Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Gillies, Duncan

GILLIES, DUNCAN (1834–1903), premier of Victoria, Australia, born in January 1834 at Over-Newton, a suburb of Glasgow, was second son of Duncan Gillies, a market gardener of that place, by Margaret his wife. After education at Glasgow High School he began a business career in a counting-house in his native city. He read much in his leisure, chiefly in history.

In 1852 he emigrated to Australia, and landing at Port Phillip, Victoria, proceeded to the Ballarat gold-fields, where for some time he worked as a digger. In 1853-4 he was one of the leaders of the miners in their resistance to the demands of the government, though from the outset he was strongly opposed to the use of violence and took no part in the affair of the Eureka stockade. Becoming known among his fellows as a ready speaker, he was elected a member of the local mining court, and in February 1858 he became a member of the Ballarat mining board, which then superseded that court.

Gillies, who had become a working partner in the Great RepubHc (mining) Company, was returned 'to the Legislative Assembly in 1859 as the miners' representative for Ballarat West, being re-elected in 1861, 1864, 1866, and 1868. He soon became one of the foremost debaters. On 11 May 1868 he took office as president of the board of land and works and commissioner of crown lands and surveys in the unpopular Sladen ministry, and was sworn a member of the executive council. Promptly rejected on seeking re-election, he sought a constituency where his growing antipathy to democracy might find favour. At the next general election, in March 1870, he was returned unopposed for Maryborough.

On 10 June 1872 he joined the Francis ministry as commissioner of railways and roads, and he retained the office when the cabinet was reconstructed under George Briscoe Kerferd in July 1874. He retired on 2 Aug. 1875, but was commissioner of lands and survey and president of the board of land and works and minister of agriculture in the last McCulloch government (25 Oct. 1875-21 May 1877). At the general election of May 1877 Gillies was returned for Rodney, but he was unseated on petition on the ground that undue influence had been exercised by the land department during the contest. He was exonerated from any personal knowledge of this abuse, and was re-elected for the same constituency on 2 Nov. 1877. He was prominent in the opposition to the party led by (Sir) Graham Berry [q. v. Suppl. II].

From 5 March to 3 Aug. 1880 he was commissioner of railways in the Service government, and although a strong conservative and free-trader he took office as commissioner of railways and minister of public instruction in the Service-Berry coalition which ruled the colony from 8 March 1883 to 18 Feb. 1886. When Service and Berry retired on the last date, and the ministry was reconstructed, again on a coalition basis, Gillies became premier and treasurer and Deakin chief secretary, each representing his own party in the cabinet and the Assembly.

The period of the Gillies-Deakin ministry was marked by great social and political activity. The revenue and expenditure of the colony increased to an unprecedented degree, whilst railways were extended in all directions. Useful legislation was promoted, of which the most important was the Irrigation Act of 1886 with its numerous off-shoots, but the government before its term of office ended had to contend with acute labour troubles, culminating in disastrous strikes. In 1887 Gillies declined the honour of K.C.M.G.

At the general election of March 1889 Gillies was returned for the Eastern Suburbs of Melbourne, and the government's power seemed unimpaired, though there were signs of coming difficulty. The first session passed without disaster, but in the second session a direct vote of want of confidence was carried on 30 Oct. 1890, by 55 votes to 35. Gillies resigned on 5 Nov. and led the opposition to the Munro and Shiels governments. Gillies was a consistent supporter of the cause of Australian federation. He represented Victoria at several intercolonial conferences as well as in the second and third sessions of the federal council of Australasia. He presided at the federal conference held in Melbourne in Feb. 1890, and was one of the representatives of Victoria at the national Australasian convention which met in Sydney in March and April 1891.

From 6 Jan. 1894 to 5 Jan. 1897 Gillies was agent-general for the colony in London. Returning to Melbourne, he again entered Parliament (14 Oct. 1897) as member for Toorak, and was re-elected in 1900. On 14 Oct. 1902 he was unanimously chosen as speaker of the House of Assembly. But failing health hampered the performance of his duties. He died of heart failure on 12 Sept. 1903 in the Speaker's apartments at the State Parliament House, and was buried in Melbourne general cemetery.

Gillies lacked many of the qualities of a popular leader. Even among his political supporters his general demeanour was somewhat cold and unsympathetic, but he gained respect by his conspicuous fairness and magnanimity. His speeches were models of clearness and force. He proved himself a powerful leader of the house, and in that capacity displayed tact and resource.

A portrait of Gillies in oils, three-quarter length, by Tennyson Cole, is in the National Gallery of Victoria at Melbourne.

[The Times, 14 Sept. 1903; Melbourne Age, 14, 15, 16 Sept. 1903; Melbourne Argus, 14 Sept. 1903; Australasian, 19 Sept. 1903; Johns's Notable Australians, 1908; Turner's History of the Colony of Victoria, vol. ii. 1904; Australian Year Book, 1904; Mennell's Dict. of Australas. Biog. 1902; Colonial Office Records.]

C. A.