William Beckwith McInnes (1889-1939), Joseph (Joe) Aloysius Lyons (detail), Historic Memorials Collection, Parliament House Art Collection. View full image
Prime Minister, 6 January 1932 to 7 April 1939
Australian Labor Party, 1929 to 1931; United Australia Party, 1931 to 1939
Australia’s 10th Prime Minister, Joe Lyons (1879-1939), is the only Tasmanian and just one of two former state premiers to hold this position.1 Like Billy Hughes, his party allegiances changed from senior Labor minister to conservative Prime Minister.
Born to Irish parents in Stanley, Tasmania, Lyons commenced as a pupil–teacher in 1895. Having worked across Tasmania’s north-west, he won a scholarship to Hobart’s teacher training college in 1907. He developed a growing interest in politics and in 1909 won the state seat of Wilmot for the ALP. In 1912, he was elected president of the ALP’s Tasmanian branch and two years later became deputy leader in John Earle’s government.2 When conscription (which Lyons opposed) split the ALP in 1916, the Earle government was defeated, and Lyons assumed the leadership. With Labor’s return to minority government in 1923, he became Premier and Treasurer until 1928, demonstrating a cautious leadership style built on consensus.
In 1915 Lyons married Enid Burnell and they would have 12 children.3 With Enid’s own subsequent parliamentary career, the pair are one of three married couples who have served in the federal Parliament (the others being Maurice and Doris Blackburn4 and Kevin and Jocelyn Newman5).
After 20 years in state politics, in 1929 Lyons won the federal seat of Wilmot and held the seat through the next three elections. As one of the Government’s most experienced members, he joined Scullin’s Cabinet as Postmaster-General and Minister for Works and Railways. Having served as Acting Treasurer following Ted Theodore’s resignation,6 Lyons felt slighted when Theodore was reinstated, and retaliated by supporting a vote of no-confidence in the Government. He defected to the UAP, which he led as the official Opposition into the 1931 election.
Following the UAP’s decisive victory, Lyons became Prime Minister and oversaw Australia’s economic recovery from the Great Depression. A consummate campaigner, he was the first Prime Minister to emphasise air travel for engaging with the electorate. Yet despite Lyons’s personal popularity, the UAP lost its parliamentary majority in the subsequent two elections and required a coalition with the Country Party to govern. Here his consensus-driven leadership came to the fore in navigating the coalition and coordinating a Cabinet beset with reshuffles.
Lyons was appointed to the Privy Council in 1932 and was appointed CH in 1936. Suffering a fatal heart attack on 7 April 1939, he became the first Australian Prime Minister to die in office. His UAP deputy and future Prime Minister Robert Menzies fondly recalled that Lyons ‘brought to all his public actions, a simplicity, a sympathy, and a loving kindness which marked him out in the political history of this country’.7
William Beckwith McInnes
William McInnes (1889-1939) studied at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School before travelling to Europe in 1912 to tour France, Spain, Morocco, and the UK. Regarded as the heir to great Australian landscape artist Arthur Streeton, McInnes exhibited his depictions of the landscape at the Royal Institute of Painters in London in 1913, returning to Melbourne the same year where he mounted a sold-out exhibition at the Athenaeum Gallery. In the 1920s, McInnes won five of the first six Archibald Prizes. He won the prize twice more, in 1930 and 1936. In 1927, he was commissioned, with Septimus Power, to paint the opening of the first Parliament in Canberra. McInnes taught drawing at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School from 1918 to 1934, and from 1934 to 1937 was Head of the School. In 1935 and 1936 he acted as the Director of the National Gallery of Victoria. He was president of the Australian Art Association in 1923–24 and a member of various leading art societies. His work is represented in national, state, university, and regional galleries across Australia.8
Joseph (Joe) Aloysius Lyons
by William Beckwith McInnes
Oil on canvas
202 x 120.5 cm
Historic Memorials Collection, Parliament House Art Collection
1. The other former State Premier is George Reid. Information used in this biography is taken from: ‘LYONS, the Rt. Hon. Joseph Aloysius, CH’, Parliamentary Handbook, Parliamentary Library, Parliament of Australia; ‘Australia’s Prime Ministers: Joseph Lyons’, National Archives of Australia; P Hart and C Lloyd, ‘Lyons, Joseph Aloysius (Joe) (1879–1939)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1986; ‘Australian Prime Ministers: Joseph Lyons’, Museum of Australian Democracy; A Henderson, ‘Joseph Lyons – Australia’s Depression Prime Minister’, Department of the Senate, Papers on Parliament, 58, August 2012; J Hawkins, ‘Joseph Lyons the Tasmanian Treasurer’, Economic Roundup, issue 3, 2010, pp. 85–97. Websites accessed 23 July 2021.
2. M Lake, ‘Earle, John (1865–1932)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed 23 July 2021.
3. D Langmore, ‘Lyons, Dame Enid Muriel (1897–1981)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed 22 July 2021.
4. S Blackburn Abeyasekere, ‘Blackburn, Maurice McCrae (1880–1944)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed 23 July 2021.
5. ‘‘Former minister Newman dies’,The Examiner, 19 July 1999;S Bennett, ‘Newman, Jocelyn Margaret (1937–2019)’, The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate Online Edition, Department of the Senate, Parliament of Australia, published first in hardcopy 2017; H Gobbett and M Lumb, ‘Parliamentary relations: political families in the Commonwealth Parliament’, Research Paper 2015–16, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, Updated 9 November 2015. Websites accessed 22 July 2021.
6. N Cain, ‘Theodore, Edward Granville (1884–1950)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed 22 July 2021.
7. R Menzies, ‘Death of the Right Honourable JA Lyons, CH’, House of Representatives, Debates, 19 April 1939, p. 3.
8. Information in this biography has been taken from the following: ‘WB McInnes 1889–1939’, National Portrait Gallery; ‘William Beckwith McInnes 1889–1939’, Carrick Hill; R Haese, ‘McInnes, William Beckwith (Billy) (1889–1939)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1986; ‘McInnes, William Beckwith’, 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. 646. Websites accessed 25 March 2021.