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Alfred Deakin

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Prime Minister, 24 September 1903 to 27 April 1904; 5 July 1905 to 13 November 1908; 2 June 1909 to 29 April 1910
Protectionist Party, 1901 to 1910; Liberal Party, 1910 to 1913

Alfred Deakin (1856-1919) – first Attorney-General of the Commonwealth, and three times Prime Minister – was ‘one of the makers of Australia’.1 A member of colonial and federal parliaments for over 30 years, Deakin dominated politics throughout the first decade of the Federation. Even today, the scale of his contribution to Australian public life remains unrivalled.2

Born in Melbourne to English parents, Deakin studied law at the University of Melbourne and was admitted to the Bar in 1877. In 1878, he was hired as a journalist by newspaper proprietor David Syme,3 who became his mentor. At Syme’s urging, Deakin entered politics, advocating the Protectionist cause. He married Elizabeth (Pattie) Browne in 1882 just as his political fortunes began to soar.4 A member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly (1880–1900), Deakin held ministerial portfolios in successive coalition ministries (1883–90), and by 1885 was the leader of the Liberal Party. As Chief Secretary, he led the Victorian delegation to the 1887 Colonial Conference in London, where he argued forcefully for colonial interests in naval defence and the British Empire’s strategic interests in the Pacific. He also refused a knighthood, which helped to raise his domestic profile. In 1889, he was Victoria’s representative on the Federal Council of Australasia.

During the Depression of the 1890s, Deakin moved to the back bench and devoted himself to the cause of Federation. He served on the constitutional committees of both the National Australasian Convention (1891) and the Australasian Federal Convention (1897–98), and was instrumental in garnering agreement for key elements of the draft. Chairman of the Federation League of Victoria, Deakin led the referenda campaigns in mobilising support for a new nation. He also joined Edmund Barton’s delegation to London in 1900 to smooth the passage of the Constitution Bill through the UK Parliament. With Federation achieved, Deakin set about putting in place a Commonwealth administration. As Barton’s Attorney-General, he was responsible for the passage of the Judiciary Act 1903, which established the High Court of Australia. Succeeding Barton as Prime Minister, Deakin’s minority Governments established the ‘Australian Settlement’, a set of nation-building policies that defined Australia’s political and economic future for the next 50 years.5 He also established the Commonwealth Liberal Party. Remarkably, he documented all of this as an anonymous Special Correspondent for the London Morning Post from late 1900 to 1914.

Following the Labor Party’s victory at the 1910 federal election, Deakin served as Leader of the Opposition until his retirement due to ill-health in 1913. He had served as Prime Minister for a total of four years and 10 months. He died in October 1919 and was given a state funeral at Parliament House in Melbourne.

Frederick McCubbin
Impressionist painter and art teacher Frederick McCubbin (1855-1917) was apprenticed to a coach-painter as a teenager and developed his artistic skills at the Artisans’ School of Design in Carlton, studying at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School.  He exhibited at the Victorian Academy of Art, winning the silver medal for figure drawing in 1882, and was later elected an associate of the Academy. In the mid-1880s, McCubbin accompanied his friend Tom Roberts on plein air bayside painting trips and to regional Victoria. Joined by artists Arthur Streeton and Charles Conder, the group often camped in Heidelberg, which later became known as the influential Heidelberg School. In 1886, he was appointed drawing master of the National Gallery School of Design, a position that he retained for the rest of his life. His work has been included in all major survey exhibitions of Australian art and is represented in national, state, and regional galleries across Australia.6

Alfred Deakin
by Frederick McCubbin
Oil on canvas
226 x 135 cm
Historic Memorials Collection, Parliament House Art Collection

1. W Hughes, ‘Death of the Honourable Alfred Deakin’, House of Representatives, Hansard, 7 October 1919, p. 13048.
2. Information in this biography has been taken from the following: D Headon, Alfred Deakin: Australia’s second Prime Minister: The Lives, The Legacy, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2018; S MacIntyre, ‘Alfred Deakin’, in M Grattan, ed., Australian Prime Ministers, revised edition, New Holland, Sydney, 2010, pp. 37–53; N Church, ‘Commemorating Alfred Deakin’, FlagPost blog, Parliamentary Library, October 2019; J Brett, The Enigmatic Mr Deakin, Text Publishing Company, Melbourne, 2017; J Rickard, A family romance: the Deakins at home, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, Victoria, 1996; A Gabay, The mystic life of Alfred Deakin, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1992; JA La Nauze, Alfred Deakin: a biography, 2 vols., Melbourne University Press, Carlton, Victoria, 1965; ‘Australian Prime Ministers: Alfred Deakin’, Museum of Australian Democracy; R Norris, ‘Deakin, Alfred (1856–1919)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1981; ‘Alfred Deakin’, Alfred Deakin Prime Ministerial Library, Deakin University. Websites accessed 11 May 2021.
3. CE Sayers, ‘Syme, David (1827–1908)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed 11 May 2021.
4. ‘Alfred Deakin’s partner: Pattie Deakin’, National Archives of Australia, accessed 8 July 2021.
5. G Stokes, ‘The “Australian Settlement” and Australian political thought’, Australian Journal of Political Science, 39.1, March, pp. 5–22.
6. Information in this biography has been taken from the following: D Thomas, ‘McCubbin, Frederick (Fred) (1855–1917)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1986; ‘Frederick McCubbin’, Art Gallery of NSW. ‘McCubbin, Frederick’, A McCulloch, S McCulloch and E McCulloch Childs, eds, The New McCulloch’s Encyclopedia of Australian Art, Aus Art Editions in association with The Miegunyah Press, 2006, p. 636–38. Websites accessed 26 March 2021.

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