencies of party political warfare as we find them.

Let us, in any case, not descend to the easy but uninstructive practice of mere abuse. Better it were to employ that high faculty which Professor Tyndall terms the "scientific imagination," and bring it to bear upon Sir Thomas M'Ilwraith, with the view of discovering the actual conditions of political leadership in the self-governing colonies at the present day.

I would point out that the earlier political leaders—those indeed who have made Australia politically what she is—were of quite another type to those who have stepped into their places. Wentworth, Lowe, Higinbotham, and Grey were all men of oldworld culture, for the most part English university men; but they have been succeeded by those who graduated in the rough-and-tumble of early colonial pioneer life. The old veterans, if their souls longed for an ideal condition of democratic equality in the new world, drew their inspiration from the time when they pondered, in some cloistered precinct, over the Republic of Plato; but, at the same plastic period of life, their successors had vexed themselves over the actual inequalities of fortune, whilst vainly "fossicking" for gold at the diggings, or trying to "run" a store on the very harassing system of "long credit" and "deferred payment." Many of the men who were to take the place of Wentworth and Lowe in the forum began their public career as local preachers and temperance lecturers—those modern representatives of the preaching friars of the Middle Ages,—who, like their forerunners, are almost always on the democratic "ticket," and against the established order of things in Church and State. From the pick of these itinerant preachers has been evolved a very considerable portion of the collective legislative wisdom of Australia.

Though lacking the old-world culture, and with far less comprehensive minds than their great predecessors, it cannot be denied by any impartial critic who has lived for a number of years in Australia, that many of these later and purely colonially-trained leaders have on occasion showed marked capacity for the guidance of public affairs in new communities; for which, I must confess that their serene ignorance of much of the lore and tradition of the "antique world" has often been, at least in the eyes of their less gifted fellow- colonists, rather a recommendation than a barrier. The former type of Colonial, or rather Anglo-colonial, statesmen, despite the occasional and not unwelcome intrusion on the public stage of a democratic "Fellow of Oriel," like Mr. Charles Henry Pearson, the present Minister of Education in Victoria, must be regarded as practically extinct. Whether the local universities will supply its place, the future alone can reveal. In the meantime, it has come to pass that Wentworth and Lowe have been succeeded, in the northern part of what was then the undivided colony of New South Wales, by leaders like Sir Samuel Griffith and Sir Thomas M'Ilwraith.

I have myself in Victoria lived through the transition from Mr. Higinbotham, who in my youth was the idol of the "fierce Democratie,"—to Sir Graham Berry, who, by his undoubted political instinct and great oratorical gifts succeeded to that giddy eminence during my later life in the colony. In New Zealand there is the same contrast to be observed between the veteran, Sir George Grey, and the younger and colonially-trained race of leaders, such as Sir Robert Stout, into whose hands the Government of the colony has naturally fallen. It is with this type—the colonially-trained, and more and more actually Native Australian politician—that British statesmen will be compelled to negotiate, unless both sides agree to part company without more ado.

Our present concernment is with Sir Thomas M'Ilwraith, the Premier of Queensland, and his dispute with the British Cabinet over the appointment of Sir Henry Blake.

In what I cannot but regard as a well-intentioned but very misleading article in the Spectator of Nov. 17, the subject is discussed under the heading of "Colonial Jealousies and the Government." The writer can only see—"In the 'indignation' which has been expressed by the Government of Queensland, the same political force which caused Mr. Bayard to dismiss Lord Sackville the other day so cavalierly, viz., the desire to conciliate the Irish vote."

But he does not ask himself the question whether it was wise or politic to furnish that "Irish vote" with a congenial field of operation. Further on he observes:—"The Crown not long ago sent a Home Ruler to Tasmania, and a very admirable Governor he was and is. What would the Irish party have said if the leaders of Parliamentary parties in Tasmania had expressed great 'indignation' at his selection because he happened to he a Home Ruler? Yet it is quite as great a breach of propriety for the leaders of Parliamentary parties in Queensland to express great indignation at the choice of Sir H. A. Blake on the ground—for no other ground has ever been suggested—that Sir H. A. Blake is not a Home Ruler."

This may be true, and yet not at all to the point. In every colony the Loyalists (who are, of course, the large majority), from their inherent character and nature, loyally accept those who are rightfully appointed to any office in the State, The Disloyalists, on the other hand, are by their very nature and character ever on the look-out for a cause of dissatisfaction and disturbance. Mr. Hogan, who aims to be an authority, tells the readers of the Pall Mall Gazette that "the Irishmen of Queensland loathe and execrate those heartless officials like Sir Henry Arthur Blake, who, in the prostituted names of law and order, were ever ready and willing to ride roughshod over peaceable citizens in public meeting assembled, and to ruthlessly demolish the cabins of the people at the bidding of insatiable cormorants of the Clanricarde type." We may smile at the "wild hysteric," but, in all seriousness, for Lord Knutsford to have nominated Sir Henry Blake to the Queensland Governorship at the present crisis seems to me one of those blunders which are said to be worse than crimes.

If his Lordship would be good enough to bear with me for a little while, I think I can make this perfectly clear. Mr, Hogan, who occasionally deviates into accuracy, tells the British public, with becoming pride, through the Pall Hall Gazette, that there are no less than "four Irish Celts in the M'Ilwraith Ministry." It is an uncommonly large percentage, though in most Colonial Cabinets it is found expedient to have one or two members in touch with the Roman Catholic vote. Let us try to picture Lord Salisbury endeavouring to govern with Messrs. Dillon, O'Brien, Biggar, and Healy in his Cabinet. I purposely exclude Mr. Parnell from any such combination, as I feel sure he would be too proud to join, save as its absolute Dictator. Let us further imagine Lord Salisbury, with these incongruous colleagues, suddenly confronted by the action of Lord Knutsford sending out to him as the Queen's representative an ex-Irish official. It is far from my intention to say anything rude or ungenerous of Sir Henry Blake, who has, I conceive, been placed in a very awkward position by his official superiors. I am quite ready to believe those who tell me from their personal knowledge that Sir Henry and Lady Blake would have made themselves most deservedly popular in Queensland; and that the loss rests entirely with the Queenslanders. But this does not at all obscure the issue that his nomination to the northern colony was under the circumstances an unfortunate one. Queensland, as we know, is in a state of unhealthy effervescence. Sir Thomas M'Ilwraith has "dished' Sir Samuel Griffith mainly by annexing the local Irish vote. He is much in the position Mr. Gladstone would have been in but for Lord Hartington and the Liberal Unionists.

If it were thought desirable that Sir Henry Blake should become an Australian Governor, it would have been prudent, perhaps, to inaugurate his antipodean career by sending him to Tasmania, when Sir Robert Hamilton, who would surely have been a persona grata to the local Irishry, and who has proved himself, as the Spectator admits, a "very admirable Governor," might have been transferred to Queensland. Of course it is very easy to move other people's pieces on the chessboard, and, as I object altogether to the present system of appointing colonial governors, I should apologise to Lord Knutsford for unwittingly intruding upon his domain. My chief anxiety, while frankly admitting that I am compelled to form a lower estimate of Sir Thomas M'Ilwraith than I had before held, is to endeavour to be just, and to make the necessary allowance for the position in which he finds himself placed as a local Conservative Premier with a "Parnellite wing," Believe me, Sir Thomas is personally a shrewd, practical, business-like Scot, who gave evidence to the whole world, not so long ago, that he can feel the lofty inspiration of a genuine Imperial sentiment. It may be that the snub he received from Mr. Gladstone's Cabinet in reference to the annexation of New Guinea has converted a naturally self-willed man into a thorough-going pessimist, who has come to regard it as a matter of absolute indifference to his colony, who is in power, or what is the policy of Great Britain. For my part, I cannot bring myself to think so ill of him. I believe that he would be open even now to discuss on fair equal terms any real business-like proposal for consolidating the Empire. He has no real sympathy with lawlessness or with the rebellious spirit. He belongs by race and creed to the most loyal portion of the British nation; and whether his manner is agreeable or not, it is with colonial men such as he that British statesmen will have to deal, unless, like Lord Granville, so far back as 1870,[1] they think it better we should part company finally and for ever. I do not feel called upon to defend Sir Thomas M'Ilwraith, and I do not deny that during his recent course of procedure he must have appeared anything but a pleasant personage for an English gentleman like Lord Knutsford, trained under an utterly different social and political system, to deal with. "We must, however, as I have said before, take political human nature and our system of government by faction, as we find them. These are, after all, much the same in London and in Brisbane. If Sir Thomas M'Ilwraith does not appear to us to cut a very lofty or consistent figure, what, if we really mean what we are always saying, are we to think of British statesmen in the first rank, like Mr. Gladstone and Sir William Harcourt, who have had all the advantages of old-world culture and the loftiest and most ennobling associations from their birth? Sir Thomas, it would appear, has "turned his back upon himself" for the sake of the "Irish vote," which means in his case a new lease of the coveted office of Premier of his colony. But I feel sure that he does not deceive himself or others into the belief that he is acting from any superlatively high or conscientious motives, like Mr. Gladstone, whose whole political career, despite his intellectual brilliancy, and marvellous vitality, can only be explained in the splendid phrase of Mr. Joseph Cowen, by his "Idolatry of the Immediate." Sir Thomas is a successful and vigorous colonist, of a rude and self-willed character. But he is, after all, of a manly type—springing from the yeomanry of Ayrshire, the birth-place of Robert Burns, and I am satisfied that he could never consciously "play to the gallery" without deep inward shame and self-mortification.

I have no doubt that the admirers of that distinguished ornament of the House of Commons, Sir William Vernon Harcourt, will be considerably outraged by any comparison between one of his royal lineage—the grandson, too, of an Archbishop—with his brilliant academical and legal attainments, and his cultivated capacity for persiflage, and a rude colonial Premier, angling for the support of a disloyal section of the community. From my point of view, any apology for the comparison is entirely due to Sir Thomas M'Ilwraith. As for Sir William Vernon Harcourt, his archiepiscopal descent no longer overawes me, for I have seriously come to regard his political existence as the strongest argument that can be adduced in favour of the enforced celibacy of the higher clergy, as in the Greek Church.

If Lord Knutsford has been sufficiently ruffled by the conduct of Sir Thomas M'Ilwraith to take a genuine interest in the personnel of Australian politicians, and is really eager for fresh information, I think he might devote a leisure hour to the perusal of a work of fiction, entitled Policy and Passion, by Mrs. Campbell Praed. In the character of Thomas Longleat of Kooralbyn, "Premier of Leichardt's-Land," he will find a striking picture of the self-made, aggressive type of colonial politician. It is, I should think, a study from life, for, as is well known, the gifted authoress is herself a daughter of Queensland. I do not say it is a very pleasant picture, and I think that in some respects the harder lines might have been softened, without any detriment to it as a portrait. But, as a character, Thomas Longleat is well worthy of study, for he is of a new-world type, with which our old-world statesmen and diplomatists may be more and more called upon to negotiate, on behalf of Her Majesty's subjects in Great Britain and the colonies.

Even when this storm about the Governorship has abated, it would be well if the Imperial Government would give some personal attention to Sir Thomas M'Ilwraith's National Party in Queensland. The following is its programme, as given in an admirable letter, dated Rockhampton, Sept. 9, 1888, which appeared in a recent number of the Scotsman:—

"(1) Cultivation of an Australian national spirit, with respect to all matters affecting education, labour, trade, and laws.

"(2) The federation of the dominion, with a provision for a system of Australian national defence.

"(3) The energetic vindication and protection of the civil and political liberties, rights, and obligations of the people, and the adoption of the principle that laws passed by the Australian Legislatures shall not require the imperial sanction to render them operative.

"(4) The fostering and protection of Australian industries.

"(5) The exclusion from Australia of the Chinese and other servile races, and the preservation of the entire continent as a home for white men.

"(6) The exclusion from the islands and waters of Australasia and the Western Pacific of all foreign convicts.

"(7) The active promotion of all legislative measures calculated—(a) to check the wasteful expenditure of the public money, to prevent the levying of oppressive taxation, and to guard against the abuse of political patronage; (b) to repress injurious monopolies, to allay sectional jealousies, and to prevent the creation of privileged classes; (c) to stimulate settlement upon the land and develop its mineral and other resources; (d) to carry on reproductive public works, to conserve the rainfall, improve natural water-courses, and tap the subterranean waters of the country; (e) to remedy all the abuses in the law, repeal all barbarous and obsolete Acts, and reduce the cost of law proceedings.

"(8) The return of members to the Legislative Assembly pledged to carry out the foregoing principles and objects."

With considerable shrewdness the writer observes that "on examining this programme carefully you will see there is a good deal of Home Rule about it, and that being so. Irishmen have adopted it with alacrity and unanimity." Here he places his linger on a very real danger indeed. In a short but suggestive letter to the Times (dated Nov. 19), Mr. Gowen Evans, who is so well and widely known in Australia, in connection with the Melbourne Argus, and who has only very recently come from Victoria on a visit to this country, observes:—"The Irish Home Ruler Party in the colonies has taken quite a nice departure since the adhesion of Mr. Gladstone and his followers, and is actively employed in diverting the Australian Natives Association to objects quite foreign to its original purpose." This is very serious, and is full justification for vigilance, but not for panic. If only we are wise and prudent on both sides, there will follow the swift inevitable reaction of overwhelming loyalty, which will show the British people what the Australian public feeling on these questions really is.

The situation reminds me of an incident in the life of an Irish Colonial politician in Victoria, whom Sir C. Gavan Duffy may well remember, who, whistling before he was out of the wood, had the impudence from his place in Parliament to threaten a capable fellow-legislator by saying:—"I have only to raise my little finger and the honourable member will no longer sit in this House." This of course meant that the "Irish vote," which was supposed to be very strong in the victim's constituency, was to be cast against him in globo. But the nature of the un-British threat aroused the attention of that large, but too often politically indifferent class, who, especially in democratic communities, are only too apt to exclaim, "A plague on both your Houses!" When the election came on, these quiet respectable men went to the unaccustomed polling-booths in such numbers that the threatened legislator was returned despite the "Irish vote," and the "little finger" that directed it, at the head of a most triumphant majority. This is the meaning for those who can see behind the scenes of colonial politics, of the division of fifty-nine against three votes,[2] by which the action of the Imperial Government was upheld in the matter of colonial Governorships, on the evening of November 29th, in the popular Chamber of the most advanced and the most democratic of all the colonies, Victoria, when challenged by a local Irish Home Ruler.

This ought to re-assure weak hearts in a trying time. But for all that, I would earnestly reiterate my belief that a radical reform should take place in the system of appointing the Queen's Representative in our great and otherwise entirely self-governing Colonies.

  1. See Appendix B, Sir C. Gavan Duffy's "Royal Commission."
  2. This Colonial Parliamentary incident is well worthy of remembrance. I give it in the all unadorned eloquence of the brief cablegram in which it appeared in the London press of Nov. 30th:—"Colonial Governorships.—A Reuters telegram, dated Melbourne, Nov. 28, states:—'In to-day's sitting of the Legislative Assembly, Sir Bryan O'Loghlen moved that the House support the position taken up by the other colonies in regard to the question of the Imperial Government consulting the Colonial ministers before appointing Governors. A discussion ensued on the proposal, which was strongly condemned on all sides. On a division being taken at Sir Bryan O'Loghlen's demand, the motion was rejected by fifty-nine against three votes. The announcement of the figures was received with loud cheering. The members, rising to their feet in a body, sang the National Anthem, and gave cheers for the Queen.'"