Sir Henry Parkes

BEST REMEMBERED FOR his fiery and impassioned support for the Federation of the Australian colonies, Sir Henry Parkes made his most famous speech in the Federation campaign to the people of Tenterfield at the Tenterfield School of Arts on October 24, 1889. He won immortality as the “Father of Federation” with his catchcry “One People. One Destiny”.

Born to a poverty stricken farming family in Warwickshire (England) on May 27, 1815, Henry Parkes was put to work in a rope-making yard at the age of eight years. He worked in a brick pit and roadmaking and later moved to the bone- and ivory-turning trade but the moment he became a qualified tradesman England fell into depression and the bottom fell out of the market.

Having had little formal education he attended the Mechanics Institute in Birmingham. He married Clarinda Varney in 1836 and, following the death of two infant children and a failed business venture, applied for assisted passage to Australia.

Henry went to work as labourer on a farm near Penrith, then became a Tide Waiter for Colonial Customs in Sydney. Over the next few years he went into a wood, bone and ivory business and founded the Empire Newspaper to advance his ideas for creating a just and equitable society in the new colony.

His business enterprises were not successful but he became very influential in New South Wales politics. He played a major role in the cessation of transportation and was a strong supporter of land and education reform, improvement of railway and telegraphic services, reduced tariffs, free trade and immigration.

Parkes is credited with three monumental legislative measures in NSW: the Hospitals Act (1866 – providing inspection, supervision and appointment of trained nurses), the Public Schools Act (1866 – giving government the power to train, appoint and dismiss teachers) and the Public Instruction Act (1880 –which abolished state aid for denominational schools – which resulted in all children having access to free secular public education.)

Parkes was elected to Parliament in 1854 and in May 1872 he became Premier of New South Wales. He served his State for over 34 years and was Premier on five occasions, spanning 11 years and 10 months.

After the death of Clarinda, Parkes married Eleanor Dixon. Eleanor died in 1895 leaving Parkes with young children and in a declining physical state. Concerned that his children would be orphaned by his death, he then married Julia Lynch who nursed the old warrior until his death at the age of 81 years at his Sydney home “Kenilworth” on April 27, 1896.

Sir Henry was typical of a wide range of 19th century politicians, but his special ability to appreciate the importance of a strong and united Australia certainly made the people believe that he was indeed “The Man of the Hour”.

Opening Hours

Learn more about Sir Henry Parkes at the Sir Henry Parkes Memorial School of Arts

205 Rouse Street

02 6736 6100

Open daily from 10.00am to 4.00pm.

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