Joseph Cook

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The Right Honourable
Sir Joseph Cook
6th Prime Minister of Australia
Elections: 1913, 1914
In office
24 June 1913 – 17 September 1914
Monarch George V
Governor-General Lord Denman
Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson
Preceded by Andrew Fisher
Succeeded by Andrew Fisher
Member of the Australian Parliament for Parramatta
In office
30 March 1901 – 10 December 1921
Preceded by Seat Created
Succeeded by Herbert Pratten
Personal details
Born (1860-12-07)7 December 1860
Silverdale, Staffordshire, England
Died 30 July 1947(1947-07-30) (aged 86)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Nationality British
Political party Labor, Free Trade/Anti-Socialist, Fusion
Spouse(s) Mary Turner
Relations Richard Cecil Cook (son)
Children 8
Religion Methodism

Sir Joseph Cook, GCMG (7 December 1860 – 30 July 1947) was an Australian politician and the sixth Prime Minister of Australia.[1] He worked in the coal mines of Silverdale, Staffordshire during his early life, he emigrated to Lithgow, New South Wales during the late 1880s, and became General-Secretary of the Western Miners Association in 1887.

A founding member of the Australian Labor Party, Cook was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly as Member for Hartley on 3 July 1891.[2] Later Cook switched to the Free Trade Party, and was a minister in the cabinet of Premier George Reid from 1894 to 1899. Cook was Postmaster-General 3 August 1894 to 27 August 1898.[2] During Australia's first federal election in 1901, Cook was elected unopposed to the federal seat of Parramatta, and served as the deputy to Reid, then Alfred Deakin, following the creation of the Commonwealth Liberal Party from Cook's and Deakin's parties.

As leader of the Liberal Party, Cook became Prime Minister following the 1913 elections; but he only had a one-seat majority in the lower house and no majority at all in the upper house, so he repeatedly sought to obtain a double dissolution. The outbreak of World War I just before the September 1914 election led to a Labor victory. Following a split in the Labor party in 1916, Cook joined William Morris Hughes' Nationalist Party of Australia, and following the Nationalist victory in the 1917 election, served as Minister for the Navy, then Treasurer under Hughes. In 1921 Cook resigned from the federal parliament, and was appointed Australian High Commissioner in London. During 1928 and 1929, he headed the Royal Commission into South Australia as affected by Federation. He died in Sydney on 30 July 1947 at Bellevue Hill,[3] aged 86.

Early years[edit]

Cook was born as Joseph Cooke to William and Margaret (née Fletcher) Cooke in Silverdale, a small mining town near Newcastle-under-Lyme. He had no formal education and worked in the coal mines from the age of nine. As a result of the Elementary Education Act, 1870, Joseph was compelled to return to his desk at the village school,St Lukes C of E School. His short experience in the local coalmine taught Joseph to appreciate what he had been missing in school and aided by Edwin Smitheman, his headmaster and his staff, the young man's intellectual activity was quickly stimulated. At the age of twelve Joseph left school a second time and returned to his former employment at the local colliery. However, as a result of Smitheman's attention, together with that of his parents, an exceptionally strong ambition to improve his position became implanted in him. This ambition was to become one of his most prominent characteristics, revealed first in a drive for self-improvement and, later on in life, his determination to succeed in politics. During his teens he embraced Primitive Methodism, and marked his conversion by dropping the "e" from his surname.[4] He married Mary Turner on 8 August 1885 at Wolstanton, England; the couple had 5 sons and 3 daughters. They shortly after emigrated to New South Wales.[5]

The family settled in Lithgow and worked in the coal mines, becoming General-Secretary of the Western Miners Association in 1887. In 1888, he participated in demonstrations against Chinese immigration.[6] He was also active in the Single Tax League and was a founding member of the Australian Labor Party in 1891.[7]

Early political career[edit]

Joseph Cook in 1894

Cook was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly as MP for the coalfields seat of Hartley in 1891, in Labor's first big breakthrough in Australian politics.[2] It was the first time Labor had won a seat in any parliament in Australia.

In 1894, however, Cook was the leader of those parliamentarians who refused to accept the Labor Party's decision to make all members sign a "pledge" to be bound by decisions of the Parliamentary Labor Party (Caucus).[6] Cook's protest was grounded on Labor's objection to protectionism, and a realization that tariffs were central to relations with Britain.[8] For years Cook was seen as a 'class traitor' by the Labor party.[5] By the end of the year, he had become a follower of George Reid's Free Trade Party. He was a minister in Reid's government from 1894–99.[7] Cook's conversion to liberal economics was immediately rewarded in 1894 with the post of Postmaster-General. He became an invaluable ally of Reid. Nonetheless the two men had distinctly different characters, and remained colleagues at a distance.

Federal Parliament[edit]

When the first federal Parliament was elected in 1901, Cook was elected, unopposed by Labor, member for Parramatta, a seat which then included the Lithgow area.[6] By this time, there was very little left of Cook's roots in Labor. He became deputy leader of the Free Trade Party, but did not hold office in Reid's 1904–05 ministry, mainly because Reid needed to offer portfolios to independent Protectionist members.

When Reid retired from the party leadership in 1908, Cook agreed to merge the Anti-Socialist Party (the Free Trade Party was renamed prior to the 1906 federal election) with Alfred Deakin's Protectionists in an effort to counter Labor's popularity. Reid became deputy leader of the new Commonwealth Liberal Party, also known as "the Fusion." Cook served as Defence Minister in Deakin's 1909–1910 ministry, then succeeded Deakin as Liberal leader when the government was defeated by Labor in the 1910 elections. He had by this time become completely philosophically opposed to socialism.

Prime Minister[edit]

Portrait of Joseph Cook

At the 1913 elections Cook won a one-seat majority in the House of Representatives, becoming the sixth Prime Minister of Australia. However, Labor still had a majority in the Senate. Unable to govern effectively due to a hostile Senate, Cook decided to trigger a double dissolution election under section 57 of the Constitution of Australia. He introduced a bill abolishing preferential employment for trade union members in the public service. As expected, the Senate rejected the bill, giving Cook an excuse to seek a double dissolution.

Unfortunately for Cook, World War I broke out in the middle of the campaign for the September 1914 election. Fisher was able to remind the voters that it was Labor that had favoured an independent Australian defence force, which the conservatives had opposed. Cook was defeated on a five-seat swing, and Fisher resumed office.[7]

Nationalist Party[edit]

In 1916, the Labor government split when Hughes (who had succeeded Fisher as Prime Minister the previous year) tried to introduce conscription. Hughes was able to stay in office after getting confidence-and-supply support from Cook. Later in 1916, Hughes' National Labor Party merged with the Commonwealth Liberals to form the Nationalist Party. Although it was dominated by former Liberals, Hughes was named the new party's leader, with Cook as deputy leader. Cook became Minister for the Navy in Hughes' reconfigured government. The Nationalists had big victories over the ALP in the 1917 and 1919 elections.

Cook was part of the Australian delegation at the Paris Peace Conference

Paris 1919 Australian delegation

where he defended the White Australia Policy and supported Australia's annexation of German New Guinea. He gave up the Navy portfolio in favour of becoming Treasurer (finance minister) from 1920–21.

Last years/death[edit]

Cook resigned from Parliament in 1921 and was appointed Australian High Commissioner in London, where he served until 1927. During 1928 and 1929, he headed the Royal Commission into South Australia as affected by Federation. He died in Sydney in 1947, aged 86.


Bust of Joseph Cook by sculptor Wallace Anderson located in the Prime Ministers Avenue in the Ballarat Botanical Gardens

Cook was appointed to the Privy Council on 16 July 1914.[9] He was knighted in 1918 as Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG).[10]

In 1972, he was honoured on a postage stamp bearing his portrait issued by Australia Post.[11]

Cook is the only (eligible) Prime Minister who does not have a federal electorate named after him. Although there is a seat called Cook, that was named not after the Prime Minister but after Captain James Cook. To resolve the problem, the Australian Electoral Commission stated at the 2009 Federal redistribution of New South Wales that the seat was now considered to be named for both of them.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Prime Facts 19" (PDF). Old Parliament House. The Australian Prime Ministers Centre. Retrieved 10 January 2008. 
  2. ^ a b c "Sir Joseph Cook (1860-1947)". Members of Parliament. Parliament of New South Wales. 7 October 2013. 
  3. ^ "Joseph Cook". Retrieved 31 October 2014. 
  4. ^; F.K. Crowley, 'Sir Joseph Cook, 1860-1947', ""Australian Dictionary of Biography"", MUP, 1981.
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^ a b c Crowley, F.K. "Cook, Sir Joseph (1860–1947)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Australian National University. Retrieved 10 February 2010. 
  7. ^ a b c "Joseph Cook profile at". Australia's Prime Ministers. National Archives of Australia. Retrieved 10 February 2010. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ The London Gazette: no. 28850. p. 5539. 17 July 1914. Retrieved 17 December 2007.
  10. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30831. p. 9264. 6 August 1918. Retrieved 17 December 2007.
  11. ^ "Australian postage stamp". Australian Stamp and Coin Company. Retrieved 10 February 2010. 
  12. ^ Australian Electoral Commission NSW redistribution, 2009

Further reading[edit]


  • Joseph Cook's Diary, 1909-1928, National Archives of Australia, Canberra AFC.


  • Atkinson, Ann (1995), Dictionary of Famous Australians, Allen and Unwin.
  • Bebbington, G. (1988), Pit Boy to Prime Minister: Rt Hon Sir Joseph Cook PC, GCMG, Centre of Local and Community History, University of Keele.
  • Crowley, F. K, Joseph Cook, Australian Dictionary of Biography, (eds. 1966, 1981) Melbourne University Press
  • Hughes, Colin A (1976), Mr Prime Minister. Australian Prime Ministers 1901–1972, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, Victoria, Ch. 7; ISBN 0-19-550471-2
  • Marsden, Susan; National Archives of Australia (2002), Joseph Lyons : guide to archives of Australia's prime ministers, National Archives of Australia, ISBN 978-0-642-34481-6 
  • Murdoch, John (1996), Sir Joe: A Political Biography of Sir Joseph Cook, Minerva Press, London.
  • Rickard, John (2000), 'Sir Joseph Cook,' in Michelle Grattan (ed.), Australian Prime Ministers, New Holland, Frenchs Forest, New South Wales, pages 89–98; ISBN 1-86436-756-3
  • Murdoch, R.M, Joseph Cook: a political biography unpublished PhD thesis, University of New South Wales, 1968.

Marsden, Susan; National Archives of Australia (2002), Joseph Lyons : guide to archives of Australia's prime ministers, National Archives of Australia, ISBN 978-0-642-34481-6 

Parliament of New South Wales
Preceded by
George Donald
Member for Hartley
Succeeded by
John Hurley
Parliament of Australia
New division Member for Parramatta
Succeeded by
Herbert Pratten
Party political offices
Preceded by
Steering Committee of 5 elected in 1891
Leader of the Australian Labor Party in New South Wales
Succeeded by
James McGowen
Preceded by
George Reid
Leader of the Anti-Socialist Party
Party disbanded
Preceded by
Alfred Deakin
Leader of the Commonwealth Liberal Party
Political offices
Preceded by
George Reid
Leader of the Opposition of Australia
Succeeded by
Alfred Deakin
Preceded by
George Pearce
Minister for Defence
Succeeded by
George Pearce
Preceded by
Alfred Deakin
Leader of the Opposition of Australia
Succeeded by
Andrew Fisher
Preceded by
Andrew Fisher
Prime Minister of Australia
Preceded by
King O'Malley
Minister for Home Affairs
Succeeded by
William Archibald
Preceded by
Andrew Fisher
Leader of the Opposition of Australia
Succeeded by
Frank Tudor
Preceded by
Jens Jensen
Minister for the Navy
Succeeded by
William Laird Smith
Preceded by
William Watt
Treasurer of Australia
Succeeded by
Stanley Bruce
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Andrew Fisher
Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom
Succeeded by
Sir Granville Ryrie