On 12 September 1919, Governor-General Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson presented to the Commonwealth Parliament a Bible and lectern on behalf of the Victorian branch of the British and Foreign Bible Society. The 100th anniversary of this occasion falls on 12 September 2019. The British and Foreign Bible Society, now known simply as the Bible Society, was founded in 1804 with the intention of supplying Bibles on a world-wide basis in local languages and at an affordable price. The society also presented a similar gift of a Bible and lectern to the Victorian Parliament in July 1919, and a gift of two Bibles (intended to be placed on the table of each House) to the Tasmanian Parliament in September 1919.
The gift of the Bible and lectern was intended as a memento of the ‘signing of the peace’ on the termination of the ‘World Wide War of 1914–1919’, and the presentation occurred while each house of the Parliament considered motions to approve of the Treaty of Versailles signed on 28 June 1919 (a process which ran from 10 September 1919 to 19 September 1919 in the House of Representatives and from 17 September 1919 to 1 October 1919 in the Senate.) Several psalms are inscribed on the cover of the Bible, including Psalm 133:1: ‘Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.’
In accepting the gift, Speaker Johnson stated:
Not only will the Bible, with its historical inscription, be a valued and distinctive addition to the Commonwealth Library, but it will stand as a constant reminder of the fact that its presentation was associated with the restoration of a condition of peace following upon four years and a half of unprovoked warfare, waged with relentless ferocity and unparalleled cruelty and inhumanity against peacefully disposed countries by a nation intoxicated with the mad lust of power, ambition, and world conquest.
The significance of the Bible extends beyond this historical context, as it includes a roll of the signatures of every Speaker of the House of Representatives and President of the Senate. A 1932 newspaper report suggests that the practice of presiding officers signing the Bible may have begun in the early 1930s on the initiative of the then Parliamentary Librarian, Mr Kenneth Binns, and that enough space was inserted for an estimated 200 years’ worth of signatures. A number of the signatures of presiding officers whose tenures predated the commencement of this tradition were taken from other documents and inserted into the roll (see accompanying photograph). This living tradition has continued with the latest entries by the current President of the Senate, Senator the Hon Scott Ryan, and the current Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Hon Tony Smith MP.
The Bible and its lectern are on display near the entrance to the Parliamentary Library.