George Washington Thomas Lambert (1873-1930), William (Billy) Hughes (detail), 1927, Historic Memorials Collection, Parliament House Art Collection. View full image
Prime Minister, 27 October 1915 to 9 February 1923
Australian Labor Party 1901 to 1916
National Labor Party 1916 to 1917
Nationalist Party 1917 to 1929
Independent Nationalist Party 1928 to 1931
United Australia Party 1931 to 1944
Liberal Party of Australia 1944 to 1952
Controversial and irrepressible, Billy Hughes (1862 - 1952) was active in Australian politics for nearly 60 years. His almost 52 years of continuous service in the federal Parliament is a record unlikely to be beaten, while his seven years as Prime Minister remains one of Australia’s most turbulent periods.1
London-born Hughes worked as an assistant teacher before migrating to Queensland in 1884. His ‘early itinerant life in outback Queensland and later in Sydney was extremely harsh’, working in a variety of jobs to make ends meet.2 In 1886 he entered into a de facto marriage with Elizabeth Cutts (d. 1906), with whom he had seven children. In 1911 he married Mary Campbell in Melbourne and had another child.3
A fiery orator, Hughes joined the Socialist and Single-Tax Leagues and became a union organiser. A founding member of the Labour Electoral League, he entered the NSW Legislative Assembly in 1894. He remained in the colonial parliament until 1901 when he became the federal Member for West Sydney. This was the first of 20 successive victories, spanning four electorates (West Sydney, Bendigo, North Sydney, and Bradfield) across two states (NSW and Victoria). Hughes was appointed Minister for External Affairs in the Watson Government, the first of nine portfolios he held across his career. He remains Australia’s longest serving Attorney-General, encompassing more than 13 years (in four separate periods).
Hughes became Australia’s seventh Prime Minister in October 1915, just months after Australian forces landed at Gallipoli. He became a vocal advocate for conscription, but with legislative means stymied, he opted for a plebiscite. His vehement stance split the Labor Party, which expelled him and other pro-conscription members. Undaunted and with sufficient numbers in the House, Hughes and his allies governed as the National Labor Party, later joining the Opposition to create a Nationalist Party Government. Despite two failed plebiscites to enact conscription, he remained Prime Minister until 1923. He served on the Imperial War Cabinet and represented Australia at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference and Reparations Commission, while securing its League of Nations membership.
Hughes remained in Parliament for almost three more decades before his death at the age of 90. Informing the House of Representatives, Prime Minister Robert Menzies said,
‘whether one agreed with him or disagreed with him – and I am bound to say
he made it perfectly easy to do both if one wanted to – he had a patriotism, a fire,
a rare eloquence and a pungent wit that I have, I think, seldom seen
equalled and have never seen surpassed in my own lifetime’.4
He received a state funeral at St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney.
George Washington Thomas Lambert
Portraitist and sculptor George Lambert (1873-1930) was born in Russia and migrated to Australia in 1887. He worked as a clerk before beginning to paint and attending art classes conducted by Julian Ashton at the Art Society of NSW. After winning a scholarship to study in Paris, he worked in London as an illustrator and taught at the London School of Art. Appointed an official war artist in 1917 with the honorary rank of lieutenant, Lambert completed various commissions on his travels through Egypt, Turkey and Palestine, recording events precious to the history of the nation. He returned to Australia in 1921 and dominated the art scene through the 1920s. His portrait ‘Mrs Murdoch’ won the Archibald Prize in 1927. Since his death, his work has been included in many landmark exhibitions of Australian art. In addition to most state and regional galleries, a large collection of his work is held at the Art Gallery of NSW.5
William (Billy) Hughes
by George Washington Thomas Lambert
Oil on canvas
90 x 70 cm
Historic Memorials Collection, Parliament House Art Collection
1. Information in this biography has been taken from the following: ‘Biography for Hughes, the Rt. Hon. William (Billy) Morris, CH’, Parliamentary Handbook, Parliamentary Library, Parliament of Australia; ‘Australia’s prime ministers: William Hughes’, National Archives of Australia; L Fitzhardinge, ‘Hughes, William Morris (Billy) (1862–1952)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1983; N Church, ‘Political attitudes to conscription: 1914–1918’, Research paper series, 2016–17, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 27 October 2016. Websites accessed 14 August 2021.
2. ‘Australian Prime Ministers: Billy Hughes’, Museum of Australian Democracy, accessed 16 November 2021.
3. ‘William Hughes’ Partner: Mary Hughes’, National Archives of Australia, accessed 9 July 2021.
4. R Menzies, ‘Death of the Right Honourable William Morris Hughes, CH, QC, MP’, House of Representatives, Debates, 28 October 1952, p. 3758.
5. Information in this biography has been taken from the following: M Terry, ‘Lambert, George Washington (1873–1930)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1983; ‘George Washington Lambert 1873–1930’, Carrick Hill; ‘George W Lambert: Retrospective: heroes and icons’, National Gallery of Australia. ‘Lambert, George Washington’, 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, pp. 591–93. Websites accessed 26 March 2021.