Death of the Hon. John Douglas
A former member of Queensland
Government Resident at Thursday Island
Thursday Island, Saturday
The Hon. John Douglas, C.M.G., died at 11.15 this morning from weakness, following haematemesis. His funeral takes place at 4 o’clock to-morrow afternoon..
The news of the death of the Hon. John Douglas, C.M.G., was received in Brisbane with genuine regret, a regret which will be felt throughout the State and in the southern portions of the Commonwealth as well. The Home Secretary was advised officially of the event on Saturday afternoon, and the flags on all the public buildings of the city were lowered to half-mast.
The death of the Hon. John Douglas removes from the public life of Queensland one who, by reason of his natural intellectual gifts, his educational attainments, his wide experience of men and affairs, and his well balanced and essentially fair mind, was eminently qualified for a leading part in building up the institutions of a young country. To the traits mentioned add honesty of purpose and honourable, even chivalrous, character, and we have a fair view of the mental side of the Hon. John Douglas. Physically he was a fine, robust specimen of the Anglo-Saxon – alert, active, enduring. His face revealed his generous nature: his brow, dignified in later years by an abundance of silvered, waving hair, was that of a man of noble instincts. There was in him and about him always a calm dignity and courtesy which, however estimable in the eyes of his private friends, did not help him in the rough-and-tumble fighting of political life. It was said that he was not a born political leader in that he was not a fighter. Those who knew John Douglas privately and closely would put the expression thus: He was not a born political leader because he always fought in the open, and his blows were never below the belt. He was not personally aggressive, did not possess the aggressiveness that pursues and belittles, and it is no secret to those who watched Queensland political developments in the late seventies that his lack of that very quality led to the selection of another leader of the old Liberal party. Practically upon that came the retirement of Mr. Douglas from political life. But he had done the State good service: he had served in the old Legislative Council of new South Wales when Queensland had not yet been established as a separate colony, and from 1863 until 1879 held a prominent place in the political life of this State. Mr. Douglas during his political career was responsible for the first blow struck at unrestricted Chinese immigration to Queensland. His Government passed an Act designed to check the flood of Chinese to the Palmer Goldfield and other portions of the State. The Royal assent to the measure was withheld, but Mr. Douglas was not content to accept this as the last word on the subject. He imposed upon ships coming from China ports certain quarantine regulations, and that administrative act was found quite effective. Later on the legislation, much as we find it to-day, met with the Royal assent. With this exception Mr. Douglas’ term as Premier, from 8th March 1877, to 21st January, 1879, was not marked by any strong policy: but for that there were other reasons than his lack of creative instinct. Mr. Douglas had gathered up the threads of the Macalister and Thorn Administrations, and it was evident was fully occupied in holding the ground for his party until the general elections. Though not credited with having originated any other big political movements, Mr. Douglas was a good, sound administrator, whose humour was never impugned, and whose natural alertness and mental power prevented him from making serious mistakes.
Since his retirement from active political life he gave ample proof of his capacity in the management of men. He lived for many years in the outposts of this country and in New Guinea, administering the laws given him to meet cases, and using his own discretion where no laws existed – when savage people had to be dealt with – and there has been no occasion upon which his judgement, his tact, or his broad sense of right and wrong have been questioned. Away in the great gateway that leads to the and from the East, Mr. Douglas has had under his care a community as diverse as one would meet at Port said, and at times the elements were bitterly and openly contentious. Again he has had to deal with Aboriginals whose instincts to plunder and murder are well known: again, with employers of Aboriginals – white men and yellow – whose natures were lower and more devilish than the savages employed: again, with the native of New Guinea and of the intervening islands lying between that Queensland coast and that of the Possession. Can any one point to an instance of lack of capacity on the part of the Government Resident of High Commissioner in handling the difficult material which makes up the population on the fringes of Torres Straits? Has there ever been a display of temper or tyranny? On the other hand, the Government of the State and of the Empire in so far as it was entrusted to the Hon. John Douglas has been carried out in a lofty and practical spirit, with firmness, but with kindness and unflinching justice, yet with patience.
The Hon. John Douglas was for some years on the literary staff of the “Courier” and “Queenslander” as a leader writer. That was after his retirement from politics and before taking up his appointment as Government Resident at Thursday Island. It was chiefly in those days that the present writer working in the same room with Mr. Douglas learnt to appreciate his high intellectual qualities, to know the warmth and kindliness of his nature, to fully realise his benevolence in dealing with the weaker side of humanity. Mr. Douglas carried into his literary work the polished style which characterised his public speaking, but he was in the nature of things more concise and therefore more effective as a writer than a speaker. In Parliament and on public platforms Mr. Douglas was more remarkable as a pleasant speaker, dipping his eloquence from a “well of purest English undefiled” than as a forceful critic or advocate. As a writer he was, perforce, restricted to space, and his ideas put in the concrete form often sparkled.
For much of the following we are indebted to “Meynall”and Wendt and Co.’s “Queensland.” The Hon. John Douglas. C.M.G., B.A., son of Henry Alexander Douglasw and Elizabeth (Dalziel) his wife, was born in London on 6th March 1828, and a nephew of the 4th and 5th Marquises of Queensberry. He was educated at Rugby and Durham University and emigrated to New South Wales in 1851. Received an appointment as Gold Fields Commissioner which he gave up to enter pastoral pursuits. He sat as member for Darling Downs in Sydney before Separation and afterwards for Camden in the New South Wales Parliament. In 1863 he settled in Queensland and entered the Legislative Assembly for Port Curtis. In February 1866, he joined the Macalister Ministry, and was Postmaster-General from March to July of that year. He was called to the Legislative Council the same year, but some months later he was appointed Treasurer, and re-entered the Assembly as member for the Eastern Downs. Again he resigned and led for the Government in the Legislative Council. In May 1867, Mr. Douglas resigned the Treasurership and took up the portfolio of Secretary of Works until the following August. On the 25th November 1868, the late Sir Charles Lilley came into power at the head of a Liberal Government and Mr. Douglas in December took office as Postmaster-General, amongst his colleagues being Macalister, T. B. Stephens and St. George Gore. In November 1869 he resigned on accepting the post of Agent-General for Queensland, which he held until 1871, when he returned to the State and was elected in 1875 for Maryborough. In June 1876 Mr. Douglas accepted office as Secretary for Lands in the Thorn Government, which was an offshoot of the Macalister party. In this Cabinet were Sir S. W. Griffith, Sir J. R. Dickson, Mr. R.M. Stewart and Mr. C. S. Mein. On the 8th March 1877, Mr. Thorn resigned and the Premiership fell to Mr. Douglas, who led a really strong combination against a strong and active opposition led by Sir Thomas McIllwraith. In the following year he exchanged the portfolios of Secretary for Lands for that of Home Secretary. He led the Government until 21st January 1879, when his party was defeated in the general election, and Sir Thomas McIllwraith’s administration succeeded to power. Subsequent to the assumption of a protectorate over a portion of New Guinea by the British Government Mr. Douglas was a candidate for the office of High Commissioner, but the position was given by the Imperial Government to Sir Peter Scratchley, R.E. Mr. Douglas became Government Resident at Thursday Island in April 1885 and on the death of Sir Peter Scratchley he was appointed Special Commissioner for British New Guinea, which post he held for nearly 3 years after the sovereignty of Great Britain was proclaimed. In 1889 he returned to Thursday Island as Government Resident and Police Magistrate.
The long residence in the far North seemed to impair the constitution of Mr Douglas very little, but in 1902 he was able to take a long holiday, during the term of which he visited England and the Continent and returned to Queensland, as he described it in his cheery way, "in splendid fettle.'' Early in the present year he visited Brisbane from Thursday Island, and it was then noticed by his friends that he did not appear quite so robust as on his return from England but his mental brightness and energy were in no way impaired. Age was, however, levying its charges on his reserve of strength, and the White Horseman coming, as he comes to all, delivered the great message, and the faithful servant of the public went to his rest.
The Hon. John Douglas leaves four sons. The eldest, Edward, is a barrister who served as an associate to Sir S. W. Griffith and Mr. Justice Power. He is now practising his profession in Brisbane. The second son, Henry, is manager of Bowden’s business at Thursday Island and with him is the third son, Hugh. The youngest, Robert, who is spoken as a young man of high intellectual prowess is at Sydney University, and is in line for the Bar.