SIR EDMUND BARTON.
Address by Mr. Bavin.
An interesting address on Sir Edmund Barton was given at a commemorative dinner at the National Club last night by the leader of the Opposition, Mr. T. R. Bavin, who was private secretary to Sir Edmund Barton during his term of office as the first Prime Minister of Australia, and also his associate for another year when he was appointed to the High Court.
Outlining the outstanding events of Sir Edmund Barton's career, Mr. Bavin said that he was born at Glebe, Sydney, on January 18, 1849. He was educated first at Fort-street School, and then at the Sydney Grammar School, whose honour boards still bare wit- ness to his great intellectual qualities. At the Sydney University he continued a bril- liant academic career. He was admitted to the Bar in 1871, and after a successful career took silk in 1889. But already his leaning for politics had asserted itself, and in 1879 he became member for Sydney University, which at that tune had representation in the State Legislature. University representation was very soon afterwards abolished, and Barton became member for Wellington in 1880, and for East Sydney from 1882 to 1887, and from 1891 to 1894. He was twice a member of the Legislative Council—from 1887-1891, and from 1897-1898. He became Speaker of the Assembly in 1883, and occupied that position with dis-
tinction until 1887.
"There is little doubt," Mr. Bavin said, "that had he possessed a more active personal ambi- tion he would have been Premier on leaving the Chair of the Assembly. Instead of this, however, he passed into the dignified peace of the Legislative Council, and remained a member of that body until 1891. In 1889, and again from 1891 to 1893, he was Attorney- General in the Ministry of Sir George Dibbs. Although he sat again in the State Parlia- ment for a short time from 1898 to 1900, his real interests henceforth lay outside its sphere. He became the acknowledged leader of the Federal movement in Australia, and in 1897 was elected to and became leader of the convention which drafted the present Con- stitution. In 1899 he was one of the Aus- tralian delegation which proceeded to England to assist in the passage of the Constitution Act through the House of Commons. In 1901, when the Commonwealth was established, he became its first Prime Minister, and held that office until September, 1903, when he retired to the High Court Bench. He remained a member of that tribunal until his death in 1920. He was married in 1877. His widow, happily, is still with us, and we are especially happy to have in this assembly to-night his son, Mr. Edmund Barton, a distinguished mem- ber of the Bar, and his daughter, Mrs. David Maughan.
"Until he began to take a share in the movement for Australian Federation, which had been given new life by Sir Henry Parkes" famous speech at Tenterfield in 1889, Barton had not made for himself any very pre- eminent position in public life. State politics never really seemed to interest him greatly, nor to provide him with the inducement to exert his power or to use his qualities. It was not until the mantle of Sir Henry Parkes fell upon him, on Parkes' death in 1896, that he found a cause which he felt was equal to his abilities, and which attracted him enough to overcome the constitutional inclination for ease which had helped to prevent him from achieving that pre-eminence to which his ability entitled him both in his profession and in State politics. He threw himself into this with all the fervour of an apostle. It was a work for which he was eminently fitted. It demanded keen and well informed interest in, and a sound knowledge of, the principles of constitutional law; a mind and spirit above the plane of the mere party tactician; a know- ledge of the practical working of political in- stitutions, breadth of vision, and indifference to mere technicalities—in a word, statesman- ship of a high order."
Mr. Bavin briefly outlined steps in the move- ment for Federation, and the leading part played in it by Sir Edmund Barton. "The acceptance of the Constitution, at the second referendum," he continued, "was the high water mark of Barton's achievement. He was marked out, by every consideration, as the first Prime Minister of the Commonwealth which he himself had done so much to bring into being, and a futile endeavour to secure the selection of someone else failed, because Deakin and the other Australian leaders, whose support was essential to the formation of a Government, refused to serve under any leader
"The three years of his Prime Ministership were years of great strain and difficulty. He was never at his best in the strife of party politics. Notwithstanding this, however, his three years of office produced results of vital consequence for the future of Australia. The conditions under which this work was done did not make it any easier. His Cabinet was by no means an easy team to handle. It was a Cabinet composed almost entirely of ex- State Premiers, some of whom, at least, had been for years in a commanding position in their own States, and did not take kindly to the restraints of a subordinate position. The Government was dependent on the support of the Labour party, led by Mr. J. C. Watson, and it was faced by a strong and alert Oppo- sition, astutely led by Sir George Reid. Under these conditions, it was something of an achievement to have held the Government together for its full term, and to have carried through Parliament the most important items in its policy.
"Towards the end of his three years term, he was tired of the hurly burly of political life. He had seen the ship launched, a capable and loyal lieutenant, in the person of Alfred Deakin, was at hand, and Barton made up his mind to retire to the comparative seclusion of the High Court Bench. Three vacancies, including the position of Chief Justice, had to be filled. A strong effort was made by a large number of Barton's friends to induce him to appoint himself Chief Justice. The suggestion was decisively rejected, and Sir Samuel Griffith, the eminent Chief Justice of Queensland, whose superior professional ex- perience and qualifications Barton fully re- cognised, received the appointment.
A LATIN TELEGRAM.
"In this connection I may be forgiven for recounting a personal reminiscence. When it had been decided to invite Sir Samuel Griffith, a coded telegram was sent to him in Brisbane. Griffith was at the time on cir- cuit, at an inland town called Roma. The coded telegram was sent on to him there. He had no key by means of which he could de- code it. Suspecting the nature of its con- tents, and anxious to preserve the confidential nature of the transaction, he telegraphed back from Roma—appropriately enough in Latin, explaining that he had no code with him and must delay his reply. I sent the Latin telegram in to Barton, who was in the House at the time. Entering into the spirit of the thing, he instructed me to draft a Latin telegram in reply. Sir Robert Garran and I between us drafted a reply, which, while not Ciceronian in its style, answered the pur- pose. I sent the draft into the House to Barton for his approval, and still have the copy with his emendations. I mention this be- cause I Imagine it is probably the only case in the British Empire for a long time past in which the negotiations for the appointment of a high judicial office have been partly con- ducted in Latin.
"His closing years were years of serene and unostentatious usefulness. He carried with him to the end his genial and lovable dis- position, his high sense of public duty, his freedom from any mean or personal motives. There are probablv many here who remember his personal appearance—his fine distinguished head, which would have attracted attention in any assembly, his keen glowing eyes, always ready to twinkle into a smile of amusement at a jest or a good story, or to flash into in- dignation at inlustice. Although he had not that power, possessed by his eloquent oppo- nent, Sir George Reid, of swaying great audiences, and communicating his mood to them, he had, in an exceptional degree, that magnetic quality which attracts and holds the personal loyalty and admiration of political and personal associates. During his earlier political life, he was, like most public men, the target for much bitter and envenomed criticism. Long before his death this was silenced, and the memory we have of him to- day—cleared of all the mists of personal and party enmity—is that of a lovable, cultivated, high minded man, an able and loyal servant of Australia, and the Empire, whose example should inspire us to new and more active efforts for the good of our country."
Mr. Archdale Parkhill, M.P., who presided, said that the National Association wanted to be truly National in outlook, and as one means to that end intended to make a practice of celebrating notable events in the lives of out- standing Australians.