|14th Premier of Victoria|
18 February 1886 – 5 November 1890
|Preceded by||James Service|
|Succeeded by||James Munro|
Lanark, Glasgow, Scotland
|Died||12 September 1903
Carlton, Melbourne, Victoria
|Spouse(s)||Harriett Turquand Fillan|
Gillies was born at Overnewton near Glasgow, Scotland, where his father had a market garden. He was sent to the high school until he was about 14, when he entered an office in Glasgow. In 1852 he arrived in Melbourne and travelled to the goldfields at Ballarat, where he worked first as a miner and later as a businessman and company director.
Gillies was elected to the Victorian Legislative Assembly for Ballarat West in 1861, holding this seat until 1868. A conservative, he was President of the Board of Lands and Works in the short-lived government of Charles Sladen in 1868, which cost him his seat at Ballarat, a strongly liberal constituency. He was elected for Maryborough 1870–77, Rodney 1877–89, Eastern Suburbs 1889–94 and Toorak 1897–1903. He was Commissioner for Railways and Roads in the ministries of James Francis and George Kerferd from 1872 to 1875 and Agriculture Minister in the third government of Sir James McCulloch in 1875–77.
In both the first (1880) and second (1883–86) Service governments Gillies was Commissioner for Railways and Vice-President of the Board of Lands and Works. He was also Minister for Public Instruction 1884–86. When Service retired at the time of the 1886 elections, Gillies succeeded him as Premier, forming a coalition government with the liberal leader Alfred Deakin, and winning a comfortable majority over a divided opposition at the elections.
The Gillies ministry presided over the climax of the long economic boom which Victoria had enjoyed since the gold rushes of the 1850s. There was at this time no regulation of the banking and finance industries, and no expectation that governments could or should protect investors against unsound or unscrupulous financial schemes. The result was the great Victorian Land Boom, which took off in 1887 and reached a climax in 1890. More than 50 million pounds of speculative capital from Britain flowed into the colony, much of which was spent buying land in suburban Melbourne at hugely inflated prices. Gillies was not really responsible for this, although his government did nothing to prevent it.
The Gillies government was easily re-elected in 1889, but in 1890 the Boom toppled over and a sharp recession followed. In October Gillies was defeated in a confidence motion when a section of his own followers led by James Munro turned against him. In 1891 the recession turned into a depression, and Gillies was among the many speculators and shareholders who were wiped out in the crash.
Gillies withdrew from active politics for several years while his finances recovered. In 1902 he was elected Speaker, a post he held until his death the following year. He had always been considered to be a bachelor, but after his death it was disclosed that in 1897 while in London as Agent-General he had married Mrs Turquand Fillan who survived him without issue. He declined the honour of K.C.M.G. in 1887.
A portrait of Gillies by Josephine Muntz-Adams hangs in Parliament House Victoria.
- Geoff Browne, A Biographical Register of the Victorian Parliament, 1900-84, Government Printer, Melbourne, 1985
- Don Garden, Victoria: A History, Thomas Nelson, Melbourne, 1984
- Kathleen Thompson and Geoffrey Serle, A Biographical Register of the Victorian Parliament, 1856-1900, Australian National University Press, Canberra, 1972
- Raymond Wright, A People's Counsel. A History of the Parliament of Victoria, 1856-1990, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1992
- Margot Beever, 'Gillies, Duncan (1834 - 1903)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, MUP, 1972, pp. 250–252.
|Premier of Victoria