Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Berry, Graham

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BERRY, Sir GRAHAM (1822–1904), prime minister of Victoria, born at Twickenham, England, on 28 Aug. 1822, was son of Benjamin Berry, a retired tradesman, by his wife Clara Graham. After education at Chelsea he was apprenticed to a draper and silk mercer there, and subsequently in 1848 or 1849 opened a small shop in the King's Road. Emigrating to Victoria in 1852, he went into business as a general storekeeper and wine and spirit merchant at South Yarra, Prahran. In 1856 he revisited England on business connected with his father's will.

In 1860 he purchased in Victoria a newspaper called the 'Collingwood Observer,' and in the next year entered the legislative assembly of Victoria as member for East Melbourne. At the general election in August 1861 he was returned for Collingwood as an advanced liberal protectionist. He supported the ministry of Sir James McCulloch [q. v.] in its struggle with the legislative council, which refused to sanction the assembly's imposition of protectionist duties (1863-6). But when McCulloch failed in his plan of 'tacking' the customs bill to the appropriation bill, and sought to borrow from a bank in order to meet the public expenditure, Berry withdrew his support. In the ensuing election (1865) McCulloch routed all opponents, and Berry, losing his seat, was out of parliament for three years.

In 1866 Berry purchased the 'Geelong Register,' amalgamated it with the 'Geelong Advertiser,' and settled in Geelong to edit his new venture. He shortly stood for South Grant and was beaten; in 1868 he became member for Geelong West. On 12 Jan. 1870 he became treasurer in the government of John Alexander Macpherson, but the ministry fell almost immediately after his first budget speech. On 19 June 1871 he entered the ministry of Sir Charles Gavan Duffy [q.v. Suppl. II] as treasurer, but resigned on 21 May 1872: a private member attacked him in the house for having appointed his father-in-law to a local post of some emolument, and to avoid embarrassing the government he resumed the status of a private member. The charge was investigated by a select committee which never reported (see Victorian Parl. Deb. 1872, xiv.). Six months later the ministry went out of office.

In August 1875 Berry for the first time became prime minister and chief secretary. Introducing a land tax bill which was intended to strike at the undue accumulations of large holders, he was defeated, and on the refusal of his application for a dissolution Sir James McCulloch (20 Oct. 1875) returned to power. A great fight in the assembly followed; the 'stonewallers,' as Berry's followers were called, were met by what was known as McCulloch's 'iron hand.' In the intervals of parliamentary attendance Berry stumped the country, denouncing McCulloch's government and making a good impression. At the general election in May 1877 Berry obtained an overwhelming majority. He failed to form a coalition with James Service and the prominent opponents of McCulloch, and with a less representative cabinet set to work on a series of highly controversial measures. He revived the main features of his old land bill, and endeavoured to carry the payment of members, first by tacking a resolution to the appropriation bill and then by framing a separate bill to authorise the payment. A stern fight with the upper house produced an administrative deadlock, which lasted from May 1877 to April 1878. On 'Black Wednesday,' 8 Jan. 1878, money to pay the services failed, and Berry, consistent with his previous views, preferred the dismissal of public servants to borrowing. This strong measure, though generally condemned, had the effect of weeding the overcrowded departments. In April 1878 a compromise was effected, and Berry sought anew to strengthen the power of the lower house. But the other chamber offered uncompromising resistance. At the very end of the year he came to England with Charles Henry Pearson [q. v.] in the hope of inducing the central government to pass an Act for amending the Constitution of Victoria. His mission is locally known as 'the embassy.' He was recommended to try other methods. On his return in June 1879 he introduced a reform bill, and early in 1880 appealed to the constituencies. He incurred defeat, and on 5 March 1880 Mr. Service took office for less than six months. On 3 August 1880 Berry was once more prime minister and reached a working compromise with the upper chamber, whereby the franchise qualifications for the upper chamber were reduced. On 9 July 1881 he was defeated in parliament and resigned.

The political passion roused by Berry's policy had paralysed administration and became known as the 'Berry blight.' Rest was sorely needed and a sort of sufferance government carried on the administration till 1883. Then at a general election Berry and Service found themselves at the head of equal numbers in the house. On 8 March 1883 a coalition government was formed with great benefit to the colony; a new Public Service Act and a Railways Management Act, both aimed at the evils of patronage, were amongst its achievements. In May 1883 Berry represented the colony at the general postal conference at Sydney, and won golden opinions.

In February 1886 Berry resigned office and proceeded to London as agent general for the colony. In June 1886 he was made K.C.M.G. He represented Victoria at the colonial conference of 1887.

Returning to Melbourne in 1891, Berry represented Victoria at the federal convention of that year; he re-entered parliament in April of 1892 as member for East Bourke Boroughs, and joined William Shiel's ministry as treasurer. In 1894 he was elected speaker in succession to (Sir) Thomas Bent [q. v. Suppl. II], and held that office with success till 1897, when he lost his seat. An annuity of 500l. a year was voted by the new house of assembly.

Save that in 1897 and 1898 he represented his colony at federal conventions at Sydney and Adelaide, Berry thenceforth lived in retirement until his death at Balaclava on 25 Jan. 1904; a public funeral at Boroondara cemetery was accorded him.

A self-made man, without education, a democratic leader with a fervent belief in democratic principles, and a fluent speaker, he was no violent demagogue. According to Mr. Alfred Deakin, afterwards prime minister of the Australian commonwealth, 'he had the pronounced gift of generalship both in the house and in the country; was a resolute and far-seeing premier and a fighting chieftain, conspicuously able, earnest, and consistent' (John's Notable Australians; cf. Victorian Parliamentary Debates, lxxxvii. 763).

Among his other honours was the cross of the legion of honour, which he received as commissioner of Victoria at the Paris Exhibition of 1889.

Berry was twice married: (1) in 1846, to Harriet Anne Blencowe, who died in 1866, leaving eight children; (2) in 1869, to Rebecca Madge, daughter of J. B. Evans of Victoria, who survived him; by her he left seven children.

[Heaton's Australian Dict. of Dates; Mennell's Dict. of Australasian Biog.; Blair's Cyclopædia of Australasia; Melbourne Age, 26 Jan. 1904, and Argus of same date; Leader 30 Jan. 1904; The Times, 26 Jan. 1904; Who's Who, 1901; private information.]

C. A. H.