The Artists

Sir Henry Parkes


Sir Henry Parkes, the 'Father of Federation', was born on 27 May 1815 in Warwickshire, England, youngest of the seven children of Thomas Parkes, tenant farmer on Stoneleigh Abbey Estate, and his wife Martha Parkes, nee Fauconbridge.

The family, forced off their farm in 1823 by debt, moved to Glamorganshire, and around 1825 settled in Birmingham, where Thomas gained employment as a gardener and 'odd-job' man.

Henry Parkes later spoke of his own formal education as 'very limited and imperfect'. He briefly attended Stoneleigh Parish School and later the Birmingham Mechanics' Institute. To help support the family, he worked as a road labourer and in a brick pit and rope-walk. He was later apprenticed to John Holding, bone and ivory turner. On 11 July 1836 he married 23 year old Clarinda Varney, daughter of the local butcher, at the Edgbaston Parish Church. He completed his Articles and began his own business in 1837. His business failed, so he moved with Clarinda to London in search of work. They survived in London a few weeks by pawning his tools, and then decided to leave for New South Wales as Bounty Migrants.

In March 1839, Hetherington's Charter published verses from his 'A Poet's Farewell', which indignantly condemned a society through whose injustices 'men like this are compelled to seek the means of existence in a foreign wilderness'.

He and Clarinda sailed from Gravesend on 27 March 1839 in the Strathfieldsaye and reached Sydney on 25 July 1839. Their first surviving child was born at sea two days earlier. Life was not easy for Parkes, who found work as a labourer and later in an iron-mongery and brass-foundry. In 1840 he became a tide-waiter in the Customs Department, and in 1845 set up in Hunter Street as an ivory turner and importer of fancy goods. He opened branches in Maitland and Geelong, but both failed, and by 1850 he was in financial difficulties.

It was around this time that Parkes turned his attention to politics and poetry. In 1842 he published his first book of verse 'Stolen Moments'; and in 1848 he became Organizing Secretary of a tradesmen's committee, and later Chief organizer and canvasser for Rev. J.D.Lang.

From these humble and hard fought beginnings, emerged a man of considerable stature. Although not born in Australia, he considered himself an 'Australian', and noted "Nativity is a mere accident".

He founded the Empire newspaper in Sydney, 28 December 1850. This was suspended in 1858 - 1859, and incorporated in the Evening News 1875.

He made his first speech at a public meeting in Sydney, 15 August 1853 and entered the colonial parliament in 1854. On the 22 January 1866, He formed a coalition in New South Wales with James Martin, Premier.

He was from the outset a strong campaigner for Federation and on 4 March 1867 made a speech advocating Federation at the Inter-colonial Conference held in Melbourne between 4 - 20 March. Following this speech the delegates from this conference, called for the establishment of a Federal Council. On 14 October 1870, Parkes resigned from the New South Wales parliament, because of insolvency, and in February 1872 he was re-elected to the New South Wales parliament, as member for East Sydney.

On 14 May 1872, as Premier of New South Wales, he formed his first ministry. On 22 March 1877, he again formed a ministry in New South Wales after the defeat of the Robertson Government, and was appointed K.C.M.G. in that year.

On 21 December 1878, he became Premier for the third time, in coalition with Sir John Robertson, following the defeat of the Farnell Government.

It is interesting to note that on 30 November 1878, 'Advance Australia Fair', composed by Peter Dodds McCormick, was first played and sung in Sydney.

Parkes again became Premier of New South Wales on 20 January 1887, and Clarinda, his wife, died a year later, on 2 February 1888. During 1888, he was appointed G.C.M.G.

On 6 February 1889, he married for a second time, this time to Eleanor Dixon in St. Paul's Church of England, Redfern.

He commenced his fifth term of office as Premier on 8 March 1889.

On 24 October 1889, he delivered a stirring pro-Federation speech at Tenterfield, New South Wales, calling for a federal government and parliament in place of the ineffectual Federal Council. Ten days after the Tenterfield speech, he wrote to Lord Salisbury, The British Prime Minister, to urge the creation of 'a great National Council' in which all parts of the Empire should be represented on terms of equality.

The following February, representatives of all Australian colonial governments and two New Zealand representatives met in Melbourne, from 6 - 14 February, to discuss the Federation proposals, suggested by Parkes.

On 2 March 1891, the first Federal (National Australasian) Convention met in Sydney, until 9 April. The Convention consisted of forty-six delegates, and drafted a Federal Constitution.

Parkes lost his office in 1892, and the momentum towards Federation was temporarily lost. He did however, in June 1892, complete his important work 'Fifty Years in the Making of Australian History', and during this year, Tom Roberts painted his portrait. Meanwhile, Edmund Barton, New South Wales Attorney General, took over as leader of the Federation movement on Parkes retirement.

In 1893, a Federation Conference was held in Corowa, New South Wales, between 31 July and 1 August, and was called by the Australasian Federation League.

After the death of Lady Parkes from cancer, Sir Henry Parkes looked to retire to 'perfect privacy'. He still spoke on Fedration, and on 24 October 1895 married for a third time, this time, to Julia Lynch. On 27 April 1896 he died suddenly at his home, 'Kenilworth', in Annandale, New South Wales, of heart failure after an attack of pneumonia. He was buried beside his first wife at 'Fauconbridge' in the Blue Mountains. He was survived by his third wife, and by five daughters and a son of the twelve children of his first marriage, and by four sons and a daughter of his second.

It was not until 1897, between 22 March and 23 April, that the Second Federal Convention was held. This time is was in Adelaide, and in the following year, 1898, between 20 January and 17 March, the third session of the convention took place in Melbourne and completed the draft constitution.

On 1 January 1901, the new Commonwealth of Australia began, with the proclamation of the Federal Constitution at the Swearing-In Pavilion in Sydney. The First Federal Parliament was opened on 9 May 1901 in Melbourne by the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York, and was captured by Tom Roberts in his 'Big Picture'.

In Sydney, as part of the 'Commonwealth Celebrations' there were archways erected across many of the main streets in the city. In Melbourne, as part of the 'Duke of York Celebrations', apart from the archways, and lights on the facades of many of the city buildings, there were many events organized to commemorate the occasion. These included a Children's Fete, at which five thousand children sang the National Anthem, and an inspection of the Troops by the Duke at the Review, Flemington.

Although Sir Henry Parkes died on 27 April 1896 at the age of eighty, and did not live to take part in the celebrations of 1901, his contribution to Federation was not forgotten and Tom Roberts, included his portrait in the 'Big Picture', on the wall above the official platform.

In the closing paragraph of the extensive eight-page biography of Sir Henry Parkes in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, A.W.Martin notes 'Bearded after 1861, he was always physically impressive, though imposing rather than handsome. For studied oratory he had few peers among colonial contemporaries, despite his uncertainty about aspirates and a tendency towards affectation. He collected autographs, books and artistic bric-a brac, and his friends were always intrigued by his choice menagerie of native wild animals. Though temperate, he enjoyed champagne and had, as William Walker had it, great faith in the virtue of gastronomy as a political force.'

He is recognized today as the 'Father of Federation' in Australia, and is remembered and commemorated this Centenary of Federation year with his portrait appearing on the latest issue of the Australian Five Dollar Note. Also, the town Parkes in New South Wales bears his name. It was formerly known as Bushman's from the local mine named Bushman's Lead, and later in respect of the then, Henry Parkes, Premier of New South Wales, adopted his name in 1873.

Andrew Mackenzie


Left: Arthur Streeton - Above Us The Great Grave Sky, 1890
Collection: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

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