Sir Joseph Carruthers
Carruthers in 1898.
|16th Premier of New South Wales|
29 August 1904 – 1 October 1907
|Governor||Sir Harry Rawson|
|Preceded by||Thomas Waddell|
|Succeeded by||Charles Wade|
21 December 1857|
Kiama, New South Wales
|Died||10 December 1932
Waverley, Sydney, New South Wales
|Political party||Liberal and Reform Association|
|Spouse(s)||Louise Marion Roberts m. 1879 dis. 1895
Alice Burnett m. 1898
According to Percival Serle, few premiers of New South Wales succeeded in doing so much distinguished work. Early in his career, Henry Parkes, recognized Carruthers' untiring energy and ability, acknowledged that if Carruthers' comparatively frail body had allowed him, he might have done even more remarkable work for his own state or for the Commonwealth.
Carruthers was born in Kiama, New South Wales. His father, John Carruthers, was unable to pay for his son's secondary education, and the boy was sent to the William Street and Fort Street High School, an academically selective public school. After a short term at the Goulburn High School, he went on to the University of Sydney and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1876. Two years later, he took his Master of Arts degree and was admitted to practice as a solicitor, where he remained for some years. In December 1879, he married Louise Marion Roberts.
In 1887, Carruthers obtained the most votes for the four-member Legislative Assembly seat of Canterbury, on a platform of local issues, free trade, social reform, land reform, industrial conciliation and arbitration, and an elective Legislative Council. He held Canterbury until 1894, when he switched to the new seat of St George. In March 1889, as Minister of Public Instruction, he joined Henry Parkes's last ministry, and soon showed himself to be an energetic administrator. He took a special interest in technical schools, particularly Ultimo Technical College, which later established a great reputation. Parkes resigned in October 1891, but when the Reid ministry was formed in August 1894, Carruthers was given the position of Secretary for Lands, and passed an important Crown Lands Act in 1895. The act of 1861 had not solved the perennial problems between the squatters and the selectors, but the new Act made an important change by dividing pastoral leases into two; one half of which was to be available for free selectors, while the pastoral lessee was able to obtain a long term for the other half. Another important aspect was that the right of the Crown tenants to the value of their improvements, was recognized. Carruthers made an able speech in introducing this measure and his reforms were widely supported.
In 1895, he divorced his wife and was granted custody of their children. In 1897, in the Truth, John Norton accused him of irregularities in his divorce, immorality in his private life, and land abuses as Secretary for Lands. Norton was prosecuted for criminal libel but the jury could not agree on a verdict. In July 1899, he took over the position of Treasurer but a few weeks later, Reid was defeated and resigned.
Carruthers was an ardent federalist, which he saw as supporting a White Australia Policy, and was elected third on the list as one of the 10 New South Wales representatives at the 1897 Federal convention. At the Adelaide session held in March 1897, he was appointed a member of the constitutional committee, and when the draft constitution came to be considered by the various legislatures, he introduced the bill in the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales on 5 May 1898. It was a difficult task as there was considerable opposition in that chamber, and various amendments were suggested. At the September meeting of the convention held in Sydney, the longest debate took place over the question of deadlocks, and Carruthers proposed, carried by 28 votes to 13, a proposition that in certain circumstances, there should be a joint sitting of both Houses at which a three-fifths majority should carry the measure. This was altered in 1899, to an absolute majority of the total number of the members of both Houses. At the Melbourne session held early in 1898, he fought vigorously for the irrigation rights of New South Wales.
With the coming of Federation in 1901, Reid went to the Federal House and Carruthers became leader of the New South Wales opposition Liberal and Reform Association, the successor to the Free Trade Party. His party won the July 1904 election on "an alliance of Liberalism, temperance and Protestantism", and he was called upon to form a ministry. Although he had a majority of only one in the House, his ministry never seemed to be in real danger during its term of office of over three years. As Premier and Treasurer, he did admirable work and not only showed increasing surpluses each year, but at the same time, succeeded in reducing taxation and railway rates. His Local Government Act of 1906 introduced a system which persists to today, and a beginning was made on the Burrinjuck irrigation dam. Between 1904 and 1907, closer settlement schemes made nearly six million acres (24,000 km²) available for settlement. In 1907, he succeeded in bringing about a "fusion" of the Liberal and Reform Association, and the Progressive Party, to oppose the Australian Labor Party in New South Wales.
In 1905-06, a Royal Commission inquired into land scandals and investigated accusations made against Carruthers and the behaviour of his law firm. He testified before it eight times. The commissioner found that nothing in the evidence implicated Carruthers, but he gave up his law practice for a few years. These accusations were raised again in the 1907 election. To distract attention, even suggestion secession, he launched an attack on the Federal Government's recent increase in tariffs, particularly on wire-netting. He fought a strenuous election campaign, overtaxed his strength, and was obliged to retire temporarily from politics in September. In October 1908, he entered the Legislative Council. Though he did not hold office again for many years, he was a power behind the scenes in the politics of his day. Much interested in primary production, he had model farms of his own in the south west of New South Wales, and he was chairman of a select committee on agriculture in 1920-1. In April 1922 he joined the coalition ministry under Sir G. W. Fuller as vice-president of the executive council and leader of the upper House, and remained in office until June 1925. He died on 10 December 1932. A state funeral was attended by many notable Sydney citizens at All Saints Church, Woollahra on 12 December 1932, and later at his burial at South Head Cemetery. He was twice married and was survived by Lady Carruthers, three sons and four daughters.
Carruthers had many interests. In his younger days he played both cricket and football for his university, and in later years became a leading bowler. He was chairman of the New South Wales cricket association and the Board of Associated Race Clubs; a trustee of the art gallery, and a member of the university senate. For 21 years, he represented the district where the spot of James Cook landing in Australia was located. Through his efforts, a large area there was set aside as a national park around the close of the century. In 1908, he wrote a letter to The Times which led to the erection of a statue of Captain Cook in London, and on his suggestion, the territorial government of Hawaii later dedicated to the public, the land surrounding the bay where Cook was killed. He also came to the conclusion that Cook's name required vindicating in some areas, and in 1930, John Murray published for him his Captain James Cook, R.N. One Hundred and fifty years after. In these as in other things, Carruthers showed that he belonged to the type of man who, seeing the necessity for something being done immediately, does it. He was a friend of Frederick Earle Winchcombe, who was the founding President of the Wildlife Preservation Society of Australia. Carruthers followed Winchcombe as President of the Society in 1911, serving only one term of office.
- Serle, Percival. "Carruthers, Sir Joseph Hector McNeil (1857 - 1932)". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Project Gutenberg Australia. Retrieved 26 April 2007.
- "Sir Joseph Hector McNeil Carruthers (1857 - 1932)". Members of Parliament. Parliament of New South Wales. Retrieved 8 February 2010.
- Ward, John M. "Carruthers, Sir Joseph Hector McNeil (1856 - 1932)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Australian National University. Retrieved 26 April 2007.