Henry Willis (politician)

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Henry Willis
Henry Willis.jpg
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Robertson
In office
29 March 1901 – 13 April 1910
Preceded by New seat
Succeeded by William Johnson
Personal details
Born (1860-04-06)6 April 1860
Port Adelaide, South Australia
Died 23 February 1950(1950-02-23) (aged 89)
Middle Harbour
Nationality Australian
Political party Free Trade (1901–06)
Anti-Socialist (1906–09)
Liberal (1909–13)
Occupation Tanner

Henry Willis (6 April 1860 – 23 February 1950) was an Australian politician, born in Port Adelaide, South Australia to English mariner John Willis and Jane, née Emmerson. Having been locally educated, Willis worked at his father's tannery, and in 1884 became a committee member of the South Australian Literary Societies' Union. The following year he had established his own tannery and was serving on the local board of health and Hindmarsh Municipal Council.

Municipal politics[edit]

Willis relocated to Sydney in 1888, intending to become a minister in the Church of England. He married Annie Louisa Moore at Campbelltown on 20 September 1889, with whom he had five children. He was the first mayor of Cabramatta and Canley Vale in 1893 and served on Camden (1897–99) and Randwick (1899–1902) councils.

Federal politics[edit]

Willis was elected to the Australian House of Representatives in 1901, as the Free Trade member for Robertson. He remained in this position until 1910, when he was defeated, but he gained the seat of Upper Hunter in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly later that year as a member of the Liberal Party.[1]

State politics[edit]

When Labor lost the majority in the Assembly in July 1911 it appointed Willis, who, as an Opposition member, had offered himself to avoid a dissolution, as Speaker. His Liberal colleagues accused him of betraying his party, some even calling him "Judas" and a "political leper". Having embraced Robert Lowe's ideals, Willis became a more active Speaker, claiming authority to remove members, censor their speeches and questions, and exclude journalists from the press gallery. He also completely reformed the Speaker's office and staff, but most of these reforms were ephemeral.

Willis's measures angered both Liberal and Labor members; once, he even summoned the police to eject seven Liberals from the House. He incurred several civil actions for assault and illegal ejection (John Perry's 1911 action was successful), and was labelled a "petty Napoleon". He became increasingly unpopular, constantly lampooned in the press, and almost hated within the House. He resigned the Speakership on 22 July 1913 and was defeated at the next election.

His last appearance in politics was as an unsuccessful Labor candidate for the state seat of North Shore in 1920.[2]

Later life[edit]

Willis personified the Victorian ideal of the "cultivated" gentleman, and was noted for his parliamentary eloquence. He possessed four estates, one of them in Queensland. Willis died at his home at Middle Harbour on 23 February 1950, and was survived by his wife, a son and two daughters.


  1. ^ "The Hon. Henry Willis (1860 - 1950)". Members of Parliament. Parliament of New South Wales. Archived from the original on 17 March 2011. Retrieved 9 February 2010. 
  2. ^ http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15882427


Parliament of Australia
New division Member for Robertson
1901 – 1910
Succeeded by
William Johnson
Parliament of New South Wales
Preceded by
William Ashford
Member for Upper Hunter
1910 – 1913
Succeeded by
Mac Abbott
Preceded by
John Cann
Speaker of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly
1911 – 1913
Succeeded by
Henry Morton