By now, Herbert considered Douglas to be “the recognised leader of the organised opposition.” This chapter explores the development and maturity of Douglas as a politician between 1864 and 1866. Principled and motivated by lofty ideals, this period demonstrated that he was also a politician and a pragmatist. As an independent on the opposition benches, he was free to pursue issues and express opinions in a manner that he was unable to in later years when in or at the head of the ministry. I will use these years to explore Douglas’s intense involvement in the parliamentary process, highlighting his stubborn independence, forthright sincerity and sense of fair play. I will also illustrate his propensity, as a relatively inexperienced member, to make errors of political judgement, and explore the consequences of his obstinacy.
Douglas’s agitation the previous year for a railway in the northern district had paid immediate dividends. Governor Bowen, in his opening address to parliament, after drawing attention to the construction of the first railway in the colony, then announced that the government would also construct a railway to link Rockhampton with the “rich pastoral and mining territory that lies to the westward.”
Douglas was stunned at this unexpected announcement – a confirmation of his success – and admitted that, “a feeling of satisfaction suffused me momentarily.” However, he soon voiced grave doubts over the viability of the project, for
however desirable a railway might be to the north, the measure proposed is not backed by any likelihood of a commensurate increase of traffic to the northern districts.Rather than “squandering money” on a 20-30 mile railway line, Douglas wanted the money spent on urgent facilities and services needed for his electorate.
In so doing, he demonstrated how far removed his conduct was from most of his peers, for he resolutely refused to accept this ‘gift’ if the government had to borrow money to pay for it. ‘Pork-barrelling,’ the supply of funds or projects for local improvements designed to ingratiate parliamentarians with their constituents, was foreign to his character. While Douglas advocated his constituents’ interests as doggedly as any other parliamentarian, it was in pursuit of practical and financially realistic outcomes rather than his own political aggrandisement or to benefit his electorate.
Although in favour of railways, he was against their premature construction and therefore refused to support the government’s railway policy. Douglas wanted a railway, but he understood that there were other, more pressing needs in his district: “The means of crossing rivers, the formation of bridges, and numberless other wants.”
The construction of a railway in the north, while desirable, would simply have to wait. This principled stand taken by Douglas was in stark contrast to his promises to his electorate, which he had energetically advocated in parliament the previous year. In an election campaign address in Rockhampton in April 1863 he had stated that “It is desirable in this, as in the southern portion of the colony, to carry out a system of railway communication.” The Rockhampton correspondent for the Brisbane Courier concurred and suggested that the Port Curtis electorate “should take Mr. Douglas’s advice, and ‘go in for a railway too.’”
This ‘about face’ was seized upon by Herbert, who clearly remembered how strongly Douglas had supported a petition, from his electorate, in the first session of parliament, which demanded that “a line from Rockhampton to Peak Downs may be proceeded with, mile for mile, with the proposed line from Ipswich to Dalby.” As Herbert gleefully and accurately noted of Douglas:
Then he had urged this as a necessary work; now, it was not the time to deal with it. He was not now in favour of the construction of a railway; while last year he was advocating it from day to day with great animation.This erratic parliamentary behaviour, while perhaps understandable from an honest and principled man, bemused and infuriated Douglas’s opposition colleagues as well as many of his constituents. While it was accepted at that time that parliamentarians would hold “ideas that were very much their own,” and that “their attitudes to life became of major importance,” the inconsistent behaviour exhibited by Douglas exasperated and confounded many. Although, as Bernays observed, “he had nothing to be ashamed of in his political career,” his refusal to act like a typical politician meant he often suffered accordingly, while Herbert vowed that parliament “would not forget the position that the honourable member had taken up.”
Why did Douglas push so hard for a railway and then reject it following its approval? An analysis of his actions provides a fascinating insight into the complexities at the heart of the man. Douglas demanded the railway while in opposition, believing it would not be approved because it was financially unviable. He pandered to the needs of his electorate assuming he would not have to face the consequences of his actions, truly the mark of a successful, if unprincipled, politician!
Nevertheless, because the demand for its construction was linked to the northern separation movement, the government believed it necessary to mollify the north by granting a railway to it in addition to the railway already approved in the south of the colony. Douglas, to his credit, in a move that set him apart from his parliamentary colleagues, recognised this was a bad decision, despite having being its main instigator, and was principled enough to tell the government as much. While he now acted according to his principles, his electorate, having received this unexpected gift, had no such qualms. The local newspaper articulated their glee:
A railway we must have - parliament has committed the colony to the work - its speedy execution is one of the first essentials to the progress of the district.Douglas, well aware of the support within his electorate for a railway, accepted its inevitability, and devised a scheme to finance it without bankrupting the colony, to be defrayed by the sale of lands in the districts through which it passed. Moreover, he advocated the adoption of this principle throughout the colony, pointing to its successful use in America and Canada.
He therefore introduced into parliament a Railways Commissioner Bill, to give legislative effect to his intent, but it failed at the second reading.  Douglas’s concerns proved to be well founded, for 1866 saw the abrupt suspension of railway construction in the colony following the failure of the British Agra and Masterman’s Bank, which had been financing railway construction in the colony.
Having failed to persuade his colleagues to finance the railway on these terms, Douglas then actively supported its construction; even suggesting that, “It was probable that within a short period, the railway would pay its own expenses, owing to the traffic which it would receive.”
Once again, Douglas had done a spectacular volte-face. He had campaigned for a railway in the northern district, and then opposed its construction before eventually accepting its inevitability: all this within twelve months. This event provides a valuable insight into the man and his modus operandi. It is almost as if we can watch his mind at work, while he formulates his stance on this issue, attempting to balance principle against reality and idealism against pragmatism. Initially Douglas recognised the need for a railway and fought long and hard to have it approved. Once this was successfully achieved, he objected to its construction, considering its mode of funding to be financially irresponsible and preferring it to be funded by land sales along its route.
Parliament rejected this proposal and less than a month later Douglas had apparently convinced himself that the volume of traffic on the railway would be sufficient to defray expenses without having to resort to land sales. He now supported this 30-mile line, and hoped “that in a comparatively short period they might see railways constructed to the north and west, to the extent of two or three hundred miles.”
The Brisbane Courier observed with some insight:
As it received the sanction of the parliament and therefore the country, he [Mr. Douglas] appears to consider that all he could do would not alter the existing state of things, and so he might as well chime in with them.Douglas’s behaviour on this matter was at variance with how parliamentarians routinely behaved. Few if any advocated strongly for projects, only to reject them when approved. His unorthodox approach confounded his fellow parliamentarians and confused many of his constituents. That Douglas’s parliamentary career progressed as far as it did was because he learned from these experiences and over time became more orthodox in his approach. Although he steadfastly continued to hold to his beliefs and principles, he also became more pragmatic and realistic. It was this political maturation, a mix of idealism and experience, which enabled him to succeed.
Douglas learnt that while idealism and good intentions were laudable objectives, in the reality problems were rarely black or white. They were all too often coloured in various shades of grey, and finding solutions invariably involved compromises to achieve what was possible rather than what was desirable. Douglas’s effectiveness as a politician was achieved through recognising this and, wherever possible, acting accordingly. Nevertheless, he would occasionally continue to refuse to compromise on a matter of principle.
Despite, or perhaps because of the contradictions inherent in his actions, Douglas was popular with his constituency. A principled populist, his beliefs and interests were broadly aligned with those of his electorate, who took comfort in the knowledge that he would not only fight for what he believed in, but would also recognise and represent the interests of his electorate even when not fully agreeing with them.
The Brisbane Courier also paid tribute to this relationship, noting after his resignation that:
The paper saw Douglas as a man who “was dignified and courteous, well educated, intellectual, fair-minded and honest.” It was these characteristics that appealed to his constituents, and which enabled him to play a prominent role in the political and administrative life of the colony.The electors of Port Curtis have lost a valuable representative … he has honestly and unflinchingly advocated the claims of the northern districts.
Not content with objecting to the proposed northern railway, mooted by the governor in the vice-regal speech at the commencement of the 1864 session, Douglas also took the highly unusual step of trying to have a portion of it amended. In a lengthy editorial, the Brisbane Courier displayed its displeasure at the introduction of this “injudicious amendment” by Douglas, preferring that there be no opposition to the vice-regal address. Nevertheless, it was only the intention to amend the vice-regal address rather than the content of Douglas’s speech that was unsatisfactory to the paper, for it also noted with pleasure that Douglas had:
made some trenchant remarks upon the railway policy of the government, … and charged them with a grievous omission in not referring to the financial condition of the colony in the opening speech.The paper soon changed its position on Douglas’s attempt to amend Bowen’s speech, for it observed a couple of weeks later that Douglas had merely “offered some opposition without any intention of persevering in it; and, as a matter of form, moved what amounted to a mere verbal amendment on the address.” It is possible from these conflicting accounts to gain some insight into the role and nature of colonial politics in an infant colony. While based on the parliamentary principles and institutions of England, in Queensland these standards and conventions were being tested and consolidated. What was unacceptable in the first instance could be airily dismissed “as a matter of form” a couple of weeks later. The attempted amendment by Douglas demonstrated his willingness to not only challenge the conduct of government business but also its associated conventions if he considered it necessary.
LandAs he had the previous year, Douglas again introduced land bills into parliament. These were the Reservation of Agricultural Lands in order to provide “for the future settlement of an agricultural population” and the Alienation of Crown Lands Amendment Bill, “a Bill to facilitate the sale of land in the unsettled districts.” Douglas wanted regions set aside for use as agricultural reserves and to ensure that pastoralists did not abuse their existing pre-emptive right, as had already occurred on the Darling Downs. There, many pastoralists, including Douglas when he owned Talgai, had taken up water frontage under this right, thereby rendering large tracts of land unavailable by others.
Douglas again displayed a tendency to appreciate both sides of the argument, observing that while the principle of pre-emptive right was “valuable,” it had been badly exercised. This action by him also demonstrated that although he was prepared to use the existing laws for his own benefit, if they were subject to abuse then he would try to fix it.
The government attacked Douglas by portraying him as a former Darling Downs squatter who, having “sold his run, and perhaps regretted having done so now desired to injure the Darling Downs squatter.” Douglas denied the anti-squatter accusation, noting that he had no interests in the Darling Downs. Nevertheless, in the face of sustained opposition, he was forced reluctantly to withdraw the Reservation of Agricultural Lands Bill, while the Alienation of Crown Lands Amendment Bill was defeated at the second reading. Despite his failure in successive years (1863 and 1864) to convince parliament to open up land for agricultural purposes and promote the needs of the smaller settler, Douglas continued to agitate for the interests of farmers over those of squatters.
EducationDouglas believed that the best way to improve people and society was through education. He was committed to improving the education of working-class men, for few of them in colonial Queensland possessed more than the most rudimentary learning. Douglas had benefited from a first-class education and, in the best traditions of liberalism, wanted others to receive learning opportunities as well. In strongly supporting free, compulsory and secular education for all, he played an active role in the development of education in the colony.
Before separation, education was not a high priority and Queensland’s literacy rate was correspondingly low. In 1859, following separation, there were six Church of England schools, four Catholic, some thirty private and two state-maintained schools in the colony. The new government, in establishing an education policy, opted for an extension of the state or national system, operating through a Board of National Education, with a place reserved for denominational schools, subject to the control of the board. In practice, however, religious schools did not receive favourable consideration, for many parliamentarians believed that “dogmatic religious instruction is the business not of the state, but of the several churches.” These beliefs led to a campaign by the Anglican and Catholic Churches to seek additional government support for their schools.
Douglas had been appointed a member of the Board in 1863 but resigned the following year over the failure of the government to support denominational schools financially. He attempted to rectify this by introducing into parliament a resolution censoring the Board for failing to frame regulations to give effect to the Education Act of 1860 “sufficient to provide for the promotion of primary schools in Queensland.”
Unfortunately, although Douglas wanted direct recognition by the state of denominational schools, he was perceived to be assailing the existing national system and was portrayed as a sectarian who distorted the facts, resulting in the failure of his resolution. The prevailing view was that the government should adopt “a policy of complete neutrality” regarding religious education, whereas Douglas believed in supporting all denominations equally instead of supporting none.
Douglas had more success in gaining a £500 grant in aid for the Rockhampton School of Arts. School of Arts institutions were close to his heart for he saw them as valuable educational institutions to “help those who help themselves.”  His involvement in these institutions during this period included one as inaugural president of the Brisbane-based Milton Mutual Improvement Association, a body established by local residents to promote public instruction, president of the North Brisbane School of Arts for 13 years from 1872 and inaugural president of the Rockhampton School of Arts.
Although a strong supporter of these institutions, he refused to endorse a matching grant of £500 by parliament for the Spring Hill Mechanics’ Institute in 1865, despite noting, “he should naturally feel inclined” to vote for it. This refusal was because if funding were granted to this institute, then a precedent would be set for others to request matching funding. Unfortunately, for the Spring Hill Mechanics’ Institute, Douglas was prone to putting principle before inclination.
Douglas found the 1864 session of parliament frustrating. He was a hard-working, conscientious parliamentarian who had now put forward several bills and spoken at length on the pros and cons of others, and whose speeches were invariably well-researched and full of reasoned, logical arguments. However, being a member of the opposition meant he rarely saw any of these initiatives come to fruition. The solution was obvious: join the government or else wait patiently for his side of politics to come to power. However, Douglas was not prepared to cross the floor, and despite these frustrations, participated fully in the 1864 session as well as being deeply involved in the social life of Brisbane.
Proud of his Scottish heritage, he was a vice-president of the Caledonian Society as well as a member and later president of the Johnsonian Club. He also found time to serve as a committee member of the Brisbane Lying-in Hospital. In 1864, he joined the Brisbane Provincial Grand Masonic Lodge, later transferring to the Scotch Constitution, Lodge St. Andrew number 435. A cricket player at university, he was on the committee of the Brisbane Cricket Club and on the organising committee of the grand intercolonial cricket match, New South Wales against Queensland, in June 1864.
Douglas’s civic responsibilities demonstrated his strong commitment to the society he lived in. Rugby School inculcated in him a sense of civic duty and responsibilities, resulting, like so many of his class in him being imbued with a sense of public spirit and a “willingness to take on work for the good of the community.” He strived to make Queensland a better place through both his parliamentary service and his civic duties in Brisbane.
Deeply religious, it was during this period that John Douglas began his lifetime involvement with the All Saints’ Church in Wickham Terrace, Brisbane. As befitted his previous involvement in church matters on the Darling Downs, he did far more than simply attend Sunday worship. He was a committee member, a warden, and a trustee of the church and after parishioners raised concerns over the future use of the church building, chaired an ‘indignation’ meeting which took the Queensland Anglican Bishop, Edward Wyndham Tufnell, to task over this and other matters.
 Gaylard, p. 38
 Bruce Knox, ed. The
Years of Robert Herbert, Premier:
Letters and Papers. Brisbane,
Queensland Press, 1977, p. 84 University of Queensland
 Bernays, p. 29; “Colonial Secretary.” Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 1, 1864, p. 8
 “Vice-Regal Speech.” Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 1, 1864, p. 1
 Mr. Douglas. “Address In Answer.” Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 1, 1864, p. 7
Courier, Brisbane 27
April 1864, p. 2
 The term in use at the time in
for this practice was
 “Mr. Douglas. “Address in Answer.” Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 1,
26 April 1864, p. 7
 “Mr. Douglas and the Port Curtis Electorate.” Rockhampton Bulletin and
Central Queensland Advertiser,
29 April 1863
Courier, Brisbane 22 May 1863
Courier, Brisbane 23 July 1863
 “Colonial Secretary.” Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 1, 1864, pp. 8-9
 Allan Morrison (1961), p. 557
 Bernays, p. 40; “Colonial Secretary.” Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 1, 1864, p. 9
 Rockhampton Bulletin and
Central Queensland Advertiser, 11 February 1865
 “Railways Commissioner Bill.” Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 1, 1864, p. 244.
not want the whole colony to pay for the railway when only the north would
 Ibid., pp. 245 & 247.
Douglas set out in detail how the scheme would operate
under the oversight of appointed railway commissioners; “Ten miles upon each
side of a railway, would give 12,800 acres for each mile of construction, to be
vested in the railway commissioners, for the purpose of sale to defray the cost
of such construction.”
 Mason, pp. 65-66; “Railways Commissioner Bill.” Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 1, 1864, p. 244
 Fitzgerald, pp. 264 & 128-29. The company had been advancing the Queensland Government £50,000 monthly for this purpose.
 Mr. Douglas. “Northern Railway.” Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 1, 1864, p. 317
Courier, Brisbane 10
 Serle, p. 250
Douglas impertinently requested
the “omission of the fifth and sixth clauses altogether, as committing the
house to a policy, of the details of which they are entirely ignorant; and the
adoption of a paragraph that appeared in last year’s address in reply to the
speech.” (Mr Douglas. “Address in Answer to the Speech.“ Queensland
Parliamentary Debates, vol 1, 1864, p. 8)
Courier, Brisbane 30
Courier 17 May 1864 Brisbane
 Mr. Douglas. “Reservation of Agricultural Lands.” Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 1, 1864, p. 330
 Mr. Douglas. “Alienation of Crown Lands Amendment Bill.” Queensland Parliamentary, Debates, vol 1, 1864, p. 332
 Mason, pp. 66-67
 Mr. Douglas. “Reservation of Agricultural Lands.” Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 1, 1864, pp. 330-31
 Mr. Douglas. “Alienation of Crown Lands Amendment Bill.” Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 1, 1864, p. 333. This ability of
was once described as, “He appears to balance the pro and con of every
question so evenly in his mind that a decision either way would be possible,
according to his reasoning.” (Brisbane
Courier, 30 August 1876, p. 2)
 “Reservation of Agricultural Lands.” Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 1, 1864, p. 331
 Mr. Douglas. Ibid., p. 332
 Ibid.; Mason, p. 67
 Mason, pp. 60-61
 And women!
believed in women also receiving an education, once remarking, “It was of the
utmost importance that women should be educated on a par in every respect with
men.” (Brisbane Courier, 5
September 1877, p. 5)
 Robert Douglas, p. 5
 Ross Johnston (1988), p. 101. The two state maintained schools were at Drayton and Warwick. (Our First Half-Century: A Review of Queensland Progress Based Upon Official Information, p. 78)
Catholic Social and Political Attitudes, 1879-1900. BA Hons thesis. University of Wayne , 1966, p. 106 Queensland
 Ross Johnston (1988), p. 101
 “National Education.” Rockhampton Bulletin and
23 April 1864. Douglas was unhappy at the approach the Board
had taken in withholding aid to primary schools under the non-vested system,
believing that they “in his opinion, had failed to do their duty.” (Mr Douglas.
“Inspection of Primary Schools.” Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 2,
1865, p. 512)
 “Board of General Education.” Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 1, 1864, pp. 285-90; J. R. Lawry. “Bishop Tufnell and
1860-1874.” In, E. L. French, ed. Queensland
Studies in Education 1966.
Melbourne, Melbourne Press, 1967,
p. 195 Melbourne
Courier, Brisbane 17
September 1864. As a critic
noted, Douglas, “who is very eccentric on
‘great public questions,’ opened the campaign with columns of statistics which,
as he thought, went to prove the inefficiency of the present system.” (Brisbane Courier, 24 August 1865, p. 2)
“Board of General Education.” Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 1, 1864, p. 290. The vote was against.
 Janice Hunt. Church and State in Education in
. BA Hons thesis. University of Queensland , 1959, p. 8 Queensland
 Mason, p. 68
of Arts.” Queensland
Parliamentary Debates, vol
1, 1864, p. 188 Ipswich
Courier, Brisbane 9 May
1863, p. 2
 James Cleary. The
of Arts, 1849-1899. BA Hons thesis. University of North Brisbane
School , 1967, p.
135. Douglas was also instrumental in
establishing the Queensland
in 1885. (“The Brisbane
Technical College Technical
College at the .” The Week, School of Arts 18 April 1885, pp. 366-67)
 Rockhampton Bulletin and
Central Queensland Advertiser, 25 February
1865. However, Douglas
relinquished the post shortly afterwards, recognising that he was unable to
attend their meetings, as he was now residing in .
(“Inauguration of the Brisbane .” Rockhampton
Bulletin and School
of Arts Central Queensland Advertiser, 25 February 1865)
 Mr. Douglas. “Mechanics’ Institute, Spring Hill.” Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 2, 1865, p. 474
 “The Caledonian Society.”
Brisbane Courier, 25 May 1864, p. 2;
Courier, Brisbane 26 September
1863, p. 2
 Mason, p. 62; Robert Douglas, p. 5. The Johnsonian Club, which no longer exists, was based on a philosophy that embraced an appreciation of music, art, drama, science and literature.
was president in 1880. (See the Johnsonian
Club Inc. Handbook, pp. 4 & 15,
a copy of which is held in the John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland)
 Pugh’s Almanac, 1865, p. 101. As a member of the hospital, Douglas demonstrated his compassion towards ‘fallen’ women, once informing a select committee enquiring into the hospital that: “no distinction is made between married or single women, I am happy to say; and no enquiries are made as to their previous conduct … the mere fact that a woman is enceinte, and possesses a subscriber’s ticket, is considered sufficient for her admission.” (John Douglas. “Evidence to the Select Committee Enquiring into the Hospitals of the Colony.” Quoted in Pamela Masel. Government Funded Hospitals and the
(1848-1923.) BA Hons thesis. University of Brisbane , 1976, p. 97 Queensland
 Pugh’s Almanac, p. 88 and 1866, p. 88
 Mason, p. 63
 Avery, p. 35
 Douglas was on the Brisbane diocesan church society committee from 1863; was appointed warden at All Saints Church in October 1864, and in December that year was also made a trustee of the church, a position he held until his death forty years later. (Kissick, pp. 26-27 & 30; Brisbane Courier, 25 August 1863.)
attempted to relinquish the position of churchwarden in 1866, citing his
frequent absences and the need for a “little fresh blood.” However, no parishioners came forward and so
he continued in the position, informing them that as “the duty had been imposed
on him, he would perform it to the best of his ability.” (“Church of England, Wickham Terrace.” Courier, Brisbane 17 April 1866.)
In 1867, he was on a Queensland
committee “to examine the forms of church government in and to report to a
conference concerning the advisability of forming synods.” Following on from its recommendations, the
first Anglican synod was held in 1869 and for many years he was a synodsman
whose “special gifts and his power to influence others were at all times
devoted to the service of his church.”
(Kissick, pp. 29, 44-45) Australia
 Kissick, p. 21. Subsequent to the ‘indignation’ meeting, steps were taken to reduce the church’s debts, the Rev. Tomlinson resigned and trustees appointed.