Joseph Carruthers

Joseph Carruthers

Sir Joseph Hector McNeil Carruthers (21 December 185710 December 1932) was an Australian politician and Premier of New South Wales.

According to Percival Serle, few premiers of New South Wales succeeded in doing so much distinguished work. Early in his career Henry Parkes recognized his untiring energy and ability, and, if his comparatively frail body had allowed him, he might have done even more remarkable work for his own state or for the Commonwealth.cite web
title =Carruthers, Sir Joseph Hector McNeil (1857 - 1932)
publisher =Project Gutenberg Australia
work=Dictionary of Australian Biography
url =
accessdate = 2007-04-26

Early years

Carruthers was the son of John Carruthers, was born at Kiama, New South Wales. His father was unable to pay for 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 B.A. in 1876. Two years later he took his M.A. degree and was admitted to practise as a solicitor and for some years he followed this profession. In December 1879, he married Louise Marion Roberts.cite web
title =Sir Joseph Hector McNeil Carruthers (1857 - 1932)
work =Members of Parliament
publisher =Parliament of New South Wales
url =!OpenDocument
accessdate = 2007-04-26

Political career

In 1887, Carruthers, won 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.cite web
first=John M.
title =Carruthers, Sir Joseph Hector McNeil (1856 - 1932)
publisher =Australian National University
work=Australian Dictionary of Biography
url =
accessdate = 2007-04-26
] 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 Parkes's last ministry and soon showed himself to be an energetic administrator. He took a special interest in technical schools, and especially the Ultimo Technical College which afterwards 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 troubles 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 thing 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 the 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 "White Australia", and was elected third on the list as one of the ten 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, on 5 May 1898, introduced the bill in the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales. 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, and 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 afterwards 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 Reid went to the federal house and Carruthers became leader of the opposition Liberal and Reform Association, the successor to the Free Trade Party, in New South Wales in 1902. His party won the July 1904 election an "an alliance of Liberalism, temperance and Protestantism" and he was called upon to form a ministry and though 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, and he testified before it eight times. The commissioner found that nothing in the evidence implicated Carruthers, but he gave up his law practice for aomw years. These accusations were raised again in the 1907 election and he launched an attack on the Federal Government's recent increase in tariffs, particularly on wire-netting, to distract attention, even suggestion secession. 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 which did valuable work. 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. 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 also of 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 which contained the spot where James Cook landed in Australia. By his efforts a large area there was set aside as a national park about 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 afterwards on his suggestion the territorial government of Hawaii 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 directions 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.


NAME=Carruthers, Joseph Hector McNiel
SHORT DESCRIPTION=Australian politician and Premier of New South Wales
DATE OF BIRTH= 21 December 1857
PLACE OF BIRTH=Kiama, New South Wales
DATE OF DEATH=10 December 1932

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