History of West Australia/Stephen Henry Parker


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WESTERN Australia was the last of the Australasian colonies to be granted the privilege of governing her own affairs. Although she is the second oldest colony in the group, yet the original antique system of a Crown Colony regime was adhered to decades after every other Australian colony enjoyed responsible government. Many peculiar conditions contributed to this, and primarily, perhaps, the unreasonable stagnation of all industry and progressive development. Here was an immense colony, full of resources: the soil capable of producing anything almost grown elsewhere; the forests containing untold wealth in their valuable jarrah, and other timbers; the mineral fields so rich and promising that now the world is startled; and, notwithstanding, Western Australia slumbered for many years. But the time came when people recognised the local opportunities for acquiring wealth. Immigration and expansion began. A steady growth was apparent, which was, perhaps, stimulated by colonial legislators persistently agitating for responsible government. The Crown Colony system was autocratic, cumbersome, and apt to retard development. The wants of the people were not granted to the extent they desired. The whole State machine indolently pursued a tedious way, until several local politicians on behalf of the whole colony advocated strenuously and without cessation the reasonable demands of isolated British subjects to have a voice in their own government and the guidance of their colony into prosperous channels of industry. At last, a little over sixty years after the proclamation of the colony, responsible government was granted. Since then the growth has been magnificent and almost without parallel in even British history.

One of the most active advocates for the granting of autonomy was the Hon. S.H. Parker, Q.C., M.L.C. For many years he was considered a leader of the movement, and it was he, with Sir Thos. C. Campbell, Bart., who was elected by the Legislative Council at the request of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Knutsford, to proceed to England, with Governor Broome, to give evidence to a Select Committee of the House of Commons appointed to enquire into the whole question. After great activity at home, the three gentlemen had the gratification of seeing their political prayers answered, and rested with the pleasing conviction that they had materially assisted in inaugurating a government which may yet be known throughout the world.

As with Sir John Forrest, Stephen Henry Parker was born and educated locally, and has placed at the disposal of the colony his most earnest service. That his value to the cause of colonists has been so marked must be viewed with sincerest satisfaction by all who uphold the equality in talents of Australian born men with their ancestors from the old country.

The Parker family is one of the oldest in Western Australia, for the grandfather of Mr. S.H. Parker was a member of the 1830 bands of pioneers. Since that day either he, his children, or grandchildren have been associated with colonial affairs in development or politics. It was in February, 1830, that the pioneer, Mr. Stephen Parker, landed in the colony, and he contributed his share to make Western Australia self-supporting. His son, Mr. Stephen Stanley Parker, was actively associated with pastoral and agricultural pursuits. Mr. Stephen Henry Parker, of whom we have to write here, was born at York on the 7th November, 1846. Much of his childhood was spent in that pretty country district, but his early education was mainly imparted in Perth at the well-known Bishop's School. When sixteen years old he left that establishment and proceeded to qualify himself to practise at the colonial bar. In the absence of a University in the colony, law students have to go before a Board of Examiners, from whom they must obtain certificates prior to gaining admission to practise before the Supreme Court. In 1868, when a little over twenty-one years old, Mr. Parker was called, and immediately opened in practise. Though the field before the young barrister was somewhat limited, he made the best of his opportunities, and his professional connection quickly grew in importance. During his legal career he has been associated with most of the principal cases heard before the local courts, and has obtained and maintained an excellent record as a lawyer and an advocate. He possesses the gift of sifting the essential points of a case and explaining them in the clearest language. When in April, 1890, the Imperial Government appointed him a Queen's counsellor, it was recognised as a well deserved honour and a conspicuous testimonial to his ability. Mr. Parker was the last colonial barrister to receive the distinction direct from the Queen, as immediately after his appointment the Western Australian Government, in unison with other Colonial Governments, was extended the right of appointing Queen's counsellors locally.

While yet a young man Mr. S.H. Parker closely followed the trend of public affairs, and it was not long ere he was drawn into the municipal and political arenas. In 1878 he was appointed chairman of the Perth City Council, and since Perth was incorporated he has twice occupied the mayoral chair. In 1878, also, Mr. Parker began his active political career, when he was elected a member of the old Legislative Council for the Perth division. Without intermission he has since been prominently before the public as a politician. At first he was rather a silent member, but as the years advanced he took a much more vigorous part. Within a few years he was looked upon as a prominent member, and in 1885, and from then till 1890 he was the recognised leader of the elective members. It was while occupying this position that he strove most zealously to secure autonomy. A successful debater and a man of considerable reasoning powers, he saw that Western Australia would not be very prosperous until responsible government was secured. Hence his assiduity. He continued to represent the Perth constituency until 1888, in which year he transferred his services to the Vasse division.

The next two years saw the question of autonomy loom still more prominently before Western Australian people and the Colonial Office in Downing Street. As already stated, a Select Committee of the House of Commons was appointed, with Baron Henry De Worms as president, to take evidence in regard to the matter. Mr. Parker upon his arrival in England tendered his evidence, which was duly recorded. He pointed out the many advantages that would accrue under a representative constitution, and, moreover, interviewed leading statesmen, among whom was the Right Hon. W.E. Gladstone, then in opposition, to impress upon them its importance. We have already recorded in the history the result of the commission. Having completed his good work Mr. Parker returned to Western Australia and received the cordial approval of colonists for his distinguished services. In October, 1890, they presented him with a highly complimentary address; before leaving London he received a private letter from Lord Knutsford, in which that statesman thanked him for his services, and was good enough to inform him that he had materially assisted in the passage of the bill, which is bound to prove so immensely important to Western Australia.

When the first elections for the House of Assembly were held it was very appropriate that he should stand for his native district—York. The people of the colony, and of the York constituency in particular, were so pleased with him that he was elected to the pioneer Assembly by a great majority. He assisted as much as a private member could in the reorganisation of the colony's affairs for two years, and in 1892, when Sir George Shenton resigned the portfolio of Colonial Secretary in order to qualify for the Presidency of the Legislative Council, Mr. Parker was appointed to the vacant office and to lead the Upper House. Mr. Parker resigned his seat in the Assembly, and was nominated a member of the Council. For the two succeeding years he successfully performed all the duties appertaining to the Colonial Secretaryship. In 1894 he represented the Government at a Postal Conference in New Zealand.

The Constitution Act provided that the Legislative Council should be wholly elective when the population of Western Australia reckoned 60,000 persons. In 1894 this total was reached, and a redistribution of seats took place. The Hon. S.H. Parker was elected for Perth. At the end of the same year Mr. Parker resigned his portfolio after rendering valuable assistance to the colony and his particular department. Since that date he has remained a private member.

In one way and another Mr. Parker has materially assisted in the making of wise laws for the proper government of Western Australia. Among the measures which he as a private member personally introduced, and which became law, is the Married Woman's Property Act. This measure is similar to the English Act, and sets out the rights and claims of married women to retain property. He also carried a bill through Parliament abolishing primogenitory succession, and placing real property left by a deceased on the same lines as personal property. The Companies Act, which safeguards the public interested in companies, was also introduced to the legislature by Mr. Parker. Both as a private member and a member of the Government he has helped considerably in the drafting and amendment of bills. While a member of the Forrest Cabinet Mr. Parker acted as Attorney-General when Mr. S. Burt was absent from Perth through ill-health.

To the new and rapidly expanding mining industry Mr. Parker has rendered some assistance. He has invested capital in mines and is a director of the London and Perth Exploration Company, Limited. He is also a local director of the noted firm of Dalgety and Company, and the Mutual Life Assurance Society. On July 27, 1872, Mr. Parker married Amey Katherine, daughter of the late Hon. George Walpole Leake, Q.C., M.L.C. His residence is "Karrakatta Mea," in St. George's Terrace, Perth.

Soon after the granting of autonomy to Western Australia the colony expanded beyond all anticipation, Every industry has since found a new life, and population has more than trebled itself. For his services in securing this boon Mr. Parker will long be remembered. He has given Western Australia of his best talents. Should long life be granted him much useful work may yet be confidently expected from him. With his faculty for hard work, and making the best of all past experience: he is admirably suited to assist in guiding the destinies of this young colony.

[In May, 1897, Mr. Parker resigned his seat in the Legislative Council in order to contest the Perth electorate in the Legislative Assembly. He was defeated by a narrow majority.—Ed.]