you're reading...
Suite 101 Canada (Online Magazine - General Interest)

Edmund Barton – Australia’s First Prime Minister

Edmund Barton Australia’s First Prime Minister

One of the Founding Father’s of Australian Federation

Edmund Barton helped write the Australan Constitution before Federation, administered it as Prime Minister, and interpreted it as a High Court judge.

Early Years

Edmund Barton was born in Glebe Sydney in 1849. As a boy, he had a love of literature, music and art. He graduated from Sydney Grammar School, and matriculated to Sydney University in 1865. He graduated in 1868 with a bachelor of Arts in Classics. In 1870, he received Masters of Art, and was admitted to the Bar as a lawyer in 1871.

In 1872, he became engaged to Jean Ross, however, his slowness in establishing his legal career and financial insecurity delayed the marriage until 1877. The Bartons went on to have six children

Beginnings of Political Career

Barton had a keen interest in debating and a keen legal mind, which developed into a keen interest in politics. He was defeated for the University of Sydney seat in the NSW Legislative Assembly in 1876 and 1877. As a member of the conservative Protectionist Party, he finally found success in 1879. The Protectionists believed in tariff protection of state products. Each state in that day operated as a separate country, with import and export taxes imposed on goods traded across borders.

However, Barton had also been a member of the other major party of the day, the Free Trade Party, who advocated free trade within Australia. For the next twenty years, as a member of parliament, he advocated free trade across Australian borders, while advocating a protectionist stance against the rest of the world.

Athenaeum Club and Public Speaking

Barton had a rapid rise in politics, becoming Speaker of the Legislative Assembly in 1883. In the early 1880’s he became a member of the prestigious Athenaeum Club, where he could sharpen his debating skills with some of Sydney’s most astute intellectuals. These included Sir James Fairfax (owner of the Sydney Morning Herald), J.F. Archibald (editor of The Bulletin) and Sir Mungo MacCullum (Professor of English Literature at Sydney University, among others. The writers Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson were also visitors to the Athenaeum Club on their travels.

In 1891, Barton contributed to the first draft of the Australian Constitution, and spent considerable time speaking at public meetings to publicise the cause of Federation.


In 1891, he also accepted an offer to serve as Attorney-General in Premier Dibbs protectionist government. However, as politicians were unpaid at that time, he negotiated the right to continue his private practice as a barrister, in order to support his family.

He was forced to resign as Attorney-General two years later, when this post came into conflict with his private practice. He had accepted a brief against the Crown, and obviously couldn’t represent both sides.

Drafting the Constitution and Fighting for Federation

Following his resignation as Attorney-General, between 1893 and 1897 he devoted his time to the cause of Federation and the drafting of an amended Constitution. By the end of the century, after a long and tiring campaign, this Constitution was finally approved by the British Parliament in 1900.

Between 1893 and 1897 Barton passionately devoted himself to the Federation movement and to the drafting of the Constitution. By the end of the century Barton had overseen the drafting of the amended Constitution, its protracted and difficult passing through the NSW Legislative Assembly and Council, as well as an exhausting campaign through two referendum to its eventual approval by the British Parliament in 1900.

Australia’s First Prime Minister

It was expected that Barton would be made Prime Minister of the new Commonwealth of Australia, however, this almost didn’t come to pass. The new Governor-General of Australia, Lord Hopetoun, selected the then Premier of NSW, William Lyne. The appointed members of cabinet refused to serve under Lyne, and Barton was finally appointed as Australia’s first Prime Minister, with the portfolio of Minister of External Affairs.

Federation occurred on 1st January 1901, and in March that year, Barton and his entire cabinet were formally elected by the Australian voters. During his short two and a half year term, the Australian Public Service, the High Court and right for women to vote were all established.

The second piece of legislation passed through the new parliament (the Constitution being the first) was the now controversial White Australia Policy. The remnants of this policy are still seen in legislation today.

In 1902, Barton accepted a knighthood, after twice previously declining the offer. He resigned as Prime Minister in September 1903, worn out by the federation campaign and responsibilities of leadership.

High Court Judge

Shortly after resigning as Prime Minister, he was appointed to Australia’s first High Court. For the next 17 years, Barton interpreted the Constitution he had helped to create.

The High Court in those days divided it’s time between the state capitals. Barton insisted he was able to devote more time to his family and his love of literature while serving with the High Court, than was possible as Prime Minister.

Edmund Barton died of a heart attack in January 1920 at Medlow Bath in the Blue Mountains, aged 70.

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.


No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

If you liked what you just read, click "Subscribe" to become a follower of the Craig Hill site. You will receive an email each time a new post is published.

Join 15,358 other followers

An archive of all my old posts

Follow me on Twitter

Most Recent Posts Post on My Blog About China: China News

United States outmanoeuvres Russia once again? 

United States outmanoeuvres Russia once again? 

In a recent briefing, the US Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Avril Haines warned, “I would characterize it as the Russians aren’t winning, and the Ukrainians aren’t winning, and we’re at a bit of a stalemate here.” So, where is the Russia-Ukraine war heading? What is Russian President Putin planning next? Is Europe ready for […]

China is defying global order to expand power, US admiral warns

China is defying global order to expand power, US admiral warns

The Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) are destabilizing international order in an effort to expand their global power, Adm. John Aquilino, commander of the Indo-Pacific Command, warned lawmakers during a House hearing on Tuesday. In his written testimony submitted to the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, Adm. Aquilino explained that the Department […]

China – Autocracy and decoupling technical tests

China – Autocracy and decoupling technical tests

We have noticed that the embrace with China had become suffocating in the last twenty years. The West universe of consumers and China the factory of the world. We started with modest and low value-added materials and products, to refine the trajectory and revolution to the most refined and complex technologies, such as 5G and […]

Four ways China is growing its media influence in Southeast Asia

Four ways China is growing its media influence in Southeast Asia

As President Biden welcomes leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to a special summit this week in Washington, D.C., his administration is affirming Beijing as the U.S.’s main rival and underscoring the region’s importance in U.S.-China competition. The two-day event is part of the U.S effort to woo ASEAN members caught in a […]

Confronting Russia will deter China, says Japanese defense minister

Confronting Russia will deter China, says Japanese defense minister

A strong international response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine is critical to deterring China from embarking on territorial conquests in Taiwan or the South China Sea, said Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi. “China has been carefully observing the current situation of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and they are paying particularly close attention to what […]

How Russia-Ukraine copied Finland war without lessons

How Russia-Ukraine copied Finland war without lessons

Finland is a unique country with a distinct language and culture. However, its possession was always contested between Sweden and Russia. Though Finland mainly remained under Swedish control in 1809, it was annexed by Russia. Using the end of World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution in late 1917, Finland declared its independence from the […]

China plans system to take out asteroids hurtling toward earth

China plans system to take out asteroids hurtling toward earth

China plans to develop a system for monitoring asteroids that pose a threat to earth, highlighting the nation’s growing ambitions for its space program. The country will also explore ways for taking out asteroids that endanger the planet, Wu Yanhua, deputy director of the China National Space Administration, said in a TV interview, according to […]

Russia-Japan tensions flare anew over the Kurils

Russia-Japan tensions flare anew over the Kurils

Formally, Russia is not at war with Ukraine, where it claims to be conducting a so-called “special military operation.” But with Japan, given that Moscow and Tokyo never signed a peace treaty officially ending World War II, the two Asian neighbors remain technically at war. And after Japan recently described four Kuril islands whose ownership […]

Solomon Islands has Washington in state of alarm after a security pact with China

Solomon Islands has Washington in state of alarm after a security pact with  China

A tiny island chain in the South Pacific has Western governments scrambling after it agreed to a security pact with China that the United States and its allies fear could enhance Beijing’s military power in this strategically important region.  The deal between China and the Solomon Islands, a nation of 700,000 people that had deadly […]

China says its ‘future helicopters’ will be equipped with ground-breaking technologies

China says its ‘future helicopters’ will be equipped with ground-breaking technologies

Militaries all around the world are looking at integrating modern technology into their military weapons. China, as usual, appears to be making serious efforts to prepare for the future battleground, this time, with plans to include artificial intelligence and high-speed features in its future choppers. During a recent public lecture, a prominent Chinese military helicopter […]

%d bloggers like this: