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The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Berry, Hon. Sir Graham

Berry, Hon. Sir Graham, K.C.M.G., Treasurer of Victoria, is the son of the late Benjamin Berry, of Twickenham, and Clara Graham, his wife. He was born at Twickenham on August 28th, 1822, and emigrated to Victoria in 1852. In 1860 Mr. Berry purchased the Collingwood Observer, which he conducted for a considerable period. The same year Mr. Berry was elected to the Victorian Assembly under somewhat exceptional circumstances. A vacancy had occurred in East Melbourne through the death of the sitting member, and Mr. E. Cohen and Mr. Patrick O'Brien were contesting the vacancy, when suddenly a dissolution was granted, thus necessitating a dual election. In order to save expense it was agreed between the candidates that some one outside the colony should be nominated for the prior vacancy, and that the real contest would take place on the second election. This arrangement did not commend itself to the constituency, and at the nomination Mr. Berry's name was proposed, when, there being no other candidate, he was declared elected. At the general election Mr. Berry transferred his attentions to Collingwood, where he beat Mr. Langton, and was returned as an advanced Liberal and Protectionist. In 1864 he was re-elected for the same constituency. In the meantime Sir James MᶜCulloch had come into office, with Mr. (now Sir) George Verdon as Treasurer. The latter gentleman proposed the imposition of ad valorem duties, mainly on articles producible in the colony; and the budget was thus a step in the direction of that full policy of protection to native industries which was to be so astonishingly developed under succeeding administrations. Of that policy Mr. Berry had from his first entry into political life been a firm and consistent advocate, leading a small section of the House, who made the question their pièce de résistance. He accordingly welcomed the proposals of the Ministry as a promising instalment, and accorded them a cordial support in the great constitutional struggle which ensued on the tacking of the Customs Bill to the Appropriation Bill—a device resorted to in order to force the measure through the Upper House, by whom, however, it was set aside, thus leaving the Government without means to pay the salaries of the public servants and other Governmental expenses. In this extremity the Government had recourse to the device of borrowing from a bank, and confessing judgments, which is fully described in the notice of Sir James MᶜCulloch. This device found no favour with Mr. Berry, who had previously stumped the country on behalf of the Ministerial tack; and he lost no time in denouncing any payments except by the ordinary constitutional procedure, on the ground that the action taken by the Government was an absolute giving way on the part of the Assembly, and certain to lead to discomfiture. The country went wholly with Sir James MᶜCulloch, and, at the dissolution, Mr. Berry was badly beaten, both at Collingwood and for the Murray Boroughs, remaining out of Parliament for three years. In 1866 he joined with others in purchasing the Geelong Register, with which the Advertiser was shortly amalgamated, and went to reside in that town. Not long afterwards he unsuccessfully contested South Grant against Mr. Stutt; but in 1868 was returned for Geelong West, having in the meantime performed the active duties of editor of the Advertiser, and written most of the leading articles. Mr. Berry first acceded to ministerial office as Treasurer in the short-lived Macpherson Government in 1870. Beyond making his first budget speech, Mr. Berry had, however, very little opportunity of distinguishing himself, his chief being promptly displaced by Sir James MᶜCulloch. In 1871 Mr. Berry was again returned for Geelong West, and entered the Ministry of Sir Charles Gavan Duffy as Treasurer and Minister of Customs in June of that year. He, however, resigned the latter post in the following November, and finally left the Ministry in May 1872. In 1874 he was again returned for Geelong West. In the meantime the Francis and Kerferd Ministries intervened, the defeat of Mr. Service's budget In the latter Government bringing Mr. Berry into power for the first time, as Premier and Chief Secretary of Victoria, in August 1875. The introduction of a land tax caused the speedy defeat of the new Government. Mr. Berry thereupon applied for a dissolution, which was refused him by the Acting Governor (Sir William Stawell), and Sir James MᶜCulloch once more returned to power. Mr. Berry, however, holding that he had been unconstitutionally refused an appeal to the people, determined to block all Government business, with a view of forcing on a general election, his contention being that the majority in the Assembly were a decided minority in the country. He and his followers now received the sobriquet of "stonewallers"; and, whilst they blocked business in the House, stumped the country with extraordinary perseverance and success, Mr. Berry's platform deliverances exciting great enthusiasm throughout the colony. Sir James MᶜCulloch strove to put down Parliamentary obstruction by the imposition of a species of closure, which became famous under the designation of the "Iron Hand." By this means he warded off a dissolution until Parliament had run the statutory time. At the general election which ensued the tables were, however, completely turned, only a meagre remnant of his following being returned, the polls giving Mr. Berry an overwhelming majority. Sir James MᶜCulloch having resigned, the popular idol was sent for, and at once opened negotiations with Mr. Service, who had assumed an attitude of independent hostility to the MᶜCulloch Government, and with several leading members of the Opposition who had not been included in the previous Administration. They, however, all declined his overtures, though Mr. Service for a considerable time observed towards him a friendly neutrality; and Mr. Berry was obliged to be content with the materiel of his first Cabinet, with the exception of Mr. Munro, who refused office. Had the gentlemen to whom Mr. Berry primarily applied found it compatible with their sentiments to respond to the invitation, it is probable that most of the acerbity which characterised the proceedings of the next three years would never have been aroused—certainly it would never have reached the same height. It is beyond our scope to detail the particulars of the struggle which followed. A land tax, having for its object to restrict the accumulation of land in the hands of individuals, was carried through Parliament; but the inclusion of payment of members in the ordinary Appropriation Bill, instead of its being dealt with by a special bill, brought on the storm which had previously evaporated in protests, the Council setting it aside, whereupon a deadlock ensued, which lasted from May 1877 to April 1878, when a compromise was arrived at which saved the dignity of both parties. It was during this struggle that the dismissals of the civil servants took place on what has become memorable as Black Wednesday, Mr. Berry declining to consider any arrangements for the borrowing of funds similar to those which he had condemned when adopted by Sir James MᶜCulloch. Though the storm was somewhat allayed, Mr. Berry was so strongly impressed with the necessity of reorganising the constitution, with a view of defining the powers of the respective Houses, and of preventing deadlocks by providing a legislative safety-valve, that he introduced a measure containing the novel expedient of the plébiscite, combined with a system of nominated representatives. This measure was naturally repudiated by the Upper Chamber, involving as it did their complete obliteration; and in the winter of 1878-9 Mr. Berry undertook his famous mission to England known as "the Embassy," in conjunction with Mr. C. H. Pearson, with the view of inducing the British Government to bring a bill into the Imperial Parliament having for its object the reform of the Constitution of Victoria. The delegates had several interviews with Sir Michael Hicks Beach, the then Colonial Secretary, and obtained from him much good advice and a modified promise to interfere in case the deadlock proved irremediable after a further recourse to the country. With this small measure of comfort Mr. Berry had to be content, and returned to Victoria, where Sir B. O'Loghlen had been Acting Premier during his absence. One substantial result of his visit to London was the successful floating of a loan of £3,000,000 on behalf of the colony, which was rendered more remarkable from the fact that Mr. Berry insisted on fixing a higher minimum than the banks advised, and that the political disturbances of the preceding year had created feelings of distrust as to the stability of Victoria in the minds of English capitalists. In 1880 Mr. Berry reintroduced his Reform Bill, and then appealed to the country, in accordance with the advice of Sir M. Hicks Beach. The Ministry were, however, placed in a minority, and Mr. Service acceded to power in March 1880. He also, being impressed with the necessity for a substantial constitutional change, introduced a Reform Bill, which also proving abortive, he retired from office in August of the same year, when Mr. Berry once more assumed the Premiership, and succeeded in coming to a compromise with the Council on the basis of a Reform Bill, which considerably reduced the franchise and qualification for members of the Upper Chamber. Mr. Berry was subsequently defeated by a combination of Conservatives with the dissatisfied Liberals, and resigned office, when Sir Bryan O'Loghlen took the reins, and continued as Premier on sufferance until after the general election in Feb. 1883, when he and most of his small following lost their seats, and a House was returned in which the Conservatives, led by Mr. Service, and the Liberals, led by Mr. Berry, were almost equal in strength. To obviate a continuance of weak ministries and merely factious warfare, the Service-Berry coalition was formed, and conferred incalculable benefits on Victoria, until the voluntary termination of its tenure by the resignation of Messrs. Service and Berry in Feb. 1886. In the following March Mr. Berry quitted Victoria to take up the Agent-Generalship of the colony in succession to Mr. Murray Smith. He was also appointed Executive Commissioner to the Colonial and Indian Exhibition, for his services in connection with which he was created K.C.M.G. Sir Graham Berry was one of the representatives of Victoria at the Colonial Conference held in London in 1887, and took a prominent part in its proceedings. For his services in connection with the Paris Exhibition of 1889 he was appointed a Commander of the Legion of Honour by the French Government. Sir Graham married, in 1869, a daughter of John B. Evans, of Victoria. In Feb. 1889 Sir Graham Berry was reappointed Agent-General for a further term of three years, and the Munro Government having decided not to again renew his appointment, he left for Melbourne in Dec. 1891. When the Munro Government was reconstructed under Mr. Shiels, he was offered a portfolio, but declined to join the Ministry except in the capacity of Premier. At the General Election in April 1892 he was returned to the Assembly at the head of the poll for the East Bourke Boroughs, and a few days later accepted the post of Treasurer in the Shiels Ministry.