2nd Prime Minister of Australia

Born:  3 August 1856

Collingwood , Victoria

Died:   7 October 1919

Melbourne, Victoria

Alfred Deakin (3 August 1856 – 7 October 1919), the Australian politician, was a leader of the movement for Australian federation and later the second Prime Minister of Australia. In the last quarter of the 19th century, Deakin was a major contributor to the establishment of liberal reforms in the colony of Victoria, including pro-worker industrial reforms. He also played a major part in establishing irrigation in Australia. It is likely that he could have been Premier of Victoria, but he chose to devote his energy to federation.

Throughout the 1890s Deakin was a participant in conferences of representatives of the Australian colonies that were established to draft a constitution for the proposed federation. He played an important role in ensuring that the draft was liberal and democratic and in achieving compromises to enable its eventual success. Between conferences, he worked to popularise the concept of federation and campaigned for its acceptance in colonial referenda. He then fought hard to ensure acceptance of the proposed constitution by the Government of the United Kingdom.

As Prime Minister, Deakin completed a significant legislative program that makes him, with Labor’s Andrew Fisher, the founder of an effective Commonwealth government. He expanded the High Court, provided major funding for the purchase of ships, leading to the establishment of the Royal Australian Navy as a significant force under the Fisher government, and established Australian control of Papua. Confronted by the rising Australian Labor Party in 1909, he merged his Protectionist Party with Joseph Cook’s Anti-Socialist Party to create the Commonwealth Liberal Party (known commonly as the Fusion), the main ancestor of the modern Liberal Party of Australia. The Deakin-led Liberal Party government lost to Fisher Labor at the 1910 election, which saw the first time a federal political party had been elected with a majority in either house in Federal Parliament. Deakin resigned from Parliament prior to the 1913 election, with Joseph Cook winning the Liberal Party leadership ballot.

Deakin was the second child of English immigrants, William Deakin and his wife Sarah Bill, daughter of a Shropshire farmer, who had migrated to Australia in 1850 and settled in the Melbourne suburb of Collingwood in 1853. Deakin worked as a storekeeper, water-carter and general carrier and then became a partner in a coaching business and later manager of Cobb and Co in Victoria.

Deakin was born at 90 George Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne, and began his education at the age of four in a boarding school that was initially located at Kyneton, but later moved to the Melbourne suburb of South Yarra. In 1864 he became a day pupil at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, but did not study seriously until his later school years, when he came under the influence of J. H. Thompson and the school’s headmaster, John Edward Bromby, whose oratorical style Deakin admired and later partly adopted. In 1871 he matriculated with good passes in history, algebra and Euclid and basic passes in English and Latin. He began evening classes in law at the University of Melbourne, while working as a schoolteacher and private tutor. He also spoke frequently at the University Debating Club founded by Charles Henry Pearson in 1874, read widely, dabbled in writing and became a lifelong spiritualist, holding the office of President of the Victorian Spiritualists’ Union.

Deakin graduated in 1877 and began practising as a barrister, but had difficulty in obtaining briefs. In May 1878, he met David Syme, the owner of the Melbourne daily The Age, who paid him to contribute reviews, leaders and articles on politics and literature. In 1880, he became editor of The Leader, The Age’s weekly. During this period Syme converted him from supporting free trade to protectionism. He became active in the Australian Natives’ Association and began to practise vegetarianism.

Victorian politics

Deakin stood for the largely rural seat of West Bourke in the Victorian Legislative Assembly in February 1879, as a supporter of Legislative Council reform, protection to encourage manufacturing and the introduction of a land tax to break up the big agricultural estates, and won by 79 votes. Due to a number of voters being disenfranchised by a shortage of voting papers, he used his maiden speech to announce his resignation; he lost the subsequent by-election by 15 votes, narrowly lost the seat in the February 1880 general election, but won it in yet another early general election in July 1880. The radical Premier, Graham Berry, offered him the position of Attorney-General in August, but Deakin turned him down.

In 1882, Deakin married Elizabeth Martha Anne (“Pattie”) Browne, daughter of a well-known spiritualist. They lived with Deakin’s parents until 1887, when they moved to “Llanarth”, in Walsh Street, South Yarra. They had three daughters, Ivy, Stella and Vera by 1891.

Alfred Deakin (3 August 1856 – 7 October 1919)The second Prime Minister of Australia. He became an invalid and died in 1919 of meningoencephalitis aged only 63. He is buried in the St. Kilda Cemetery, alongside his wife.