Alfred Deakin

Although not Australia’s first prime minister, Alfred Deakin played a significant role in the achievement of Australian Federation, was attorney-general in Edmund Barton’s first Cabinet, and served as prime minister three times between 1903 and 1910. Deakin established the middle ground in Australian politics that remains the most fertile space in Federal Parliament. He was a man of vision, intellect and contradictions, making him something of an enigma to this day.

Deakin represented the aspirational ‘native-born’ of the Federation era yet was a spokesperson for Australian Britons; whilst an accomplished orator at the lectern, his diaries recorded what he regarded as his manifold failings; he had one of the most distinguished political careers of his generation but longed to be a creative writer; whilst ostensibly the epitome of Protestant success and believing he was chosen by God to fulfil a sacred mission to federate the Australian colonies, in his youth Deakin attended séances and briefly considered himself to be a medium.


Alfred Deakin: the lives, the legacy book cover

Alfred Deakin: the lives, the legacy is available for download as a pdf document or hard copies can be purchased from The Parliament Shop.

Alfred Deakin: the lives, the legacy [PDF 8.1MB]

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The enigmatic Mr Deakin: Australia’s second prime minister [HTML] [MP4 204MB] [MP3 48MB]
Emeritus Professor Judith Brett—La Trobe University

Alfred Deakin was born in 1856, two years after Ned Kelly, both native sons of the newly proclaimed British colony of Victoria. Kelly’s parents were an Irish ex-convict from Van Diemen’s Land and his spirited young Irish wife. Deakin was the only son of respectable gold rush immigrants, one of the thousands of young couples leaving England in the late 1840s for a better life abroad.

Ned Kelly was hanged on 11 November 1880 for murdering a policeman. Deakin was at the hanging, most likely reporting for The Age. He had just become a member of parliament for the seat of West Bourke and was at the start of his stellar political career. Three years later he was already a minister, and in 1887 he represented Victoria in London at the Imperial conference. This trip turned him into Victoria’s most famous native son.

Alfred Deakin and his ‘Times that try men’s souls’ [MP4 932MB]
Dr David Headon—Parliamentary Library Fellow, Australian National University

What happened to Deakin, Australia’s second prime minister, during his lifetime in politics and far beyond, confirms his position as this country’s most compelling leader, and also its most religiously minded and best read. Of Australia’s 29 prime ministers to date, Deakin is undoubtedly the most enigmatic.

The building blocks of Deakin’s private life and character included: Deakin’s childhood and after in the 1850s and 1860s; the ‘new pilgrim’s progress’into the 1870s and 80s as Deakin’s rich life of the imagination and spirit evolved in wondrous ways in the settled seclusion of his study; the reluctant colonial politician’s emergence as a dynamic force in Victorian politics and internationally in the 1880s and the sudden collapse of career momentum at the end of the decade; Deakin’s steadily more assertive reinvention when he provided pre-eminent leadership on the Federation question in the seminal 1890s decade, which together with his nearly three years as attorney-general in Barton’s first Commonwealth government, and all up five years himself as prime minister entitles Deakin to be considered a true founder of the Australian nation; and Deakin’s last years, 1912-13 to 1919, which involve a rapid and tragic decline in the great war decade.


Download the Deakin posters. These posters are appropriate for A3 printing or larger, and cover the main sections of the book.

Alfred Deakin’s story and story-tellers

Glimpses of Childhood

A new pilgrim’s progress

A rich life of the spirit begins

Reluctant lawyer, reluctant politician

A father of Federation, a family man

A founder of nation

Between temple and tomb

Australia’s greatest prime minister?