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Sir Edmund (Toby) Barton GCMG PC KC

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Prime Minister, 1 January 1901 to 24 September 1903
Protectionist Party
Justice, 5 October 1903 to 7 January 1920

Edmund Barton (1849-1920) had one of the most distinguished and significant careers of any Australian in public life. He served in both the NSW and federal parliaments and spent over 16 years on the inaugural High Court bench.1 However, his role as a key architect of Federation is arguably his most significant of all.

Born in Glebe, NSW, Barton was the 11th of 12 children of English immigrant parents, William and Mary. Entering colonial politics after a successful legal career, he was a member, at different times, of both Houses of the NSW parliament, and served as Speaker of the Legislative Assembly (1883–87), Attorney-General (1889 and 1891–93) and Leader of the Opposition (1898–99). In 1877 he married Jane (Jean) Mason Ross, with whom he had six children.2

Barton campaigned for Federation with eloquence and fervour, becoming the acknowledged leader of the movement. His devotion to the cause earned him the moniker ‘Australia’s noblest son’.3 In 1897–98, he led the Australasian Federal Convention and was appointed chairman of the drafting and constitutional committees. By 1899, five states had ratified the Australian Constitution, and Barton led a delegation to London in 1900 to support its passage through the British Parliament, giving more than 400 speeches. Deakin estimated that he and his colleagues lobbied over 3,000 ‘persons of influence’.4

Despite Barton’s leadership of the Federation movement, Governor-General-designate Lord Hopetoun invited NSW Premier Sir William Lyne to form the first federal government.5 When Lyne was unable to secure a ministry, Barton was commissioned and sworn in as Prime Minister on 1 January 1901.6 He was subsequently elected as the Member for Hunter in the inaugural federal election two months later. Barton led a ‘cabinet of kings’ consisting of former colonial premiers and Australian founding fathers.7 He held the fledgling, minority Government together ‘by force of a capacity for attracting personal affection and trustsuch as few men possess’.8 In the 17-month term of the first Parliament, 59 Acts were passed, ‘setting the legal, financial and administrative foundations of the Commonwealth’.9 Barton’s ministry proved one of the most enduring in the first tumultuous decade post-Federation. Its almost two and-three-quarter years was more than double the average length of the next six governments. Appointed to the Privy Council in 1901, Barton became a GCMG in 1902.

Barton resigned from the Parliament in 1903 to take up an appointment to the first bench of the High Court, serving alongside Samuel Griffith (Chief Justice) and Richard O’Connor. He remained on the High Court bench until his death in 1920 at Medlow Bath in the NSW Blue Mountains.

Norman St Clair Carter
Celebrated portrait, mural and stained-glass artist, Norman St Clair Carter (1875-1963) was born in Kew, Melbourne. Apprenticed to a stained-glass maker (1890–94), Carter also attended evening art classes with artists Frederick McCubbin, Bernard Hall and E Phillips Fox at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School. In 1903, he moved to Sydney where he worked as an instructor for the Royal Art Society of NSW and as a freelance commercial artist, contributing to the Bulletin and the Sydney Mail. Carter later lectured at Sydney Technical College and taught drawing at the architecture department of the University of Sydney until the late 1940s. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Carter never travelled overseas. However, his portrait of Florence Rodway won a bronze medal at the 1913 Salonde la Société Artistes Français (Paris), and was later hung at the Royal Academy of Arts (London). A fashionable portraitist, he received many commissions and participated several times in the annual Archibald Prize. His work is represented in state and regional galleries across Australia.10

Edmund (Toby) Barton
by Norman St Clair Carter
Oil on canvas
226 x 134.7 cm
Historic Memorials Collection, Parliament House Art Collection

1. Information in this biography has been taken from the following: J Reynolds, Edmund Barton, Prime Minister of Australia 1901–1903, third edition, Bookman Press Pty Ltd, Melbourne, 1999; N Church, ‘Edmund Barton – 100 years on’, FlagPost, Parliamentary Library blog, 7 January 2020; M Rutledge, ‘Barton, Sir Edmund (Toby) (1849–1920)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1979; ‘Australia’s prime ministers: Edmund Barton’, National Archives of Australia. See also ‘Edmund Barton’ in Historic Memorials Collection Portraits: Justices of the High Court, and ‘Edmund Barton’ in Historic Memorials Collection Portraits: Parliamentary ‘Firsts’, Parliamentary Library, Parliament of Australia, Canberra, 2021. Websites accessed 10 August 2021.
2. ‘Edmund Barton’s partner: Jane Barton’, National Archives of Australia, accessed 8 July 2021.
3. ‘Sir Edmund Barton’s Career’, The Age, 8 January 1920, p. 7, accessed 16 November 2021.
4. D Headon, Edmund Barton: His Own Particular Harvest, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2021, p. 66.
5. C Cunneen, ‘Lyne, Sir William John (1844–1913)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed 6 September 2021.
6. Rutledge, op. cit.
7. P Strangio, ‘The Australian Prime Ministership: Origins and Evolution’, Papers on Parliament, 67, May 2017, accessed 16 November 2021.
8. TR Bavin, ‘The First Prime Minister: Barton and his work’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 9 May 1927, p. 3, accessed 16 March 2021.
9. ‘Edmund Barton: during office’, National Archives of Australia, accessed 8 July 2021.
10. Information in this biography has been taken from the following: F Lindsay, ‘Carter, Norman St Clair (1875–1963)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1979; K Robertson, ‘Norman St Clair Carter: b.30 June 1875’, Design & Art Australia Online, 2011. Websites accessed 16 March 2021.

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