Friday, January 3, 2014

John Douglas appointed to the Queensland Legislative Council in 1869

On moving to the legislative council, Douglas resigned his seat of East Moreton.[1]  He had held it for less than three months and for most of that time parliament had not sat.  Lilley brought Douglas into the ministry to counter the ambitions of Fitzgerald and Macalister.  That Douglas had recently upset both of them ensured that he would be relatively impartial when the two feuded - a likely scenario given that during the past month they had both attempted to become premier at the other’s expense.

In appointing Douglas to the upper house, Lilley consigned Douglas to a chamber in which any comments he made would be less damaging.  The position of postmaster-general involved managing a complex department and the expenditure of considerable time and energy, and by assigning him this responsibility Lilley hoped Douglas would have less time and energy to devote, either deliberately or inadvertently, to destabilising the ministry.

When Douglas’s appointment was announced, the Brisbane Courier marvelled that “the suasion and blandishments to induce” Douglas and Fitzgerald to work together were “inconceivable.”[2]  What were these “suasion and blandishments”?  While not made public at the time, the journalist William Coote later revealed that Douglas:

would undertake the leadership of the upper house for a session;  but he must be compensated.  At the close of that session he must have the immigration agency in London.[3]

This arrangement suited both men.[4]  Douglas needed an ongoing salaried position to service debt incurred when selling his Tooloombah property, and welcomed the status and prestige the position would bring.[5]  Despatching Douglas to Britain benefited Lilley as well, for it removed him from the Queensland political arena.  Rather than having Douglas inside the cabinet in preference to having him cause damage from the backbenches or as a member of the opposition, Lilley cleverly engineered a plan to remove him altogether.  This arrangement was never made public.

Douglas duly took his seat in the legislative council and Lilley’s faith in him was amply repaid, for he conducted government business there in exemplary fashion, exhibiting none of the characteristic independence that had caused his colleagues so much anxiety when he was in the assembly. [6]  As Douglas himself observed, regarding his conduct in the council, “there was nothing to be gained by ... ripping up old sores.”[7]  In large measure, this was because the opportunities for debate and confrontation in the upper house were limited in comparison with the lower house.  As postmaster-general, Douglas concentrated on improved postal services to the colony by developing an effective mail service to Europe via Torres Strait, and the establishment of a telegraph link with Europe through the Gulf of Carpentaria.[8] 

[1] Ibid.
[2] Brisbane Courier, 10 December 1868, p. 2
[3] William Coote.  “Our Leading Public Men.  No. 1.  The Hon. John Douglas.”  The Week, 19 May 1877, p. 616; “Report from the Joint Select Committee on the Petition of Mr. John Douglas, Together with the Proceedings of the Committee and the Minutes of Evidence.”  Queensland Legislative Council Journals, 1872, p. 811.  Douglas kept details of the deal secret when the appointment was officially announced, disingenuously observing that his appointment to this position was “far from being expected.”  (“Farewell Banquet to the Hon. John Douglas.  Brisbane Courier, 22 September 1869, p. 3) 
[4] Douglas later confirmed this arrangement and also revealed that, at various times, Mackenzie, Fitzgerald and Lilley had all offered him the post of agent-general for immigration.  However, Mackenzie’s government fell before Douglas could accept, while he declined Fitzgerald’s offer.
[5] As Coote observed, Douglas possessed a “tolerably strong dash of ambition.”  William Coote.  “Our Leading Public Men.  No. 1.  The Hon. John Douglas.”  The Week, 19 May 1877, p. 616
[6] “Minutes of the Proceedings of the Legislative Council, Wednesday, 16 December 1868.”  Queensland Legislative Council Journals, vol 13, 1869, p. 15.  In addition to being postmaster-general, Douglas was appointed a member of the executive council and leader of the government in this chamber.
[7] The Postmaster-General.  “Adjournment - Detention of the Western mail for the Warrego Election Writ.”  Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 8, 1869, p. 188
[8] For mail services to the colony, see Postmaster-General.  “Postage Bill.”  Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 9, 1869, pp. 509-10.  For the telegraph link, see “Telegraph Communication to the Gulf of Carpentaria.”  Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 9, 1869, pp. 281-83.  For the mail service via Torres Strait, see “Mail Communication with England via Batavia.”  Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 9, 1869, pp. 877-78