Open main menu

The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Service, Hon. James

Service, Hon. James, M.L.C., is the son of the late Robert Service, and was born at Kilwinning, in Ayrshire, in Nov. 1823. Having formed relations with the eminent Glasgow firm of Thomas Corbett & Co., Mr. Service emigrated to Australia when just thirty years old, and settling in Melbourne, ultimately started the well-known commercial house with which his name has ever since been allied. Mr. Service was first brought into prominence through his connection with the agitation for erecting Emerald Hill into a separate municipality, of which when formed he was elected the first chairman. In 1857 he was returned to the Assembly for Melbourne, as an opponent of the O'Shanassy Government, but was unsuccessful at the general election two years later, when he stood for Emerald Hill. He was, however, promptly returned for the country constituency of Ripon and Hampden, and retained the seat till 1862, when he resigned, preparatory to paying a visit to England. In the meantime he had been in office for a brief interval (Oct. 1859 to Sept. 1860) as Minister of Lands in the Nicholson Government, and in this capacity introduced the first Land Bill, involving the important principle of selection before survey. It was not, however, passed, owing to the strenuous opposition of the Upper House squatters. In connection with the contest with the Council over this bill, circumstances arose within the Cabinet which convinced Mr. Service that his personal position would be stultified were he to continue a member of the Ministry, and, to the great regret of his colleagues, he therefore resigned; Mr. Francis, with characteristic chivalrous impetuosity, electing to go out with him. Both gentlemen subsequently declined to join the Heales Ministry. As a private member Mr. Service conferred an enormous boon on the colony by carrying through the Victorian Parliament what is popularly known as the Torrens Act, for facilitating the transfer of real property. He returned from England to find the colony plunged in the throes of the conflict brought about by the protectionist tendencies of the MᶜCulloch tariff. Being a staunch free-trader, Mr. Service took the unpopular side; and though he contested several seats in the interim, was kept out of Parliament till 1874, when he was returned for Maiden, for which constituency he sat till 1881, when he resigned prior to paying a second visit to England. Mr. Service was thus absent from the Assembly throughout the embittered conflict with the Upper Chamber over the tariff and Darling grant tacks. Though an unswerving free-trader, advocating his views on every hustings at which he appeared, Mr, Service did not believe in the utility of constantly tilting in Parliament against a policy which the country had unmistakably approved by an overwhelming majority; and he therefore tendered his support to the administration of his old friend Mr. Francis, with whose general principles he agreed. In July 1874 Mr. Francis retired; and his Ministry was reconstructed under Mr. Kerferd, who succeeded in inducing Mr. Service to become Treasurer in the new combination. During his brief tenure of office Mr. Service slightly revised the tariff, but the next year, when he boldly proposed to reduce the ad valorem duties from 20 to 15 per cent., he was less fortunate. It is usual to consider the acceptance of the first item by a fair majority as tantamount to the acceptance of the entire budget, and this was obtained; but subsequently, there being only a majority of two in favour of adding two shillings to the spirit duty, the Ministry decided to appeal to the country, and being refused a dissolution, resigned office, making way for the first cabinet of Mr. (now Sir Graham) Berry. Mr. Service sat in opposition to this Government, and to that of Sir James MᶜCulloch, which replaced it, and during the session of 1876 delivered a scathing indictment of the latter's financial policy. The effect on the House and the country was enormous, and the blow was repeated with, if possible, added momentum, in a speech made at Maldon during the famous electoral contest of 1877. The forces of Sir James MᶜCulloch were annihilated, and the Stonewall party came back from the polls with an overwhelming majority. Mr. Berry, their victorious chief, recognising the potential assistance afforded him by Mr. Service, offered him any post outside the premiership, provided he would aid the new Ministry with the weight of his great financial authority. And though Mr. Service felt obliged to decline the offer, he gave the Berry Cabinet an independent support until the Black Wednesday dismissals occasioned its withdrawal. In 1880 Mr. Service formed his first Ministry; but not succeeding in obtaining a sufficient majority to carry his Reform Bill, which, whilst popularising the franchise of the Upper House, increased its financial powers, through the Lower Chamber, he appealed to the country, and, being placed in a minority, made way for Mr. Berry's return to power. Mr. Service now revisited England, coming back to the colony just in time to take part in the general election of 1883, when he was returned to Parliament for Castlemaine as the recognised leader of the Constitutional party—as the Conservatives had been rechristened. Coalescing with Mr. Berry, who, as leader of the Liberals, had a nearly equal following, Mr. Service became Premier and Chief Secretary of the colony. Amongst the principal achievements of the new Ministry were the measures by which appointments to the Civil Service and the control of the State railways were transferred from political hands into those of permanent Commissions. The general policy of the Government, especially in regard to Western Pacific affairs, tended strongly, also, to the development of a more decidedly Australian sentiment; whilst, in regard to the question of federation, Mr. Service "took up the mantle" of Sir Thomas McIlwraith, the well-known Queensland statesman, who had temporarily retired from public life; the result being the holding of the Sydney Convention and the formation of the Federal Council of Australasia. Mr. Service resigned at the end of 1885, and shortly afterwards left on a third visit to England, being subsequently appointed one of the four representatives of Victoria at the Colonial Conference of 1887. Mr. Service believes, with Sir S. Griffith, that this Conference should be the precursor of other similar conclaves, and is strongly of opinion that if the Empire is to be saved from the provincialism both of the Colonial and the English legislatures, the nebulous feeling in favour of Imperial federation must shortly take concrete form in a superior council, in which the entire Empire will be represented, and which will have the supreme control of all purely Imperial affairs. On his return to the colony Mr. Service, who generally approved the policy of the late Gillies-Deakin Government, evinced a strong disinclination to renew his participation in active politics. He however accepted a seat in the Upper House for the Melbourne province, and occasionally interposes when questions of colonial or Imperial importance, with which he has been identified in the past, are brought on the tapis. It was a matter of general regret that Mr. Service should have been absent from the Melbourne Federation Conference of 1890, and still more that he should have felt bound to disregard the unanimous wish of the Legislative Council that he should attend as one of their representatives at the Sydney Convention in 1891. It is understood that Mr. Service has on two occasions refused the honour of knighthood.