History of West Australia/William Edward Marmion

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THE name of the Hon. W. E. Marmion adds one more to the list of successful native-born politicians who have impressed their personality strongly on Western Australian history. This work will be found to contain numbers of biographies of such gentlemen, who are, in short, the leaders of, the local political world. Throughout his career Mr. Marmion has given evidences of sharpness of intellect and ability to grasp essentials in political problems which have marked him among his brethren. He has grown with the colony, and from his inner consciousness he may often speak out the voice of his native land,—the cry of Nature for development, of people for wise government. Experienced in almost every industry which has smiled upon Western Australia, and prominently associated with her legislative institutions since their inception, he is well acquainted with all her requirements and aspirations; and he was wisely chosen as a pioneer Cabinet Minister under responsible government, and his work as Commissioner for Lands and Mines was earnest and complete. He spared neither time nor labour to place these State departments in easy working order, and with his colleagues in the Forrest Government, he helped to guide the State machine through its infant struggles, and to bestow prosperity to the whole colony.

Fremantle gave birth to William Edward Marmion, and that centre has rightly received the best results of his life of public utility. He was born on 22nd October, 1845, and the son of Mr. Patrick Marmion, who for a number of years was engaged in active mercantile pursuits in the colony. The boy received his school education at Fremantle and Perth, and when sixteen or seventeen years old, entered the more practical educational establishments to be found in mercantile affairs. He did not long remain a pupil here, for when twenty-one he rose to the rank of master. He opened a business in Fremantle, and remained prominently associated with commercial affairs up to his fortieth year. At first he conducted his commercial concerns under the name of W. E. Marmion, but subsequently, when his enterprise had extended, his business name was changed to W. E. Marmion and Co. During these nineteen years he went prominently into three great Western Australian industries—the pastoral, the pearling, and the maritime. His pastoral interests extended over the districts of Murchison, Gascoyne, North-West, and Kimberley. With others he owned considerable territory, representing in the aggregate millions of acres. These were stocked with sheep and cattle and horses. When the results of the explorations of Mr. Alex. Forrest in the Kimberley district became known, he was among the first to join others and take up extensive properties there, so that he may be esteemed a pioneer of that important pastoral centre. He is still largely concerned in this great industry. He was for some years part proprietor of pearling craft operating on the north-west coast, and was thus able to materially assist in the development of these industries, which returned such handsome profits to the colony, and so largely advertised its importance in the markets of the Old World. From the age of twenty-four to thirty-eight he conducted large shipping operations. In more recent years he has devoted much of his energies to that new and superlatively important industry—mining. Western Australia would still remain comparatively in the backward condition of a few years ago were it not for this growing source of wealth. From the earliest inception of general interest in local mineral deposits, Mr. Marmion has helped by capital, enterprise, and advice in stimulating the work of prospectors. He was concerned in the formation of companies which worked on the Yilgarn-Southern Cross—Goldfields in the eighties, notably the Centrals, Fraser's, and Centrals Extended Companies. These were three of the pioneer mines of Southern Cross, and almost of Western Australia. He is a director of the two first named. As prospecting was pushed further afield than the Cross, he followed it closely, and assisted in the fitting out of prospecting parties, which helped to prove the magnificent resources of the lonely deserts. He was a member of the Dunn Prospecting Syndicate which discovered the Wealth of Nations mine and the Lone Hand reefs, besides numerous others. At present Mr. Marmion is associated with mining interests in the Southern Cross, Coolgardie, East Coolgardie, North Coolgardie, and the Murchison districts. All this serves to show how extensively he has been identified with the development of the primary Western Australian industries, which have attracted capital and population from all over the world, and which have brought the colony from stagnation to a beneficent prosperity.

To turn to the political aspect of Mr. Marmion's career, up to the year 1870 the old Legislative Council consisted of nominees and semi-elective members, either official or non-official. But in that year colonists most reasonably aspired to have some form of Representative Government. Their wishes were granted; the Council was dissolved, and the Constitution provided for a new Council twelve elective members and six nominee, to be made up by three official nominees and three unofficial. Mr. Marmion, who was then about twenty-five years old, stood for election for Fremantle. He was defeated in October, but Governor Weld did not desire that the colony should be without his services in Parliament, and with Messrs. S. P. Phillips and Maitland Brown, he was created an unofficial nominee member, while the official nominees were Messrs. F. P. Barlee, R. J. Walcott, and Mr. (now Sir) Malcolm Fraser, Agent-General for Western Australia in London. Since that date the Hon. W. E. Marmion has been actively identified with Parliamentary affairs, and sat in the Council until the granting of Responsible Government in 1890, and thereupon was chosen a member of the first House of Assembly, and still sits. He has indeed watched the growth of local political institutions, and has had a longer association with them than almost any surviving man in the colony. For two sessions he sat as a nominee member, and then a fresh election took place for Fremantle. Mr. Marmion forwarded the resignation of his seat to the Governor, and contested the election. He was again defeated by a small majority. The Governor, however, considered his services of sufficient value that he held over the acceptance of his resignation until after the elections, and when Mr. Marmion was unsuccessful, he forwarded it back. He, therefore, thus continued to sit. Then in 1873 an unfortunate accident occurred which deprived Fremantle of its first elected member, Mr. E. Newman. A writ was issued for the vacancy. Mr. Marmion a second time sent his resignation to the Governor, and stood for election. On this occasion he was chosen by a fair majority. For the intervening twenty-four years he has been re-elected at every election, whether to the Legislative Council or the Assembly.

In the Council Mr. Marmion evinced activity in all debates, and proved a very useful representative. His experience mercantile and industrial affairs proved of special value, and he was able to lend assistance to the passage of measures designed to safeguard and encourage the colony's trade. Because of this he was looked upon as a rising figure, one who would take no small part in guiding the colony out of stagnation to a prosperous condition. His financial attainments were such that he was for several years a member of the finance committee of the Council, which acted as an advisory board on public works and all financial matters. In the agitation for Responsible Government, in the latter part of the last decade, he was busy in advocating the concession, and when it was made and the first elections took place, he stood for Fremantle proper for a seat in the Assembly. His election was a foregone conclusion, for the Fremantle people did not wish to lose the services of one who had so long and so faithfully represented them. Sir John Forrest was entrusted with the formation of the first Cabinet, and almost immediately approached Mr. Marmion and offered him the portfolios of Commissioner for Lands and Mines. He accepted, and was duly sworn in as the first Minister of Lands and Mines in Western Australia under Responsible Government. We have already written much of the honour attaching to the position of pioneer ministers of State departments in a colony so promising as Western Australia, and the anxiety and great labour which was entailed on the ministers. The Hon. Mr. Marmion proved himself quite able to establish his two departments on facile working lines, and he constantly sought to increase their value to the colony in the two industries specially interested. After setting the Lands and Mines Departments in order, and compiling regulations and other machinery for their guidance, he proceeded to introduce new legislation designed to stimulate the landed and mining interests. Much legislation of value to the colony was thus sponsored by him, and it reflects flatteringly on his foresight and political career when we recognise that during the years he held office the first great strides towards an assured prosperity took place. Under his guidance the mining industry rose out of comparative oblivion to a pedestal of importance at which all the world looked. The population of the colony was doubled, and the export and import wealth and revenue expanded beyond the most sanguine anticipations. For nearly four years the Hon. Mr. Marmion controlled the Lands and Mines Departments, and he proved himself a clever administrator, and one who could grasp the requirements of phenomenal expansion in trade and population. In December, 1894, he resigned the portfolios owing to business reasons and that he took this step was regretted by all who had watched his career. But be found he could not devote so much time as his conscience considered the State demanded to public affairs, and he gave way.

The Hon. W. E. Marmion has filled many useful offices in Fremantle and Western Australia. He represented the colony at that important intercolonial gathering—the great Federation Convention held in Sydney in March, 1891. He was a member of the Board of Immigration, was created a Justice of the Peace in 1872, and was a member of the Central Board of Education from its inauguration in 1871 to its abolition in 1895. Of the early Fremantle Town Trusts he was a member, and when the Trust was superseded by the Council he continued to represent ratepayers, and while a young man was chairman of the body. He has held numerous other positions of more or less importance.

In 1870 Mr. Marmion was married to a daughter of Mr. P. Gibbons, of Fremantle. Mr. W. R. P. Marmion, his eldest son, is actively engaged in mining pursuits, and is a member of the Stock Exchange of Kalgoorlie. There are really few biographies in this work which exhibit such a useful public career in Western Australia as does Mr. Marmion's. Since 1870 he has been a prominent colonist, and year by year has assisted in local Government. His is one of the best known figures in the local political world. In politics he aims particularly at progression, and while conserving the rights and interests of the colony he is a liberal in his support of measures tending to local advancement. West Australians have reason to be proud of this native-born politician.