History of West Australia/George Shenton

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TTHE gentleman presiding over the Upper House, or Legislative Council of Western Australia receives the title of President. Prior to the inauguration of responsible Government he was known as the Speaker but upon the establishment of the House of Assembly, or House of Commons, in general with the rule in every other self-governing British Dependency, the title was altered to President. As with other British Legislatures, his position gives him precedence at all Sate functions of the Speaker.

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Sir George Shenton, K.B., M.L.C., the President of the Legislative Council of Western Australia, has had an interesting colonial career. A native of the colony, he received part of his education in England, and returning, engaged in business pursuits. Eventually the mercantile house of which he was a member, became one of the oldest and largest in Australia. Sir George entered the old Legislative Council, and continued a member of it for many years, working with commendable zeal in the interests of his native land. When the colony was granted by the Imperial Parliament the right of self-government, he was chosen first Colonial Secretary. He held that position for two years, when he succeeded another splendid colonist, Sir Thomas Campbell, Bart., as President of the Legislative Council. In the following year he was knighted.

The father of Sir George Shenton—the late George Shenton—came to Western Australia from England in the thirties, and established himself as a merchant in Perth. The unique condition of business affairs in the capital suited his enterprise, and his interests rapidly extended throughout the colony. Not confining himself to mercantile affairs, pure and simple, he became a large landholder. When he died in 1867, Mr. Shenton left a large business to his sons, and a name and a career which supplied them an example well worth following. He was held in the deepest respect by all who knew him. Sir George Shenton was born in Perth on the 4th March, 1842, and on the banks of the Swan River he passed his infant days. He was first educated by private tuition. His father, however, wisely desired that he should have something more than a colonial education, and in 1855 the lad was sent to England, and entered at the Queen's College, Taunton. Not only did he extend his education at this establishment, but English associations subsequently clung to him as naturally as cleaves the ivy to the ancient ruins of the motherland. By this means the English boy, born abroad, became English in memory as well as in birth—a beneficial consummation for a colonist. In 1858 he returned to Western Australia, and began the career which events and predilection led him to. Sir George entered his father's mercantile house, and was thoroughly educated in business by the late gentleman. Pastoral pursuits were combined with commercial affairs in this education; indeed, Sir George Shenton's youth and early manhood were immersed in walks of life which served him well later on. The head business offices were situated in Perth, with a large branch in Geraldton, and land owned by the Shentons in different parts of the colony was devoted to pastoral pursuits. Upon Mr. George Shenton's death in 1867, Sir George succeeded him in the control. Eventually his brother, Mr. E. C. Shenton, became a partner with him, and as Sir George entered the public arena of politics and municipal affairs, his brother gradually took his place in the active management of their large concern. Three years ago Sir George gave up active connection with the old established house, as public matters demanded more and more of his time.

Sir George Shenton had, while yet a young man, taken a constant interest in politics, and in 1870, then only twenty-eight years old, he was elected a member of the Legislative Council for the Greenough constituency. In that district his father held large landed interests. He identified himself with the debates in the Legislature, and continued to sit until 1873. In 1874: he visited England and the continent, and gained some knowledge by travel. He returned to the colony in the same year, and in 1875 was elected to the Legislative Council, on this occasion representing the Toodyay district. Sir George Shenton has been a member of the Council from that day to this.

Municipal affairs secured his warmest attention, and in 1871 he was chosen a member of the Perth City Council, and in 1875 was elected to the responsible position of chairman of the body. He was able to greatly assist in the deliberations and administration of the City Council, and was further dignified with the office of chairman in the years 1876 and 1877. After Perth was incorporated the chairman received the more traditional title of mayor. Perhaps no man in Australia bas been so honoured by a civic body as Sir George Shenton, for he officiated as Mayor of Perth in the years 1880 to 1884 and 1886 to 1888. This is a most conspicuous testimony to his dignity and ability, and bespeaks the great respect in which he was held by his fellow townsmen. The assistance he rendered the city was very great, and almost unique in the colony; he officiated at innumerable civic functions, and well upheld the importance of the place of his birth. It is no wonder that Sir George Shenton should ultimately be appointed to the conspicuous position of President of the Legislative Council.

Of the Financial Committee of the Legislative Council in 1890 Sir George was a member, and after the historical inauguration of Responsible Government he retained his seat in the Upper House. During the many years of his political career he had been to the fore in all matters which tended to develop a national spirit, and in all legislation which was likely to result in an increased prosperity and happiness to the people. He was strongly in favour of Responsible Government and worked to secure the boon. When Sir John Forrest was requested by the Governor to form a Cabinet to inaugurate self-government, Sir George Shenton was offered and accepted the position of Colonial Secretary. He imparted his native integrity into this office, as he did into all others he had previously held. It required a deal of study and caution and administrative ability to reorganise the public service and place the various State departments in proper working order. The next two years were spent by Sir George in this invaluable work—in assisting to lay the foundation of a Responsible Government which may eventually bring the colony to a position among the nations of the world. To actively be one of those who formed the basis is a privilege well worthy a man's envy, and may take his name down to posterity. In the Council and in his department, Sir George made his personality felt, and his good works will be remembered. In October, 1892, he resigned his position in the pioneer Government, in order to be eligible for election to the Presidency of the Upper Chamber. Sir Thomas C. 0ampbell, Bart., who had filled that office since 1890, died in 1892, and Sir George Shenton was appointed to the vacant chair. His previous experience had given him a wide knowledge of Parliamentary procedure, and Sir George Shenton, as President of the Upper House, has added to the honour which was previously associated with his name. On every occasion he deports himself in keeping with his elevated office and he has won respect from every section of the House.

In 1893 Her Majesty distinguished him with knighthood, a just reward for his many services to Western Australia. In 1895, in pursuance of the Constitution Act, the seat of Sir George Shenton in the Council was declared vacant, and he was elected senior member for the Perth Metropolitan Province, Previous to that he had for some years been a nominee member.

To turn from the public life of Sir George Shenton to other matters more private, but of nearly equal importance, we find that he has helped materially in mining, social, and religious natters. For twenty-four years he has been a director of the West Australian Bank, and for many years its chairman. He is chairman of the local board of the Commercial Union Assurance Company, and of the Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Company. He is agent at Fremantle of the world-famous Lloyd's. In the past he has filled many offices in business affairs, has worked earnestly to give stability to commercial matters, and to instil a high standard of integrity in commercial men. He has assisted the mining industry, and was an original member of the syndicate which despatched L. A. Menzies on the prospecting tour resulting in the discovery of the Menzies Goldfields. Sir George is now a director of the Lady Shenton and Gold Estates Mining Companies. He was for some years a member of the Central Board of Education until it ceased to exist in 1895, and is a governor of the High School. He is a trustee of the Public Library and Museum, and when the Public Hospital of Perth was placed under a board of management he was appointed the first chairman. Sir George is most actively identified with religious affairs, and strives to establish a happy connection between religion and political matters.

In 1868 Sir George Shenton was married to Julia Theresa, only daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel Eichbaum, of the Imperial Army. He has a beautiful residence, Crawley Park, on the banks of the River Swan. Surrounded by 200 acres, well laid out, this mansion is one of the finest in the colony.

The dominant characteristics of Sir George Shenton seem to have been honesty and sincerity. In the varied positions which he has held his deportment and actions have suggested integrity. As business man, Colonial Secretary, President of the Legislative Council, and Knight, his character has preserved an even tenor.