My Life in Two Hemispheres/Chapter 26

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Position of the defeated Government—"The Corner"—Organisation of the Opposition—New opinions and desires—Distribution of the business of the party—Political badinage—The Chinese invasion—Land Bill of the new Government—Slow progress—Two Ministers retire—Proposed squatting government—How this project was defeated—Mr. Heales sent for by the Governor, and asks me to take the lead and become Prime Minister—The difficulty about a dissolution—The Nicholson Government remain—Are again defeated, and the Heales Government is formed by the aid of the squatters—Proposal to me to become Speaker declined—The Occupation Licenses—My exposure of their weakness and futility—Mr. Loader's resignation—Dissolution of Parliament—Success of the Government on the goldfields—My election and the elections in the western district—Rally of the new Opposition—Haines and O'Shanassy—Defeat of the Heales Government—Letters from Richard Cobden, Sir Emerson Tennant, John Henry Newman, Sir Arthur Helps, Henry Parkes—Letter from the professors of the Melbourne University.

The remnant of the defeated Government took up their places on the front Opposition Bench, of which they only occupied a corner; with the few supporters who followed them they rarely mustered half a dozen members. Below the gangway the real Opposition were gathered, the Mining and Convention members and the men who adhered to me when I retired from the late Government, the whole amounting together to somewhat more than a score. The new Government slightly outnumbered both sections of the Opposition, and were rendered safe by the fact that these sections disliked each other more than they disliked the enemy in front. The party below the gangway was without a name, without a policy, and without a leader; in a debate one of them spoke of the members surrounding him as "the men in that corner," and the name of "the Corner" was fixed upon them, and has remained the designation of that part of the House to this day. They agreed to ask me to become leader, and I determined, with the aid of the best men of our opinions, in and out of the House, to give the democratic party a definite creed.

I had come from a country experienced in political organisation, and had gained some repute there as an organiser, and I naturally aimed to turn this inorganic mass into a disciplined body. Party organisation has grievous drawbacks. It sometimes teaches men to stifle their consciences, and to prefer the interest of their faction to the interest of the country. But where there is not party the necessary alternative is apathy or corruption.

There was in this Opposition, as there is in every political Opposition, men to whom the main question was when they would arrive at office; but the whole connection was sincerely possessed of the convictions for which they contended. Their fundamental principles got gradually determined in private debates, and on the whole were not ungenerous or unjust. They believed democratic institutions were the natural organisation of a new country where something approaching social equality existed—that by opening the way to political success to men in humble position they influenced the character of a whole population. Every boy might hope to do what others starting from his standpoint had done, and the best of them would educate and train themselves to be able to do it effectually. None of them had any doubt that there must be a great extension of the suffrage, not so much on the ground of abstract right as from the conviction that in a community so constituted as ours the great creators of wealth could not be kept in a subject condition. The spirit of enterprise which led men to select such a pursuit as gold digging, and the sense of personal independence which it fostered, were guarantees that the mining constituencies would require, and were in a certain degree fitted to exercise this trust.

Among our confederates outside there were a few philosophical thinkers who sympathised with social equality, and formulated lofty ideas of public duty, but understood imperfectly what the people actually wanted. They dreamed of a democracy inspired with the spirit of Milton and restrained by the equity of Washington. These high hopes were visions which faded in the daylight of actual experience. The larger numbers who shared the desires of the people did not know how to make them acceptable to the educated classes by raising them above naked selfishness. It was a difficulty, too, that the propertied classes were deprived of that share of influence which would otherwise have been cheerfully conceded to them by their sympathy with the claims of the squatters to monopolise the public territory; which gave their policy the character of a greedy and sordid conspiracy. In one important respect the whole democratic party certainly exhibited a commendable unselfishness. To adopt the American system of disbanding the Civil Service when their patrons retired from office, would give the democracy, when their turn came, the whole patronage of the country. Hitherto they had nothing, and the existing officers were appointed by their opponents. But they resisted the temptation and agreed to maintain the officers in their position. After a time an Act was passed by a later Government, of which I was a member, giving this important class security and independence. The judges of the Supreme Court, by the Constitution Statute, were maintained in their position for life, with a retiring pension after fifteen years, and in the end the judges of the inferior courts were placed in a corresponding position. In the same spirit financial good faith has been preserved with a fidelity which has. known no exception. In later times even the teetotalers agreed to give compensation to publicans whose houses were closed. It was not conceded that they had any legal claim, but a liberal equity represented the sentiment of the country.

I was confident that before an organised party in opposition, having not only fixed convictions but disciplined to subordinate the whims and vanities of individuals to its common ends, the motley majority, with only interests at stake, must fall. But one thing a man is sure to learn speedily in a partnership of this kind—the impossibility of getting men to think alike, and the difficulty of getting them to accept cordially opinions which have been thought out by others. The plainest truth must wait its opportunity to get an audience. The impatience for rapid success which distinguishes society in a gold country operates in politics. In England an Opposition has to wait long for office, and is content to wait; and takes its measures accordingly. But in Australia, at this time, men were devoured with anxiety and chagrin. Public life was often a perpetual guerilla warfare of surprises, ambuscades, plots, and single combats.

The position of leader of such an Opposition had strong attractions for me. We had an opportunity, I thought, of adopting whatever was best in the habits and institutions of free countries, and rejecting whatever had proved deleterious; and this experiment might be made with great success in Victoria, for liberty, civilisation, and arts had come to perfection in small States. In the old country, overladen with abuses, the chief work of a statesman was to pull down, but here it was clearly the more exacting task to build up. In democracy I recognised the modern form and expression of the spirit of improvement which won all the concessions which constitute political liberty; but I had as little sympathy with the naked selfishness which saw no interest at stake but the interest of the working classes, as with the other naked selfishness which plotted to get the public lands into the hands of a few monopolists.

The main purpose of the Nicholson Government was declared to be a settlement of the land question in the interest of the industrious classes. Their Bill was the most liberal proposal made up to that time, and when it got into Committee the Democratic Party aimed to enlarge its scope and amend its machinery. The lead belonged to me, but I had effectual help from Mr. Wilson Gray and Mr. J. H. Brooke. The Government majority were eager to push on at all hazards; I was resolved that nothing should be unduly hurried. On one occasion they were determined to take a division on amendments which had not been printed or circulated before the assembly of the House that evening. I insisted we must not be required to vote upon proposals which we had not considered, and defied them to proceed. The Government persisted, and the entire Opposition rose in their places and withdrew. In their absence the Government were ashamed to proceed, the amendments were ordered to be circulated, and the question was adjourned till next day. The amended Bill was read a third' time in the Assembly by a large majority. But when it reached the ^Council the squatters fell upon it in a fury, and struck out the most important provisions; and when it came back to the Assembly a deadlock seemed inevitable. But the Ministry were not men for strong measures, and we soon saw that the majority of them would let the Council have its way, if they dare.

A secret of success in politics is to give leading men individual work of which they would be proud, and I endeavoured to distribute the business of the Party in this spirit. Let one, I said, take up the interest of the agricultural settler, another of the miner, a third public education. Publicists would be more powerful if they embraced each of them a task which he resolved to accomplish. If one should say, "I will not rest while there is a pauper in Victoria," another, "I am resolved, Heaven helping, that the larrikin shall become as rare amongst us as the moa, or I will aim to make the enjoyments of the people simpler and more healthy; and if there be any reefer, or squatter, or merchant, burdened with the care of more wealth than he can use, let us teach him how the merchant princes of the Italian Republics used their opulence." But politics were so engrossing that it was difficult to divert attention to social questions. The Australian pioneers of democracy had genuine sincerity and enthusiasm. They felt they were righting the battle of public principles against powerful interests without any personal object, and often with the drawback of scanty rations at home. The contest in which we were engaged looked a very unequal one. The community were preoccupied with money-making and apathetic on public questions; and on the other side, there was an organisation of men with immense resources, who were in occupation of the public territory. They were knit in commercial relations with the principal banks, and they had close social relations with the professional and business classes. But the democracy never doubted of its final success, and hoped indeed much more than was ever accomplished. Political life was seasoned, as it always is in civilised countries, with banter and badinage. B. C. Aspinall was a great humorist, and everybody could cite some happy mots of his, as notable for promptness as for felicity. He was addressing the House somewhat vaguely one evening, when a member of Cockney genesis interposed with a question to the Speaker, "May I ask, sir, what is before the 'Ouse?" "An 'H,' I submit," says Aspinall. On another occasion a mining member who was denouncing some Minister as almost as cruel as Nero or Diocletian, was asked sneeringly by a ministerial supporter, "Who was Diocletian?" The querist was a person of great self-importance, but much worried by a tradition that he was descended from butchers, and had himself when a boy carried a basket on his arm. "I am surprised," interposed Aspinall, "that the honourable member for X. needs to be told who was Diocletian. He was an eminent Roman butcher."

Dr. Evans said good things, but they were witty and wise rather than humorous. He was an old man, and it had become a familiar joke to speak of him as belonging to the era of Queen Anne. On some occasion when he referred to Queen Anne in a speech there were various cries of "Did you know her? What was she like?" "Yes, sir," rejoined the doctor, "I did know her. The scholar is contemporary with all time." Michie, who scorned puns, and never uttered mots which were not spontaneous, seasoned his speech as Disraeli's was seasoned, with happy turns of phrase and pertinent quotations, which gave the cultivated reader more enjoyment than bons mots. Ireland's jokes were altogether different, they were neither subtle humour nor intellectual play but the overflow of animal spirits. Here is a sample. Mr. Clarke, a millionaire, complained as witness in a commercial case that the demand for money was so slack that he had £60,000 lying at his bankers for a month with which he did not know what to do. Ireland immediately drew up a paper, which was handed round the bar, and even reached the Bench, and everywhere excited a burst of laughter. It ran in some such terms as these—"The six undernamed members of the Bar, moved with compassion for Mr. Clarke's unhappy position, are prepared to relieve him of his surplus cash to the extent of £10,000 each. Signed—Michie, Ireland, Dawson, and so forth."

From the discovery of gold the Chinese immigrants began to arrive in alarming numbers. As they represented a reservoir of population, by which we could be deluged and swamped, some measures of restriction were necessary. The Opposition advised that every Chinaman entering the colony should be obliged to carry a British subject on his shoulders, that is to say that he should pay a sum which would cover the expense of bringing out an English immigrant to balance him in the community. The Chinese proved skilful and industrious settlers, made excellent gardeners and washermen, and the round head and diminutive eyes of the Chinese pedlar became a welcome sight to housewives in the country. They made considerable settlements in Melbourne and the goldfields, and a stream of Celestials steadily come and go every year.[1]

A whole session was lost without any effectual progress, and it came to be believed that many of the Ministers were not in cordial sympathy with their own proposals. The Minister in charge of the Land Bill threw up his portfolio, and one of his colleagues followed his example. The Legislative Council, crowded with squatters, were not disposed to yield their advantages to a weak and divided Government, and long negotiations with them came to nothing. A new Government was inevitable, but in what direction were its members to be sought? The Democratic Party, who stood almost alone in its desire to pass the measure in its integrity, thought the Government ought to be entrusted to them, but the Governor fixed his eyes steadily in another direction. The Argus, which had given the Nicholson Cabinet a moderate support, broke loose from them, and taking up the list of the Administration declared them one by one unfit for their places. They were nearly all men whom the journal had warmly supported before, and indeed came warmly to support afterwards, but just now there was a more attractive outlook. A new Government ought to be formed, it was said, not embarrassed by any responsibilities for the Land Bill, and who could rally all the Moderate men in the House to their support. The fitting leaders for such a combination would be Mr. Ebden and Mr. O'Shanassy. Mr. Ebden was the richest squatter in Parliament, an African gentleman whose sheep covered many hills, and who demeaned himself as if he were descended from the Norman conquerors, but of feeble will and limited capacity. Mr. O'Shanassy by this time manifestly leaned towards the pastoral interest, and such a Government would mean an end of land reform and a settlement of the question in the interests of the squatters. The danger needed prompt treatment, and I had a conference with Mr. Heales, the Ministerial supporter most in earnest as a land reformer. We agreed upon a project which would arrest the squatting intrigue at its outset. We drew up a resolution which Mr. Heales proposed from behind the Treasury Bench, declaring that the House would support no Government who would not take up the Land Bill with a view to carry it into law. The Democratic Party eagerly accepted this declaration, and as the comatose Government could not decently vote against it it was carried.

The hopes of a Squatter Administration were at an end, and the Governor sent for Mr. Heales, and authorised him to form an Administration. After a pourparler with Mr. Nicholson which came to nothing, Mr. Heales invited me to act with him, and become head of the new Government. Our opponents were persuaded I would fail, because it would be necessary to take too large a contingent from the Corner, men whom the state of public opinion did not permit to be raised to office except in homeopathic proportions. I made a Government, however, of men who were new to office but who were so fit for it that every one of them became members of future Administrations. Mr. Heales took the Public Lands; the Public Works were assigned to Mr. Verdon—afterwards Sir George Verdon—an honoured name in the colony. Mr. Aspinall, one of the half-dozen men whose undoubted genius gave the Parliament of Victoria a first place among colonial legislatures, was Attorney-General; Mr. Brooke, Treasurer; Mr. Robert Stirling Anderson, Postmaster-General; Mr. Loader, Commissioner of Customs, and I was Chief Secretary and Prime Minister. I offered the Solicitor-Generalship to Mr. Wilson Gray, but he insisted that he could serve the cause best as a private member. It was the first democratic Ministry, and I was determined that it should be one which would steer by the stars, and not have to watch the shifting winds and tide of the hour, a Government whose policy should not consist in evading difficulties but in encountering them. But we speedily came to understand by the secret whispers, never wanting on such an occasion, that the men ejected from office and the leading men who had been opposed to them would immediately unite against us. To provide against this catastrophe I asked the Governor's assurance that in case of such an unfair combination he would refer the question to the people by dissolving Parliament. The Governor said he could not give such an assurance; he would act according to circumstances. I reminded him that he had given such an assurance to the last Government of which I was a member. He replied that that was the reason why he could not do so again; he had given such an undertaking to Mr. O'Shanassy, considering it confidential, but Mr. O'Shanassy had used it to menace the House. My colleagues agreed with me that our position was this—the country would support us, but the House would not. If we could not get at the country it would be safer to wait the General Election. I obtained the Governor's consent to report the facts to the House, and Mr. Nicholson was temporarily recalled to office. Mr. O'Shanassy repelled the Governor's imputation with all the force of his vehement nature, but the actual facts were within the knowledge of the House.

The ship of the State was sailing under a jury-mast, and in a brief time there was another crisis. Nothing but a Democratic Government was possible, and the Ministry I had recently proposed would now, it was assumed, necessarily resume office. But some gladiators in the Corner who thought they had been improperly omitted from that combination were discontented, and the Conservative Press stimulated their impatience by treating them as the natural leaders of the party improperly set aside. If politics were a game of personal ambition in which principles might be ignored the Conservatives struck what would be regarded as a successful coup. I had rendered their Ministry impossible, because their success would mean the destruction of the Land Bill; they struck a stroke against me equally effectual, but purchased by the open abandonment of their cherished opinions. Mr. O'Shanassy communicated to them through a trusted agent that he and Mr. Ebden and their friends would support any Democratic Government formed, provided I was not a member of it. Mr. Brooke came to report this overture to me. I was not greedy of office; I had resigned from the O'Shanassy Administration; I had refused a seat in the Nicholson Cabinet; I had refrained from gazetting a Government of which I was the chief, and I said I would offer them no advice, nor would I attend any party meeting summoned on the occasion. Wilson Gray came to me to say that though the plot was a shocking one, he thought we ought to get the Democratic Party into office for the first time, on any conditions. A meeting was held in which Mr. Ebden and Mr. O'Shanassy took part with the Democrats of the Corner, and agreed on the formation of a Government exclusively from the latter party. This fraternal squatting of the young lions of the Land League with the ancient and grizzly rams of the Pastoral Association was a puzzle and perplexity to those not acquainted with its secret history. The Heales Government—for Mr. Heales was at its head—did not include one of the Corner whose discontent had enabled it to be created. It was for a time very tame and purposeless. To secure its ground was its first care, and Mr. Brooke considered it a stroke of policy to placate me. Mr. M'Evoy, of Studley Park, was a man at whose table we had sometimes met, and he sent him to me to say that it was proposed to dissolve Parliament, and that the Government, who were confident of obtaining a decisive majority, would make me Speaker of the new House. I declined his overture, and will confine myself to citing Mr. M'Evoy's last letter on the subject.

"Studley House, Studley Park, Kew,
"August 28, 1861.

"Dear Sir,—As the business on which I called on you on Sunday and Monday last was of unusual importance I will put the substance of it in writing. Mr. Brooke, whom I accidentally met on Saturday last, stopt me, and after some preliminary conversation inquired whether I would make a communication for him to you. He said the Government were anxious you should undertake the office of Speaker of the new Assembly, and if they were assured you would act would propose and carry you; and he asked me if I would speak to you on the subject; he also wished to make some appointment when he and you should meet to confer on the subject. I saw you accordingly on Sunday, immediately after church, and mentioned the subject with a view to having your answer on Monday morning. I called at your chamber at Temple Court next morning, and you told me you would not make any appointment with Mr. Brooke on the subject, that such an offer ought to have been made in writing, and that if it had been so made it would have been your duty to read it for the consideration of your political friends in Parliament, and been guided by their advice, but that, as the matter stood, you must thank Mr. Brooke and decline; and when I brought your answer to Mr. Brooke he said if you did not consent to act the Government would nominate some other gentleman to act, and he requested me to see him again in a couple of hours, after he had an opportunity of consulting with his colleagues, whether the request would not still be made in writing. I mentioned this to you after leaving him, and you refused to consider the question any further, whether in writing or otherwise. I informed Mr. Brooke of your determination, and my duty ended.—Believe me, dear sir, yours very truly,

"James M'Evoy."

The Government for a long time did nothing, pendulating between the Conservative section from whom they were receiving support, and the democratic multitude with whom they sympathised. At length Mr. Brooke struck what proved to be for a time a successful popular coup. He believed he had discovered in the existing Land Law power to grant licenses to new tenants of the Crown for as few as forty acres, and he proposed to employ this power largely wherever settlement was desired. To baffle the squatters who had resisted the Nicholson Land Bill was a very natural desire in the popular mind, and the people were too angry to be scrupulous as to the method. The scheme of these licenses, however, on examination proved to be altogether illusory, and I took occasion to unmask their deficiencies in Parliament. In the first place, I insisted that the Occupation licenses conferred a miserable tenure. The Minister might withdraw a license at pleasure. Any miner might enter upon the petty allotment to pursue his industry. The Supreme Court might order the lessee to be ejected as being in illegal possession. He could not sell or transfer either his license or his improvements. If he died, his right, title, and interest died with him. He could not quit home on any of the industrial pursuits which attract men hither and thither in a new country, as non-residence forfeited his license; and when his license expired the land which he was accustomed to consider as his must be purchased at public auction, there being no other possible method of obtaining it. Were these conditions under which a national industry could be planted? I insisted that what a popular Government ought to do was to renew the attack on the obstructives in the Upper House, and obtain a settlement which would have the security of law. The question was: Were we to base our public policy upon law, which is the solemn consent of the people, or on the caprice or prejudice of a Minister?

The danger was much more serious than the inexperienced would understand. There passed under the control of the Executive Government every year a larger amount of national property than was distributed under the votes of Parliament. If we set the example of allowing the Executive to exercise their own discretion without the assent of law, and contrary to law, on this national property, we should inevitably have it disposed of by and by in corrupt jobs for party or personal purposes.

The motion was defeated by a narrow majority, but among the minority there were nearly half the original members of the Government who had by this time deserted it for its malpractices. My defence of legal methods in public affairs had naturally the approval of the Conservative Press, and it was somewhat of a deduction from my satisfaction to find myself on the same side with a journal which had recently represented Mr. Ebden and Mr. O'Shanassy as ideal Ministers to settle the Land question. "Denounced by Mr. Duffy," said the Argus, "in a speech of singular force and ability, its liberality must henceforth be a matter of very partial opinion. … This small defect (that they are absolutely unlawful and unconstitutional) in their otherwise perfect character could not have been brought forward with better spirit and stronger logic than were used by Mr. Duffy. Their case was the harder in that the present defender of the Law and Constitution is himself a land reformer of the most liberal class not long ago the chief of all the land reformers, and certainly a more consistent and strenuous advocate for the rights of the people than ever was Mr. Brooke or Mr. Heales."

In the end the Occupation Licenses were declared illegal by the Supreme Court, and all the labour and cost expended on them by the people would have been forfeited but that in a Land Act which I carried in a subsequent session I enabled the Board of Land and Works to confirm them in all cases where the conditions had been complied with. The inquiry which this clause necessitated disclosed the singular fact that many of the licenses were taken out by squatters or their immediate employés, to pick, as it was said, the eyes out of their holdings.

I aimed a second stroke at the Administration which was more immediately successful. A new Minister, intoxicated with the fumes of unaccustomed power, walked into the department of one of his colleagues, and, becoming dissatisfied with the conduct of the permanent head of the department, suspended him from office, and insisted that he must be dismissed. But when I exposed the facts to the House the officer was restored, and the arbitrary Minister had to resign. As soon as the Supplies for the year were voted, the Opposition, which had now grown to a decisive majority, attacked the Government by a vote of want of confidence. It was carried, but, contrary to expectation, the Governor agreed to dissolve Parliament, and the Legislative Assembly sent him an address of remonstrance. There was no ground, they insisted, for an appeal to the people. After twelve months' occupation of office, during which they passed no measure of importance, the Government were ejected, not in defence of any principle, for they had vindicated none, but for mere incompetence and unworthiness, and the House called on the Governor to take measures to secure the reassembling of Parliament at the earliest moment, as public interests were seriously endangered while their control remained in the hands of his present advisers. As his answer was not satisfactory, Supplies were only granted for three months, to make sure that the authority of Parliament should not be evaded. When the dissolution was secured the Government proclaimed an ultra-democratic programme on which they determined to go to the country, but of which Parliament had never heard anything. Under the election law existing at that time the Administration could fix the order of elections at their discretion, and the Government put the most democratic constituencies in the front.

Constituency after constituency chose the Government candidate, and an exulting minister declared that, as there would be no Opposition in the next Assembly, it would be necessary to hire one to keep up constitutional forms. On the goldfield constituencies the cry was, "Down with the black coats and bell-toppers." The miners and artisans accepted the Government as representing for the first time their own class. The party relations which formerly existed were rudely shaken or overthrown by this new sentiment, of which the hope of protection for Australian industries, now first broached by a Government, formed a realistic and practical side.[2] The current was strong, and men who had no decided convictions or prepossessions drifted with it.

To find candidates was the chief difficulty of the Government, and anybody who might possibly win was considered sufficient. One successful candidate was a railway porter, another an agricultural labourer; of a third it was told that when he took his seat an angry Minister whispered to the party Whip, "Take that cursed fellow away, wash his face, and put a clean shirt on him." "I hope," said a Conservative friend whom I encountered at this time, "you are beginning to recognise that democracy, like epicureans, prefers its dainties a little tainted." The success looked altogether decisive, but the leaders of the Opposition were persuaded it was merely local and did not extend to the more settled districts. The great agricultural West, occupied by prudent Scotchmen and industrious Irishmen, was considered safe on the side of solid and serious reforms, not flimsy and ephemeral ones. When I set out for my election I was surprised to find "Orion" Horne on board the coasting steamer bound for the Western counties which I represented. I did not suspect any political purpose, but as I was on the look-out for Government candidates I asked the captain at the dinner-table if he had any of these gentlemen on board. "That is what I cannot tell you, sir," replied the captain with a sly smile, "as I never look at the list of steerage passengers. But," he added, pointing to Horne, "here is a gentleman that can tell you, for he was accompanied on board by one of the Government Whips." "What," I said, "is it possible? In the name of 'Locksley Hall'—

"'Do I see the Great Orion slyly sloping to the west'?"[3]

Horne laughed, and admitted that he was certainly going down to run a race with my friend John Hood at Belfast, and I promised him a good beating, which in proper time was duly administered.

My colleague in my constituency was Mr. Ireland, who had been Attorney-General in the Heales Government, and pronounced Occupation Licenses legal and valid. He retired from the Government when O'Shanassy and Ebden deserted it. I had coalesced with him in former elections, but I declined to do so now. I desired the return of Mr. Michie, one of the most distinguished members of. the Opposition, who would certainly have been elected but that he offended the constituents by not visiting them. Although his jovial, popular manners made Ireland a favourite with our countrymen, his seat was very nearly lost. The result of the poll was declared to be—Duffy, 1,200 votes; Ireland, 732; Michie, 640; and Dr. Mackay, the Government candidate, 113. In the later batches of elections the Government was beaten almost everywhere, and two or three of their bitterest enemies, men who had seceded from the Cabinet when their violent courses commenced, were sent back to Parliament to hold them responsible.

Before the General Election there had been unsuccessful attempts to get together the various groups which constituted the Opposition, but it was now felt that the thing must be done. A main difficulty of Colonial administration is the scarcity of men fit to be entrusted with the functions of Government. To supply a Cabinet, and an alternative Cabinet in Opposition, is sometimes more than is practicable, and in a House comparatively limited a man considered competent can rarely be spared. The desire for an organisation of all the sections unfriendly to the Government became very strong, and a meeting of the entire Opposition with this object was called. I did not attend, but next day I received this note from the secretary appointed by the meeting:—

"Parliament Library, September 9, 1861.

"Sir,—At a meeting of the Opposition held here on the 6th inst. it was resolved to appoint the gentlemen named on the other side (of whom you are one) as a committee, to be called 'the Committee of the Opposition.'

"A meeting of this committee will be held in the Upper Library on Wednesday next, the nth inst., at half-past one o'clock p.m. Your obedient servant,

"Robert Gillespie,Sec.

"Committee: Messrs. O'Shanassy, Haines, Duffy, Francis, Service, W. A. Brodribb, Johnston, Snodgrass, Lalor, H. S. Chapman, Nicholson, Anderson, Hood, Levey, Gillespie."

Still I did not attend; my chief motive for remaining away was that I was indisposed to act again with Mr. O'Shanassy in Opposition or in office. In politics much has to be for-; given, but his appeal to and- Irish feeling against me seemed to me a just exception. The reconciliation was brought about by social rather than political influences. I have spoken of Dr. Quinn, the Bishop of Brisbane, who, though a kinsman of Dr. Cullen, had honoured me with his steady friendship. He had done notable work in his new diocese, not only in diffusing his missionary church, but for immigration, education, and social progress, with the assent of men of various parties. He had been so successful that some enthusiastic friends declared that the colony in gratitude ought to change its name from Queensland to Quinnsland. The good bishop came to Melbourne at this time, and appealed to me passionately to consent to a reconciliation with Mr. O'Shanassy. It was not merely a question of local politics, he said. Irish Catholics had fair play and fair recognition nowhere on the earth so unreservedly as in Australia, and if this quarrel continued it would divide them into two parties in every town and settlement on the continent. He brought me various explanatory messages from Mr. O'Shanassy, and finally induced us to dine with him, when he completed his generous enterprise. I said office had not been pleasant to me, and that if I ever returned to it it would be to settle the land question in the interests of the industrious classes. Mr. O'Shanassy said that was what he also desired, and that I would find him not an impediment, but an ally. An inner Cabinet of the party containing Mr. Haines, Mr. Nicholson, and Mr. Francis, as well as Mr. O'Shanassy and myself, considered the basis on which a Government might be formed which would be strong enough to promise permanency and to carry important measures. I conditioned that the land question should be settled on the basis of reserving all the agricultural land for actual settlement, that it should be capable of being selected in farms of 320 acres at £1 an acre, payable in instalments over ten years; and if this were done I agreed that the squattings not needed for selection should be occupied for a limited period by the existing licensees. But our operations were arrested by a communication from Mr. Haines to me that Mr. O'Shanassy had used language to him so rude and offensive that he would prefer standing aside to acting in the same Government with him. Mr. Haines could not be spared, and I attempted to restore unanimity. Among Mr. O'Shanassy's notable qualities a willingness to cheerfully admit that he had committed a bêtise, or a mistake, was not included, but I finally obtained the subjoined letter from him, which Mr. Haines accepted as an apology, and our affairs got into order again:—

"Hawthorn, Monday Morning.

"My dear Duffy,—I've your note, and hasten to acquaint you that the terms of it remove any disinclination I might have felt to attend any further meetings in relation to the late contemplated arrangements.

"You interpreted exactly what I said to Mr. Haines in reply to his observations, and I will cheerfully attend in the library to-day to confirm that statement, and remove thus far any misapprehension entertained by Mr. Haines as to the words used by me on the occasion in question.

"Having already fully stated to you, as I felt bound to do, the whole conversation as it occurred, considering that you were entitled to know at the earliest possible moment, I now feel that it is not necessary to dwell upon the alteration of sentiment announced by Mr. Haines.—I am, my dear Duffy, Yours truly,

"John O'Shanassy."

The stream of correspondence from Europe seldom slackened, and before taking up the engrossing Parliamentary business now at hand it may be pleasant to consider a few letters of this period which I recall with satisfaction.

"I ought long ago (Richard Cobden wrote) to have thanked you for having attached my name to a locality in your jurisdiction. It was gratifying to me to find that you had borne an old Parliamentary colleague in remembrance. It was this act of friendly kindness rather than the honour or compliment paid me that made your communication to me exceedingly acceptable and pleasant.

"I have not been able to watch very closely or continuously the workings of your political institutions. But I suppose, like all new machinery, the action is at first subject to a good deal of friction and irregularity.

"Here our Parliamentary life has been not very satisfactory of late. Our old Premier (if the word 'old' can ever apply to one of such boisterous spirits) is holding office with the aid of the most reactionary section of the Tories, because they find he obstructs reform more effectually than their own leaders could do if they were in power, and spends far more money than a Tory Government would dream of doing.

"The consequence is that all reform is in abeyance, and the old parties are deluding themselves with the idea that the majority of the people have lost all interest in political matters. The truth is they are only waiting for the opportunity when they may claim usurious interest for the long deferred payment of their just claims.—Believe me, yours truly,"R. Cobden."

A Conservative friend took a nearly identical view of the genial Premier.

"About this country (Sir Emerson Tennant wrote me) we have little news to give you. The prosperity is marvellous, the profits of trade fabulous, and consequently the value of land rising beyond belief, as well as the wages of labour and the cost of products.

"As to party politics, party is, if not 'dead,' inanimate; no one dreams of a change of Ministry while Lord Palmerston chooses to hold power or thinks himself equal to wield it. But as his prestige is declining in England, and gone in every constituency in which there is an element that disapproves of what is passing in Italy, I think that the close of the Session will be the end of his official life."

About Ireland his news was less satisfactory:—

"Of Ireland you will hear more than enough from other sources. For myself, I can safely say I never saw the state of Irish feeling so much excited or so hostile to England. This exacerbation is attributable to the triple influence of polemical controversy, political discontent, and domestic suffering. The latter attributable to three bad harvests in succession."

A man of genius, whom I loved and honoured as one of the greatest men of his century, did me the favour to ask some trifling service, which I have no doubt I accomplished.

"Deal, September 30, 1862.

"My dear Mr. Duffy,—Though you have so many public duties and engagements in your new sphere of action, I hope you will allow me to recall myself to your remembrance without incurring the reproach of being troublesome to you.

"I write in order to satisfy the wishes of a young man, a member of our Birmingham congregation, who is leaving his home for Melbourne. I am not acquainted with him myself, but our Fathers at the Oratory speak in his favour, and wish me to give him this letter to you. I am sure they would not do so unless they thought well of him.

"I hope your health is good, and that you may long continue the important services which a mind so clear, so honest, and so zealous as yours is sure to effect in the prosecution of any duties to which it gives itself.

"For me, I am getting old. Pray for me sometimes, and believe me to be, my dear Mr. Duffy, sincerely yours,

"John H. Newman, of the Oratory."

Another man of lesser reputation thanked me for some service I had been able to effect on behalf of his son, whom I served because he was descended from the genial author of "Friends in Council":—

"Vernon Hill, Bishop's Waltham, April 20th.

"My dear Sir,—I can hardly express to you how much I am obliged to you for all the kindness you have shown to my son.

"You will easily have seen the kind of youth he is. A sort of mania had seized upon him to go to the diggings. Somebody whom he knew of had made a fortune there; and he was quite sure he also would make his fortune. He would have run away, if I had not given him leave to go, and furnished him with the means. I also, of course, gave him enough money to support him for months, and I provided that he should be able to return.

"He has just returned, and I must say he has been wonderfully little injured, if he has not been much benefited by his sojourn to Melbourne. He is the same kind-hearted, gentle, and courteous fellow that he always was; I cannot help hoping that he has gained a great deal of experience. "Of you he speaks with much gratitude, as you may imagine, and in this feeling his father fully sympathises with him, and begs to remain, yours very faithfully,

"Arthur Helps."

The colony of New South Wales at this time sent home Henry Parkes and William Bede Dalley, as Immigration Agents in the United Kingdom, and it was pleasant to be told that I had been ot some service to them. Parkes wrote:—

"Ashley Place, Bristol Road, Birmingham,
"January 17, 1862.

"I owe you much for introducing me to Cobden, Carlyle, and Mill. I visited Cobden at his house at Midhurst, and we sat up half the night talking of the future of England and Australia. No man in England has made so deep an impression on me. His genial nature, his frank and vivid intellect, and his noble simplicity of life won me completely. I really long to see him again.

"Cobden has a very kindly remembrance of you, and asked after you with more than common interest. I explained to him as clearly as I could the state of things in the colonies, and I think I gave him a better notion than he had before of the working of our institutions. He was much shocked at the Heales Protectionist programme.

"I don't think I understand Carlyle. I have seen him twice, and had a long conversation with him each time, or more accurately speaking, I listened to long characteristic utterances from him. He spoke of the Young Ireland Party, of O'Connell, of English prisons and prison reformers, of colonisation, of Tennyson and Browning, of Peel, Gladstone, Bright, and Spurgeon, of Australian democracy, and a hundred other things. He sat on the floor and smoked, and he laughed outright with a terrible kind of full-heartedness at his own grand sarcasms. But I confess I could almost as well explain the meaning of thunder and lightning as the meaning of what he said. Still I was deeply charmed, and am treasuring up an invitation to spend another hour with him. Here again it did me good to see how well you were remembered. The second time I saw him he told me he had written to you and reproached himself for not having written before. On that second occasion too he did me the honour to say he had been thinking over my defence of our democratic institutions, and that he thought I was right after all. It would never do to let the old fogies of officialism direct the energies of a young country.

"I have not seen John Stuart Mill. He has been spending the winter in France. He called at my lodgings twice and wrote me a very kind letter when leaving England. I look forward to meeting him with much interest.

"I think I have been pretty successful in the special duties of my mission. I have addressed some very large meetings—one meeting of 6,000 or 7,000 persons. In every instance I have succeeded in fixing the attention of my audience for more than two hours—a pretty good trial of their patience; and in every instance I have been well received.—Always yours,

"Henry Parkes."

I did not interrupt the story of the Heales Ministry with an incident which interested me deeply, and which I am unwilling to altogether omit. In 1860 the Council of the University passed a Statute prohibiting the professors from sitting in Parliament. The professors were convinced that this statute was ultra vires, and I had no doubt that it was narrow and ungenerous. I sought to induce Parliament to pronounce a contrary opinion, but the Government majority successfully resisted my attempt. I was gratified by a joint letter from the professors on the subject:—

"We desire to offer you our warmest thanks, and to assure you of our high appreciation of the ability and skill with which you have conducted the discussion. Although your efforts have not met with the success that they deserved, we are nevertheless grateful for your sympathy, and we prize your assistance the more, as we know that it proceeded, not from any supposed agreement between your political views and those held by us or any of us, but from a sincere and disinterested love of justice and right.—We remain, dear Sir, faithfully yours,

"Martin H. Irving,
"W. P. Wilson,
"Frederick McCoy,

"Wm. E. Hearn."

  1. Little Bourke Street is their main settlement in Melbourne, and almost every shop has a Chinese sign. An English shopkeeper in the street wished for such a sign, and settled a disputed account with a Chinese painter by getting this job from him. The sign was a great success; every Chinaman who passed stopped to read it with applause and laughter, and it was observed that Chinamen came from a distance to share this enjoyment. At length the shopkeeper got the sign interpreted. This was the legend, "Beware of this fellow, he is a cheat." The names of Chinamen often resembling English words was a constant subject of amusement. A County Court judge directed a newly-appointed crier to call for a witness he wanted. "Call," he said, for "Ah Song." The crier, after examining the judge for a minute to make sure he was serious, cried, "Will any gentleman favour his Worship with a song?" The story of the Chinese sign-painter was rivalled by a purely colonial story. A father and son were in partnership as dancing masters, but after a time the senior insisted that they should separate, and they became somewhat of rivals. It was the habit of the parent establishment to summon pupils by a circular in the French language, and after the separation the father had to request his son to perform this task for him. He performed the task as usual, adding an avis, "Comme maître de danse mon père n'est pas le fromage"
  2. Geelong was the headquarters of protection, and Aspinall was brought there to make an oration on the question on behalf of the new Government. After he had concluded his speech he was assailed with questions for which he was ill prepared. "What duty would you put upon soft goods? What on agricultural implements?" and so forth. At length he finished the interrogatories by a stroke on which nobody but Aspinall would have ventured in that serious community. "What would you put upon boots?" an anxious shoemaker demanded. "Well," replied Aspinall with a beaming smile, "from my personal experience, I would recommend Day and Martin."
  3. "Many a night from yonder ivied casement, ere I sank to rest,

     Did I see the great Orion slowly sloping to the west."

    Locksley Hall