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Famous Australians

Sir Henry Parkes: Father of Federation

Sir Henry Parkes is known in Australian history as the Father of Federation, following his famous 1889 Tenterfield speech. Sadly, having worked so tirelessly to make Australia independent from Britain, he died before the dream became reality.

Henry Parkes is considered one of the great men in forming Australia into the country it is today.  In recognition, his picture was on the old Australian five dollar note for over twenty years.  The town of Parkes in Central New South Wales is named in his honour.

Henry Parkes was born to a family of yeoman stock in Warwickshire on 27th May 1815. Unfortunately, falling wheat prices forced the family to leave the land and seek employment in Birmingham. In 1836 Parkes married Clarinda Varney and they applied for assisted passage to Australia, the death of two of their infant children and a failed business venture influencing their decision.

Arriving in Australia, he found work as a farm labourer, but low wages did not appeal! Renewing his old interest in politics, he went to work for the Customs Department in Sydney. Over the next few years he went into business for himself and at one stage owned the Empire newspaper. Through this period be became very influential and played a major role in the cessation of transportation of convicts to Australia. Going bankrupt he retired from the political arena, narrowly escaping fraud charges as his debts exceeded 48 500 pounds (approx. $100 000). He turned to his old friends and with their support was re-elected, becoming a strong supporter of land and educational reform, free trade and immigration. It needs to be pointed out that politicians were not pad for their role in this era of time in Australia.

All this time, Parkes left his wife and five children at Werrington (near Penrith). Mrs Parkes was often short of money and constantly besieged by creditors. The property was managed by an insolent and disobedient man and the property went down hill. She indicated her loneliness in a letter to her husband after the birth of their sixth child when she wrote, “I have received no congratulations”. Parkes had ventured upon another business and once more shown his lack of acumen by going bankrupt again, this time losing his property lease.

Parkes introduced the Public Schools Act in 1866, giving power to train, appoint and dismiss teachers, the Hospital Act providing Government inspection, supervision and appointment of trained nurses to Hospitals. He was forced to resign because of insolvency. In 1871 he returned as the Member for Mudgee and so began the golden age of his political career. He was an able speaker, somewhat of an actor and his long white hair and flowing beard gave him an apostolic look. Parkes believed the voters should feel that you are the “Man of the Hour”. During this period, he introduced the Public Instruction Act which abolished state aid for denominational schools (as a result NSW has been plagued by a two school system ever since).

Parkes’ Ministry is best remembered for his fiery and impassioned support for the Federation of Australian Colonies, making his famous speech at the School of Arts, Tenterfield on 24 October 1889.

Parkes faced personal tragedy and more criticism after marrying Eleanor Dixon about a year (6 Feb 1889) after the death of Clarinda (2 Feb 1888). This marriage was never recognised by his family. Eleanor died in 1895, leaving Parkes with young children and in a declining mental and physical health. He then married Julia Lynch who nursed the old warrior until his death on 27 April 1896 at the age of 80 years and 11 months.

Sir Henry was typical of a wide range of 19th century politicians, but his very special ability to appreciate the importance of the action he was taking and his vision of a strong and united Australia certainly made the people believe that he was, indeed, “The Man of the Hour”.

About Craig Hill

Teacher and Writer. Writing has been cited in New York Times, BBC, Fox News, Aljazeera, Philippines Star, South China Morning Post, National Interest, news.com.au, Wikipedia and others.


30 thoughts on “Sir Henry Parkes: Father of Federation

  1. Reblogged this on Craig Hill.

    Posted by Craig Hill | March 31, 2012, 09:58
  2. Good article and an interesting history of both a nation and the spirit of a person. Despite his personal struggles, it is awe inspiring that he was able to accomplish so much.

    Posted by mulrickillion | March 31, 2012, 15:58
    • Thank you for your comment on my blog post. I have gone through your article thoroughly even including the ad link the contents of which too have been perused by me. I have also read the comments so made by others on your post. What you have written about Sir Henry Parkes is just so inspiring. I have also marked it for facebook and would like to follow you..

      Posted by neelkanth | July 4, 2012, 18:35
  3. Funny, how little we in the rest of the world – know about you down under .. never here anything about you – expect if something bad has happen. Nothing on TV news or anything – don’t buy newspapers anymore .. nothing on the net new neither. Australia and New Zealand .. just get on with it down under. That’s why it’s so interesting to read about your history. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Posted by viveka | March 31, 2012, 19:12
  4. I agree with Viveka. I heard of Parkes only from your post. Thanks for your informative bio. Australia can rightly be proud of him. His vision of Australia was as that of an Alien, seeing it without any prejudice or narrow interests. It seems one reason, I think, the national character of Aussies is distinct. It owes no obligation to England or to any other. It could lend a hand to the British cause in the two WW and look to the US towards the close of the second WW because of its growing perception GB was a spent force. Australia as a free entity playing its role among SE Asia, Pacific Rim countries.

    Posted by bennythomas | May 13, 2012, 22:17
  5. I like the part where his wife wanted to be congradulated on the sixth child! LOL!

    Posted by joyannaadams | May 14, 2012, 04:35
  6. He clearly had vision, seems to have been a salesman and promoter and a bit of the confidence man unfortunately deficient in business skills. The perfect politician…

    Posted by jackcurtis | May 14, 2012, 13:29
  7. G’day, Craig: Had the great good fortune to visit your fine country once and would very much like to return. Also looking forward to learning more through your blog. Cheers!

    Posted by mywallstreetguy | May 28, 2012, 05:26
  8. We need more of these type people everywhere. Most of today’s politicians are plain old DUDS.

    Posted by Yorkshire | June 7, 2012, 12:58
  9. Thanks very much for the history lesson. As stated above, the rest of the world knows so little about Australia and NZ. A very interesting character indeed.

    Posted by Barbara Blackcinder | June 10, 2012, 22:45
  10. he was quite a character. Thanks for the fine post.

    Posted by billgncs | June 11, 2012, 15:34
  11. What an amazing character and bit of Australian history! Thank you! And, thank you for the like on my blog post on Gold Bug Park in Placerville, CA!

    Posted by babso2you | June 11, 2012, 22:54
  12. Pinned this post. [http://pinterest.com/pin/183943966000867652/] Very interesting. You Australian people are so cool! And I like the way you talk. [http://cmoneyspinner.tumblr.com/post/22391411638/a-guide-to-aussie-slang] Thanks for liking my most recent blog post about pomegranates. I was just having a little fun!

    Posted by cmoneyspinner | June 14, 2012, 02:39
  13. thank you for stopping by … NMAAHC is amazing
    i am a better than writer but i try … Ive got things to say ! ( :

    Posted by Nativegrl77 | June 14, 2012, 23:44
  14. Thanks mate, good article. I knew the basics about the bloke as my father is big on aussie history, but his story leading up to the famous speach was rather vague.
    You and I seem to be of a similiar mold in that we both like to share our history with the world. Hope to read more soon.

    Posted by georgemt84 | June 15, 2012, 11:41
  15. thanks for this, but why did they remove him from the $5 note? Has he fallen out of fashion?

    Posted by Barb Drummond | June 15, 2012, 21:17
  16. It seems as if we could use a man of Sir Parkes’ calibre in the U.S. Instead, we are faced with two candidates that only vaguely resemble the ideals of their respective parties.

    Posted by andyknaster | June 27, 2012, 05:53
    • Democracy is the ‘Government of the People, by the Party, for the Party’. Americans are particularly brilliant at it … aren’t we all?

      Look deeper—you don’t really want ‘democracy’, do you? You don’t want politicians, you need to rule yourselves. No?

      Posted by Argus | July 10, 2012, 06:52
      • I am a Libertarian so I could not possibly agree with you more. Henry David Thoreau wrote the following:

        I HEARTILY ACCEPT the motto, — “That government is best which governs least”; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe, — “That government is best which governs not at all”; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.

        Ronald Reagan, a man who in my opinion was the last true Republican, said something like this:

        The most effective, responsible and responsive government is government closest to the people.

        To me, that means if a town can rule itself, it should. If it needs governance that it cannot or should not provide, then and only then, should it look to the next largest governing body. That outward growth must be examined very carefully because government has gained that authority, it is not likelky to give it back.

        Posted by andyknaster | July 10, 2012, 10:55
  17. Any connection to this man and the city of Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada? (capital of the province)

    Posted by Lloyd Parlee | July 5, 2012, 11:13
  18. Federations? Don’t like ’em myself—independence should devolve to the smallest viable unit, with Free Market connections only to anyone else.

    Looking ahead though I can seen New Zealand becoming an Australian state (which possibly wouldn’t be such a bad thing for New Zealand) then further ahead Australia becoming a US state … ouch.

    Posted by Argus | July 10, 2012, 06:48
  19. Well received.

    Posted by neelkanth | July 10, 2012, 15:45
  20. Nice post Craig. Great to see read some Aussie history – particularly on those that helped shape our Country

    Posted by Deano | July 11, 2012, 11:57
  21. thanks for stopping by … history of reads are good!

    Posted by Nativegrl77 | July 12, 2012, 22:57
  22. I make it a point to never stop learning Craig. Thanks for contributing to my endless education.

    Posted by Richard William Posner | July 15, 2012, 13:27
  23. I have already gone through the post.

    Posted by neelkanth | July 15, 2012, 14:26

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