Alexander Peacock bigraphy, stories - Australian politician

Alexander Peacock : biography

11 June 1861 - 7 October 1933

Sir Alexander James Peacock, KCMG (11 June 1861 – 7 October 1933), Australian politician, was the 20th Premier of Victoria.

Peacock was born of Scottish descent at Creswick, the first Victorian Premier born after the gold rush of the 1850s and the attainment of self-government in Victoria. He was distantly related to the family of the politician Andrew Peacock. Educated at a local school, Peacock passed the Victorian civil service examination at 13 years of age, becoming briefly a school teacher and a clerk in Melbourne. Returning to Creswick, he worked as a mine manager, establishing his own business and buying several gold mines. He was prominent in the Australian Natives' Association and the movement for Australian federation in the 1880s and '90s.

Premier for the second time

Peacock was Minister for Public Instruction in the government of William Watt in 1913, and in June 1914 Watt resigned so he contest a seat in Federal Parliament, Peacock once again became Premier, and also Treasurer, at the head of a Liberal government.

Soon afterwards, World War I broke out, and Peacock's government joined the initial enthusiastic response to the war. By 1916, however, the war was placing increasing strain on the Victorian economy, as labour shortages hit its important rural industries. This caused increased opposition to the Liberals in rural areas, led by the Victorian Farmers Union (which later became the Country Party). In 1917 the Liberals were renamed the Nationalist Party. At the November 1917 elections, the Nationalists were split into pro and anti-Peacock factions, and the anti-Peacock group swept the country seats. The anti-Peacock leader John Bowser then became Premier.

Peacock was a very durable politician, however, and by 1920 he was back in office, as Minister for Public Instruction and Minister for Labour in Harry Lawson's Nationalist government, positions he held until 1924.

Entry in Parliament

In 1889 Peacock was elected to the Victorian Legislative Assembly for the seat of Clunes and Allendale, near Ballarat, which he held for 43 years. Although he was a moderate liberal, he was a minister without portfolio in the conservative government of James Munro (1890–1892), and Minister for Public Instruction in the Shiels government (1892–1893) and Postmaster-General 15 November 1892 to 23 January 1893.

He was Chief Secretary in both the governments of Sir George Turner from 1894 to 1899 and 1900 to 1901, being also Minister for Public Instruction in the first and Minister for Labour in the second.  

In 1897 Peacock was elected as one of the Victorian delegates to the Constitutional Convention which wrote the Australian Constitution.

Premier for the third time

The coalition government that Lawson formed broke down in March 1924 when the Country Party made demands Lawson would not accept. The Country Party ministers resigned, and then united with Labor to bring Lawson down. Lawson resigned and Peacock was again chosen as leader of the Nationalist Party and became Premier for the third time. He was still a liberal at heart, however, and immediately brought in a bill to reduce the disproportionate representation of country areas, a long-standing grievance. But his own followers rebelled and Peacock called an election, at which Labor emerged as the largest party, though well short of a majority. Peacock resigned again, and was succeeded by a minority Labor government led by George Prendergast.

After a few months on the backbench Peacock returned as Minister for Public Instruction and Minister for Labour in John Allan's Country Party government, holding these positions until 1927, when he left ministerial office for the last time, 37 years after holding his first portfolio. In 1928 he was elected Speaker, a position he held until his death in 1933. His widow Millie, Lady Peacock, won the by-election at Allandale caused by his death, becoming the first woman member of the Legislative Assembly.

Premier for the first time

In 1901, he chose not to stand for new Parliament of Australia. This was partly because the federal electorate covering the area he represented, the seat of Ballaarat, was being contested by Alfred Deakin. Instead, he stayed in Victorian politics and when Premier Turner resigned to contest the first federal elections, Peacock succeeded him and became Premier.

But by this time public support for the liberals was waning, and the new conservative leader, William Irvine, mounted a public campaign for "retrenchment"—reduction in the size of the Parliament and the public service, and cuts to government spending. Peacock as a good liberal resisted this campaign, but in June 1902 Irvine carried a vote of no-confidence in Peacock's government and at the subsequent election the liberals and their Labor allies were heavily defeated. He was made a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1902.

Peacock stayed in opposition during Irvine's ministry, but in 1907 he returned to office as Chief Secretary and Minister for Labour in the government of Thomas Bent. By this time the distinction between liberals and conservatives was fading in the face of the rising challenge of the Labor Party, and from about this time the non-Labor members became officially the Liberal Party.

Mason

Peacock served as Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of Victoria (Masonic Lodge or Freemasons) from 1900-1905.Kent Henderson, The Masonic Grand Masters of Australia, Ian Drakeford Publishing, Bayswater, 1988, pp.162-164 At age 39 he was the youngest person ever to obtain that position in Australian Freemasonry, before or since.Ibid, p.163 He pleaded heavy parliamentary commitments when he retired as Grand Master in 1905.

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