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Andrew Fisher PC

Portrait of former Prime Minister Andrew Fisher by Emanuel Fox, 1913, Historic Memorials Collection, 00/0014

Emanuel Phillips Fox (1865-1915), Andrew Fisher (detail), 1913, Historic Memorials Collection, Parliament House Art Collection. View full image

Prime Minister, 13 November 1908 to 2 June 1909; 29 April 1910 to 24 June 1913; 17 September 1914 to 27 October 1915
Australian Labor Party

Coal miner, unionist, and teetotaller, Andrew Fisher (1862-1928) was three times Prime Minister (and Treasurer). He was the first leader to secure a majority in both Houses of Parliament, and the first Labor Prime Minister to win a general election anywhere in the world. In office for 1,758 days – a period unmatched by a Labor Prime Minister until Bob Hawke – Fisher left an enduring legacy.1

Born in Scotland, Fisher began work in the Ayrshire coal pits at age 10. Elected union secretary in 1879, he migrated to Queensland six years later. In 1891, he became president of the miners’ union in Gympie, and in 1893 entered the Queensland Legislative Assembly. Defeated in 1896 following a campaign by the Gympie Times, he helped establish a pro- Labor newspaper, the Gympie Truth. Re-elected in 1899, Fisher was Minister for Railways and Public Works in the short-lived Dawson Government, the first Labor ministry in the world.2 A staunch federalist, he won the seat of Wide Bay at the first federal election in 1901, holding it until his retirement in 1915. He married Margaret Irvine the same year and they had six children.3

Fisher was Minister for Trade and Customs in the Watson Government and led the parliamentary Labor Party after Watson’s resignation as Leader in 1907. Following the Deakin Government’s defeat in 1908, Fisher formed a minority government. He lost office seven months later, defeated in the Parliament by the new Deakin–Cook–Forrest ‘Fusion’ group.

In 1910, Fisher led Labor to a resounding electoral majority in both Houses. With this mandate, and the relative stability of governing for just over three years, he implemented a far-reaching, nation-building agenda, including the issue of Australian currency, the establishment of the RAN and the Commonwealth Bank, and the introduction of invalid pensions, maternity allowance and workers’ compensation. In London to attend the Coronation of King George V and the Imperial Conference, a reluctant Fisher was made a Privy Counsellor in 1911.

Fisher went twice to the electorate with referenda proposals but was unsuccessful. Narrowly defeated at the 1913 election, he was returned to office in September 1914 in Australia’s first double dissolution election. His famous campaign pledge to support the British Empire ‘to the last man and last shilling’ was all too soon realised. Exhausted by the pressures of the war and the restiveness in his party, Fisher resigned in 1915 to become the second Australian High Commissioner to the UK (1916–21). He was appointed to the Dardanelles Commission, established to report on the disaster of the Gallipoli campaign. Apart from a brief return to Australia in 1921, Fisher spent the remaining years of his life in Britain with his family. He received a state funeral and was buried at Hampstead Cemetery, London.

Emanuel Phillips Fox
Influential artist and art teacher Emanuel Phillips Fox (1865-1915) trained at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School before undertaking further studies in England and Europe. Returning to Australia in 1892, he joined the Victorian Artists’ Society and exhibited regularly, including as part of the Australian exhibition at the Grafton Galleries in London in 1898. In 1893, Fox and Tudor St George Tucker established the Melbourne Art School where they taught plein air and impressionist techniques. A major exponent of impressionism, Fox continued to exhibit in Paris, becoming the first Australian awarded a gold medal by the Salon in 1894. In 1901, he returned to Europe and became the first Australian elected as an associate of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Paris (1907). He was subsequently elected as a member of the International Society of Painters, Sculptors and Gravers in London in 1912. Fox returned to Australia in 1913, exhibiting and painting in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide. His work is represented in several national, state and regional galleries and other Australian public collections.4

Andrew Fisher
by Emanuel Phillips Fox
Oil on canvas
226..5 x 135.2 cm
Historic Memorials Collection, Parliament House Art Collection

1. Information in this biography has been taken from the following: P Bastian, Andrew Fisher: an underestimated man, University of New South Wales Press, Sydney, 2009; D Day, Andrew Fisher: Prime Minister of Australia, Fourth Estate, London, 2008; J Hawkins, ‘Andrew Fisher: a reforming treasurer’, Economic Roundup, issue 2, 2008, pp. 105–14; M Sawer, ‘Andrew Fisher and the Era of Liberal Reform’, Labour History, no. 102, May 2012, pp. 71–86; WK Anderson, ‘Andrew Fisher: “a proud, honest man of Scotland”’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, December 2001, pp. 189–208; DJ Murphy, ‘Fisher, Andrew (1862–1928)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1981; R Fitzgerald, ‘Founding fathers – review’; P Edwards, ‘Fisher, Andrew’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; M Grattan, ed., Australian Prime Ministers, revised edition, New Holland, Sydney, 2010, pp. 73–86. Websites accessed 12 May 2021.
2. GA Davies, ‘Dawson, Andrew (Anderson) (1863–1910)’, The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate Online Edition, Department of the Senate, Parliament of Australia, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed 13 May 2021.
3. ‘Andrew Fisher’s partner: Margaret Fisher’, National Archives of Australia, accessed 8 July 2021.
4. Information in this biography has been taken from the following: ‘E Phillips Fox’, Art Gallery of NSW; ‘Emanuel Phillips Fox 1865–1915’, Carrick Hill; ‘Mr. E. Phillips Fox’, The Argus, 9 October 1915, p. 16; R Zubans, ‘Fox, Emanuel Phillips (1865–1915)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1981; ‘Fox, Emanuel Phillips’, 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. 436. Websites accessed 26 March 2021

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