The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Preface

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


IT is unnecessary to enter into any lengthened exposition of the objects and utility of a work such as the present, either from an English or an Australasian point of view. The public appetite for such publications is evidenced by the issue of innumerable "Biographical Dictionaries" and the success of such a work as the "National Dictionary of Biography," and there seems no valid reason why what Sir Thomas McIlwraith calls "the future Australasian empire" should not have the careers of its publicists in various walks of distinction recorded in permanent and concise form. Owing to the increase of federal feeling in the various colonies, the present moment seems an opportune one for the presentation of a work which "federalises," so to speak, the mass of what previous writers have produced in a similar direction in regard to the separate colonies. I have often had occasion to remark on the limited knowledge which the public men of one colony possess of the public men of another, and in a period which has produced the "Commonwealth of Australasia Bill" I may perhaps be excused for endeavouring to contribute my mite towards the extension of that intercommunity of knowledge which is to a large extent the necessary condition precedent to intercommunity of sympathy and action.

Not only has the federal feeling in Australasia witnessed a wonderful growth of recent years, but the interest in and desire for knowledge about the Australasian colonies has been quickened to at least an equal extent at the centre of the empire. It is hoped therefore that the "Dictionary of Australasian Biography" may at the present juncture equally meet the acceptance of large classes both in England and at the Antipodes. It has been one of the most difficult parts of an arduous task to combine that particularity which local biography for local circulation demands with that more comprehensive, if at the same time more condensed, treatment which is likely to suit the taste of readers twelve thousand miles away from the stage on which the actors whose achievements are set forth have played their parts. In the attempt to furnish a book which will be equally satisfactory to English and colonial readers, I cannot hope to have entirely succeeded; but I have at least kept this object in view, and am sanguine enough to believe that I have fulfilled my aim in so far as the contrarieties of the case will permit.

As to the scope of the work, it records the careers of the majority of the eminent Australasian colonists who survived to see the inauguration of responsible government in 1855, and who have died in the interval of thirty-seven years which has elapsed since that epoch-making era. It also includes the biographies of living persons, and thus contains the class of information which is to be found in the usual run of biographical dictionaries regarding deceased worthies, in addition to the more recent data respecting living persons which are afforded by such publications as the English "Men of the Time." The extent of the information presented will be best gathered when I state that the "Dictionary" comprises nearly two thousand biographies, including those of the governors of the several colonies, the prelates of the Anglican and Roman Catholic communions, the heads of the principal religious denominations and of the several universities, as well as notices of all politicians, with a few unavoidable exceptions, who have held Ministerial office in the Australian colonies, New Zealand, and Tasmania since the year 1855. The principal members of the Civil Service and the explorers, authors, scientists, musicians, and actors who have won distinction in the colonial arena have been dealt with as adequately as circumstances permitted; and the work also includes lives of a number of the pastoral, mercantile, and industrial pioneers of the various colonies, as well as of those who have distinguished themselves in the domain of sport and athleticism.

There are one or two special points to which I should like to draw attention. In the first place, the titles of honour and office given to the several subjects of biography are those which they are entitled to bear in their respective colonies, though, by a strange anomaly in the constitutional formularies of a country which will mainly go down to history in connection with the glories of its colonial empire, the most commonly borne title in the last-mentioned portion of her Majesty's dominions—that of "Honourable" — is not conceded recognition outside of the colony in which the public services of which it is the reward have been rendered. If therefore the present work should do anything to "imperialise"—if I may use the word—a title to which there is really no valid democratic objection, and to promote its recognition and that of the good service which it typifies in every part of the empire, I shall take pride in having contributed even in this humble way to the disappearance of the last vestige of that hateful doctrine of colonial inferiority which comes to us from the dark, but unfortunately not yet very distant, ages of Colonial Office ineptitude and insular presumption.

With regard to the incidence of this title of "Honourable," some confusion may arise in the minds of English, and even Australasian readers. Broadly speaking, the Australasian public man is entitled to bear the title of "Honourable" within his own colony during his actual tenure of office as a member of the Upper House or as a member of the Ministry of the day in such colony. In all the Australasian colonies members of the Ministry are members for the time being of the Executive Council, which corresponds somewhat to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom, and it is to their membership of this body that they owe the title of "Honourable," which they cannot assume until they have been sworn into its privileged precincts. In all these colonies, except Victoria and Tasmania, the members of a retiring Ministry cease to be members of the Executive Council, and would thus lose the title of "Honourable" were it not that, under the Duke of Newcastle's despatch dealing with the case, any member of the Executive Council who has served as a member of the Government either consecutively or cumulatively for three years may by royal warrant be permitted to retain the title of "Honourable" within his particular colony for the term of his life. In Victoria and, it would also seem, in Tasmania, when once a public man has been sworn a member of the Executive Council, he remains one for life, and thus retains the degree of "Honourable" for life also. The Speaker of the Lower House in each colony assumes the title whilst he occupies the chair, and it is a moot point whether the judges of the Supreme Court are not entitled to the distinction, though the preponderance of local custom gives them (including even the Chief Justice) the designation of "His Honour" in common with the District and County Court judiciary.

There may be some confusion, too, in the English mind as to the designation of members of Parliament in the various Australasian colonies. Membership of the Upper House in each of the colonies is signified by the addition of the letters "M.L.C."; but with regard to the Lower House a good deal of contrariety prevails. In New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, and Western Australia the Lower House is called the Legislative Assembly, and except in the case of South Australia the members are styled "M.L.A." In the case of the latter colony, however, the more pretentious affix of "M.P." is employed. In this regard there is a general tendency in all the colonies to give the title of "M.P." to members of the Lower House, especially where it is desired to be particularly complimentary; but in South Australia alone does the designation "M.P." appear to have crystallised into normal official and social use. In Tasmania the Lower House is called the House of Assembly, and members are styled "M.H.A." In New Zealand what is known as the Legislative Assembly in most of the other colonies is styled the House of Representatives, and the letters "M.H.R." are appended to the names of members.

It now remains for me to return my grateful thanks to the various gentlemen but for whose aid, even after eighteen months of almost continuous labour, it would have been impossible for me to give my work to the public at so early a date. Here it may be premised that all occurrences in the present volume have as far as possible been brought down to July 1892. Mr. J. Henniker Heaton, M.P., so well known in connection with the universally interesting question of postal reform, must have the credit of having been the first to explore in any comprehensive manner the mine of Australasian biography, in his "Australian Dictionary of Dates and Men of the Time," published in 1879. "Much," however, "has happened" during the thirteen years which have elapsed since this book saw the light, and as regards the biographical portion it is now completely out of date, except in the case of those "worthies" whose careers had been closed by death prior to 1879. Even as regards these, however, their lives are given in the present volume in almost every instance in an expanded and revised form, the result of much laborious personal research. In addition to the valuable aid derived from his "Men of the Time," I am indebted to Mr. Heaton for a considerable amount of information deduced from his valuable stores of Australasian data in print and manuscript.

I have to return my sincere thanks for much assistance afforded me by the present Agents-General, as well as by their immediate predecessors, and by the able and courteous Secretaries to their several offices. In this connection I may especially mention the late Sir Arthur Blyth, the predecessor of Sir John Bray in the London representation of South Australia. That gentleman kindly revised my list of "worthies" of that colony, and covered it with copious annotations drawn from his long experience of South Australia and his special aptitude for biographical investigation and local chronology. As regards Tasmania, Sir E. N. C. Braddon performed for me much the same services, and in the case of South Australia and Queensland I am specially indebted to Mr. S. Deering, the Assistant Agent-General of the former colony, and to Mr. C. S. Dicken, C.M.G., Secretary to the Agent-General for the latter, both of whom bring to bear on all matters connected with their several colonies a very accurate personal knowledge of their history and circumstances. I am also under considerable obligations to Mr. S. Yardley, of the New South Wales, Mr. W. Kennaway, C.M.G., of the New Zealand, and to Mr. S. B. H. Rodgerson, of the Victoria office.

The most substantial contribution in the way of literary assistance I have received from Mr. James Backhouse Walker, of Hobart, whose equally accurate memory and memoranda have enabled him, as his kindness prompted him, to supply me with a number of admirably compiled biographies, which add an element of real historical value to the department of the work which he generously undertook, and which, in addition to much original matter, comprised the laborious revision of the biographies of eminent Tasmanians which I already had in print, when I had the good fortune to be introduced to him by a member of the eminent firm of Tasmanian publishers, Messrs. Walch and Co., of Hobart.

Next in order I must acknowledge my obligations to my friends Mr. A. Patchett Martin and Mr. H. B. Marriott Watson, both of whom have not only contributed a number of complete lives, but have greatly aided me in the selection of names and the revision of proofs. In this connection, as very valuable and substantial helpers, I must also mention Mr. G. W. Rusden, the distinguished historian of Australia and New Zealand, who has supplemented the stores of information which I have derived from his works with much valuable data personally conveyed; my old friend Mr. A. M. Topp, of the Melbourne Argus; Mr. Alexander Sutherland, the well-known Australian littérateur; and Mr. J. F. Hogan, whose "Irish in Australia" is a mine of biographical detail, and to whose personal assistance I am also greatly beholden. My South Australian biographies would have been sadly incomplete but for the aid I derived from my friend Mr. J. L. Bonython, of the Adelaide Advertiser, and from Mr. F. Johns, of the South Australian Register, who, through the medium of the proprietor of that paper, Mr. R. Kyffin Thomas, kindly cleared up for me a number of troublesome queries and essential dates. The New Zealand portion of my work owes a heavy debt to Mr. Leys, of the Auckland Star, who kindly forwarded a number of biographies and carefully checked others. Mr. George Fenwick, of the Otago Daily Times, has also helped me materially; and I have to thank Sir Walter Buller for a valuable element in the insertion of a number of Maori biographies. Through Mr. Fenwick I was fortunate enough to enlist the aid of Dr. Hocken, of Dunedin, an expert and enthusiast in all that concerns New Zealand history and antiquities, and who kindly placed his fine library at my disposal. To my wife I owe thanks for invaluable aid in the work of transcription, and to Mr. David and Mr. Joseph Cowen Syme, of Melbourne, for much kindly assistance in promoting the success of the work.

Taking the colonies separately, I have to acknowledge valuable help as regards New South Wales from Mr. F. W. Ward, the late editor of the Sydney Daily Telegraph, from Mrs. Ward, and from Mr. C. A. W. Lett and Mr. Gilbert Parker; Victoria: Hon. J. F. Vesey Fitzgerald, Hon. Alfred Deakin, Mr. George Syme, Mr. T. S. Townend, and Mr. Charles Short, of the Melbourne Argus, Mr. Julian Thomas, and Mr. H. Britton; Queensland: Mr. Buzacott, Mr. Brentnall, and Mr. Gresley Lukin; Western Australia: Sir John and Lady Forrest, Sir James G. Lee Steere, Hon. G. W. Leake, M.L.C., Hon. J. W. Hackett, M.L.C.,and Mr. F. Hart; New Zealand: Mr. H. Brett, Mr. W. L. Rees, M.H.R., Rev. H. C. M. Watson, Christchurch; Mr. T. E. Richardson, Wellington; Mr. Hart, The Press, Christchurch; and Mr. Ahearne, Lyttelton Times, Christchurch.

In regard to matter drawn from books, my first acknowledgments are due to Mr. David Blair's "Encyclopædia of Australasia," of which a second edition is much called for. I must also mention, as having supplied me with much excellent material, Mr. George Rusden's "History of Australia" and "History of New Zealand," "Victorian Men of the Time," "Victoria and its Metropolis," McCombie's "History of the Colony of Victoria," Mr. James Bonwick's "Port Phillip Settlement," Mr. George E. Loyau's "Representative Men of South Australia," Stow's "South Australia," "The Statistical Register of South Australia," Mr. H. Brett's "Heroes of New Zealand" and "The Early History of New Zealand," Mr. Gisborne's "New Zealand Balers and Statesmen," Mr. Alfred Cox's "Men of Mark of New Zealand" and "Recollections"; the admirable annual "Blue-books" of the several colonies, which are in every case a credit to those responsible for their production; Messrs. Gordon and Gotch's "Australian Handbook" and Mr. Greville's "Year-book of Australia." Amongst works of a more general character, I must confess my great indebtedness to "The National Dictionary of Biography," Mr. F. Boase's "Modern English Biography," to "The Colonial Office List," Burke's "Peerage, Baronetage, and Knightage" and "Colonial Gentry," Debrett's "Baronetage, Knightage, and Companionage" and "House of Commons and the Judicial Bench, Mr. Joseph Foster's "Men-at-the-Bar," Messrs. Routledge's "Men and Women of the Time" and "Men of the Reign," Crockford's "Clerical Directory" and "The Annual Register."


  St Stephen's Club, S.W.,
August 1st, 1892.