Norman St Claire Carter (1875-1963), Joseph Cook (detail), 1921, Historic Memorials Collection, Parliament House Art Collection. View full image
Prime Minister, 24 June 1913 to 17 September 1914
Free Trade Party, 1901 to 1906; Anti-Socialist Party, 1906 to 1910; Liberal Party, 1910 to 1917; Nationalist Party, 1917 to 1921
Astute, disciplined and combative, Joseph Cook (1860-1947) was a ‘self-made man’ who rose from coal mine pit boy to Prime Minister and helped create Australia’s two-party system. His brief Prime Ministership notably ended with the first double dissolution of Parliament.1
Born in Staffordshire, UK, Cook began work as a pit boy at age nine, and at 13 became his family’s main wage-earner after his father’s death. Dedicated to self-improvement, he became a Methodist lay preacher at 16. In 1885, he married Mary Turner and migrated to Australia, settling in Lithgow, NSW.2 They had nine children.
Finding work in the colliery, Cook supported charitable and union activities and served as secretary and president of the local miners’ lodge. In 1891, he became president of Lithgow’s Labour Electoral League and the party’s successful candidate for the Legislative Assembly seat of Hartley, which he held for the next decade. Despite becoming party leader in 1893, he recoiled from Labor’s binding caucus rule and resigned the next year. Joining the governing Free Trade Party, Cook was appointed Postmaster-General and then Minister for Mines and Agriculture by NSW Premier George Reid.
In the 1901 federal election, Cook was returned as the Member for Parramatta, one of 25 Free Trade members comprising the first parliamentary Opposition. In 1905 he became the party’s deputy leader, and its leader when Reid retired. Cook subsequently worked with Alfred Deakin and John Forrest3 to form a ‘Fusion’ anti-Labor coalition, establishing Australia’s two-party system. As the party’s deputy leader, he became Minister for Defence when the Labor Party lost power in June 1909, before returning to Opposition less than a year later. When Deakin retired in April 1913, Cook became leader of the Commonwealth Liberal Party and won the 1913 election with a one-seat majority. Cook’s 15-month term saw few legislative achievements and in June 1914 the newly appointed Governor-General,
Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson, granted Cook the first federal double dissolution election.4 The outbreak of World War I overshadowed much of the campaign, and the Commonwealth Liberals were soundly defeated by the Labor Party.
Cook led the Opposition until 1917, when his party merged with expelled Labor members to form the Nationalist Party. As deputy leader to Billy Hughes, he served as Minister for the Navy (1917–20) and Treasurer (1920–21). A delegate to the 1918 London Imperial War Conference and the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, Cook joined Hughes as the two Australian signatories to the Treaty of Versailles. He was appointed a GCMG in 1918.
Cook retired from Parliament in 1921 to become Australia’s High Commissioner to the UK, serving a six-year term. He died in Sydney in 1947, with Billy Hughes a pallbearer at his state funeral.5
Norman St Claire Carter
Celebrated portrait, mural and stained-glass artist, Norman St Clair Carter (18875-1963) 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.6
by Norman St Clair Carter
Oil on canvas
64.4 x 49.2 cm
Historic Memorials Collection, Parliament House Art Collection
1. Information in this biography has been taken from the following: J Rickard, ‘Sir Joseph Cook’, M Grattan, ed., Australian Prime Ministers, revised edition, New Holland, Sydney, 2010, pp. 89–98; FK Crowley, ‘Cook, Sir Joseph (1860–1947)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1981; Australia’s prime ministers: Joseph Cook’, National Archives of Australia; A Gorman, ‘The forgotten founding father of the Liberal Party’, Quadrant, June 2013, pp. 36–39; ; ‘Australian Prime Ministers: Joseph Cook’, Museum of Australian Democracy; Prime Ministers of Australia: Joseph Cook’, National Museum of Australia. Websites accessed 13 May 2021.
2. ‘Joseph Cook’s partner: Mary Cook’, National Archives of Australia, accessed 4 August 2021.
3. FK Crowley, ‘Forrest, Sir John (1847–1918)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed 2 August 2021.
4. JR Poynter, ‘Munro Ferguson, Sir Ronald Craufurd (1860–1934)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed 2 August 2021.
5. ‘State funeral for Sir Joseph Cook’, The Herald, 1 August 1947, p. 3, accessed 14 May 2021.
6. 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.