Irresponsible Government


Chapter 4 Patterns of Alignment

Voting Patterns
Patterns of Affinity

Prelude to Factions



Secretary of State for the Colonies
Lord Stanley
William Gladstone
Earl Grey
Sir John Pakington
Duke of Newcastle
Sir George Grey
Sidney Herbert
Lord John Russell
Sir William Molesworth
Henry Labouchiere


Governor of New South Wales
Sir George Gipps
Sir Charles FitzRoy
also 1851-56 Governor General of Australia *
Sir William Denison
*Governors since 1825 used a council to advise them. As they had no Australian council and thought it unfair to use the NSW council which might prejudice the other colonies, both very properly declined to use this power other than for ceremonial visits.



















































Competitors for Preeminence

Charles Cowper

‘slippery Charlie'
' at the head of the poll'


Deas Thomson

‘master tactician'
' without favour or affection’


James Macarthur

‘true conservatism'
' family compact’

W. C. Wentworth

‘master of the House'
'champion of the few’


Stuart Donaldson

‘piebald opinions'
'speciously attractive'






























































































































































































































Chapter 4


Patterns of Alignment


Voting Patterns

Too many writers, both of nineteenth century and modern origin, find it edifying or convenient to attribute to the politicians of the blended council era positions in the political spectrum. Inherent in the assignment of labels is the implication of membership of a group and the obscuration of the realities of an individual’s personal views, which are usually a heterogeneous mix of sympathies to basic philosophies, loyalties and community and personal interests. And the label once given becomes a barrier to unprejudiced analysis of individual and collective political relationships. Dyster portrays Edward Hamilton as a staunch conservative whose personal inclinations forced him into selective radicalism 1; was he then a radical conservative? Before the comparatively recent discipline of parties, which at least forces voting compliance, began to be felt in Australia, such expressions as conservative, liberal, radical and combinations of them do no more than give a general description of individual sympathies and broader approaches to the questions of change and reform. But the hard politics of the mid-nineteenth century were based on issues, so political alignments were the infinitely variable product of contemporary issues.

From a government point of view, there were three types of vote: the ‘free’ issue, where local non policy matters were in consideration, and personal preference to vote either way or abstention through absence were acceptable 2; the tactical question, where there might be government disagreement on whether to defer or close with an issue, or on non critical amendments 3; and the conclusive votes on government policy and legislation where attendance and solidarity were demanded 4. The results achieved by official nominees were effective enough, but even with only an average one percent leakage on tied votes, fell short of modern standards of cabinet or even party discipline. For non-official nominees, the standards were different, in that they were expected by the governor to give general support to government policy. But as much as they claimed, and some modern authors give them credence for a measure of independence 5, their average long term defection rate in Council divisions was under 8 percent 6, although absenteeism of about 50 percent demonstrates a substantial degree of avoidance of commitment. The increasing coincidence of the rural interest with the government position promoted an improvement in records of attendance and specific voting solidarity efforts in the closing years of the Council, which may also have been contributed to by bids for selection in the coming nominated upper house 7.

Opposition to government by the elected members is best looked at in two periods. Overall, the government lost 27 percent of ‘tied vote’ matters brought to division, but in the ‘anti-Gipps’ four years, nearly half the votes went against the government side - more numerically than in the remaining nine years of the Council, when the loss rate averaged below 20 percent. In 1844, the peak year of united opposition, 25 of 44 divisions went against Gipps' administration, compared to a minimal one out of 20 in 1853. These divisions do not, of course, record the full story, with many issues decided on voice. What they do record are the occasions when members demanded a count of votes to make their group or individual positions clear on matters important to their interests. These figures emphasise the intensity and strength of opposition during the Gipps years, and the comparative weakness of the residual opposition when the squatting interest found that its ends were usually best served by siding with the administration 8. Appendix 1b and Appendix 2b, summarising the voting patterns for 1845 and 1852, illustrate the support and opposition patterns related to the Administration position.

Attempts to classify representatives’ voting into definable groups are unrewarding. Their pro- or anti- government character is obvious enough when this exists, but apparent patterns of group voting also usually parallel the government-vote relationship rather than illustrate specific affinity groups in their own right or a particular leader’s following. This is illustrated in Appendix 3b and Appendix 4b, which relate voting in 1849 and 1853 to the positions of reputed opposition leaders of those years, Lowe and Cowper respectively. What such an analysis does show is the independence of members in their voting habits; it is difficult not to draw the conclusion from these patterns and inconsistencies that members were not specifically voting in concert, but as each saw his position at the time of vote, influenced by his own perception of interest and the strength of the debate 9. There are considerable limitations on such empirical analysis, and it is necessary to supplement the voting patterns with newspaper reports of the proceedings and editorial comment. However the sum of evidence tends to confirm that representatives followed their interests more closely than any specific affiliation.

Within an issues-based approach, the transitory alliances and private and public expressions of positions become reasonably explicable, avoiding the label juggling and constant need to explain inconvenient exceptions to those labels exhibited by individuals and groups. Analysis of voting performance in the Legislative Council from 1843 to 1855 confirms the validity of issues as the determinant of political alignment. It shows a double thread of individual positions – affinity to a ‘normal’ group where that group’s position is in line with the member’s approach, and absence from the group where it is at variance to the member’s interest. From a different stand point, a member’s perception of his electoral and personal responsibilities dictated his vote; where others’ views coincided on an issue, a group appeared, and disappeared when the issue was no longer current. A group of issues which attracted similar groups of adherents provided a more enduring basis of alliance, but this remained issue-oriented. Interspersed amongst these affinity issues were others of a different nature which failed to attract the temporary affinity group but rather quite different voting combinations; what individual loyalties did exist could not hold up when contentious matters challenged them. The patterns suggest that there were no enduring and consistent groups. Indeed, even within ‘normal’ issue groups there were disruptive voting patterns where tactical votes were taken. Even final resolutions were not immune from unexplained absenteeism and defections 10.

Patterns of Affinity

J.M. Ward rightly points out the essentially conservative nature of most humans, and its consequential application to politicians 11. This can be extended more positively – even radicals who succeed to power will wish to protect the new order which they build unless they are simply iconoclastic. As a consequence, attribution of conservative, liberal and radical attitudes to politicians is less a measure of political grouping according to philosophy than a description of their relationship to the tenure of political power. So with the New South Wales blended council members, it is observable that those generally labelled conservative 12 – nominees and elected – were usually associated with the government: those who often supported the government but also as often dissented on particular issues were called liberal conservatives 13 the hard core of normal ‘opposition’ was liberal 14 and the few who had genuine populist and republican leanings rated as radicals 15. The basic terminology is used by contemporary observers, the members themselves and modern writers in an effort to classify Council members and so describe their affiliations and affinity groups, but they fail to do any more than describe general relationships to political power in the Colony, as enunciated above. As a supplement, the expressions party, faction, compact, coterie and tail 16 were also used as descriptors of political alliances, as the conservative-liberal-radical tags could not cope with the intricacies of members’ performances. But none of these either can stand up to a rigorous examination of actual relationships. For the real basis of political alignments, it is necessary to go beyond simple labels and examine the factors which really sparked political attitudes, actions and reactions, and how members stood in relation to them.

With these basic reservations in mind, it is useful to examine contemporaneous viewpoints of political alignments as a reference point against which to test more empirical and analytical assessments. Such an examination has to begin with the basic attitudes which the colonists had towards the government: it was widely held to be autocratic, the cause of dissension and the mechanism which imposed taxation with only token representation 17. There was little empathy with even the most conscientious governor’s administration as, with deep divisions in the community on major sensitive issues, attempts to resolve them alienated one side or the other, or even both sides. With no elected government to blame and replace, governor and executive were perennial scapegoats. The advent of elected representatives introduced into the legislature the erstwhile critics, who were elected as an opposition, acted as an opposition and called themselves an opposition 18.

That the opposition was not total is witnessed by the substantial amount of enabling legislation which was passed during the period of the blended council – even during its confrontationist first term. Opposition crystallised around the taxation-representation issue, with representation envisaged as some form of responsible government 19. The matters around which opposition could rally, regardless of the disparity of political, economic and social outlooks of the members, were all centered on the transfer of power over local affairs from imperial to colonial representative hands. There were many manifestations of this theme in the struggles over land, civil list, revenues, immigration, transportation, police and gaol expenses, district councils and constitutional reform, but those issues boiled down to local power. The contest continued in earnest until responsible government was assured, and even afterwards, vestiges of imperial control have remained until recent times.

The other polarising factor was the disposal of local power. Here again, there were many issues which divided and grouped representatives, and often enough nominees: education, squatter domination and their demands, separation, goldfields control and the beneficiaries of constitutional reform. Once the pastoral interests had achieved their victory, and gained a controlling position in the legislature, they became a clearly identifiable political grouping which, being concerned to maintain its advantaged position, was conservative to the extent that it tended to ally itself with the government to retain the status quo and perpetuate its own electoral dominance 20. Consequentially, the thrust of representatives of small agricultural, business and ‘operatives’ interests, who opposed the pastoral interests, was liberal to that extent. Similarly, working class opposition to wage competition from convict, indentured and immigrant labour and claims for land, electoral and social justice provided a power base for more adventurous political aspirants who supported what were perceived as radical approaches in Council. But all these positions were predictable only on issues relating to those contexts; when others arose, the voting pattern dissolved into an infinite variety of combinations which are explainable singly but defy description in aggregate 21.


Leadership in the blended council had primitive beginnings. The rump of survivors from the nominated council brought no basis for cohesiveness with them: it was left to the ‘new men’ to set their own voting patterns which have been summarised earlier as inconsistent if viewed on a standard other than of personal interests. However the contemporary commentators saw clearly enough the ‘tails’ of Wentworth and Thomson, Wentworth’s and Lowe’s factions, and various putative parties. Thomson’s tail is a fairly obvious product of his growing dominance of government affairs allied to the reasonably consistent support which that business received from the non-official nominees; as much as they might protest otherwise 22, their general supportiveness is closely demonstrated from their long term group voting pattern, regardless of changes of individual appointees. The possibility of political factions having developed behind any of the leaders is belied by the inconsistencies in voting performance by elected members who on particular issues allied themselves with Wentworth, Lowe, Cowper or Lang. As well, there was the basic lack of motivation, in an irresponsible elected element, to adhere to a leader or group for other than collusive purposes against specific targets or aims, or for a potential leader to saddle himself with the liability of attempting to maintain solidarity on the majority of non critical issues where such support was not necessary. The ingredients of faction were not there. Even less was there cause or opportunity to establish political parties.

On the government side, although leadership lay with Deas Thomson, it necessarily had to be subtle and tactical to meet the sensitivities of the non-officials and attract additional support from the Representatives 23. Overt leadership within the Representatives relied on a combination of a persuasive speaker and issues which he felt strongly enough on. Whilst Wentworth, Lowe and Cowper are credited as front runners, there were supporting casts which, in many of the debates, leave the impression that such strong performers as Lamb, Windeyer, Nichols, Darvall, Donaldson, Martin and Lang were at times more influential in introducing and progressing business than were the nominal leaders 24. Overt leadership was to a large degree a function of the specific interest of a member in a subject.

Covert leadership is more difficult to assess. James Macarthur, whose public performance was not gripping, was extremely active in liaising with the ‘independent gentlemen’ – not only the elected but also the appointed. Voting in the Council does not at any stage appear to follow a Macarthur lead, but he was certainly anxious to build a middle ground of political stability which would ensure that government would not remain in the hands of ‘mere squatters’ or pass to radical hands, but rest with solid property interests 25. The squatting interest itself had adequate leadership in Wentworth and his familiars whilst the radicals were only partially served by the selective intervention of Lowe, then Cowper, and the organising enthusiasms of J.D. Lang; genuinely radical politicians arrived too late in the period to establish themselves in leadership positions 26.

Prelude to Factions

In a council where the elected members could not form a government, those members had little enough incentive to form political parties or even durable political alliances or factions. They could either vote for or against the government on issues of government policy, and otherwise as they chose. For the majority, this choice was one of selecting how they could best represent the interests and electors for which they stood; for a few it was following the expressed wishes of their electors. Consequently, only similarity of such perceptions provided the basis for cooperation: such similarities were therefore specific interest issues. Those issues in the final term of the blended Legislative Council progressed from a tidying up of the major areas which were early conceded by the imperial governments – the end of transportation and colonial responsibility – to the determination of what the new constitutional arrangements should be. Not that there was a dearth of other pre-occupations on the administration of the colony, but these were at first overshadowed by the struggles between perpetuation of dominant-interest control and extension of popular political influence 27.

With the constitutional decision made and dispatched for imperial approval by the end of 1853 28, there remained a predictable period of two years before the new constitution could be enacted, transmitted and implemented. Whatever modifications the British Parliament might impose, there was no doubt, from previous Colonial Office guarantees 29, that real government would move from government house to house of government. That house would be a Legislative Assembly, which would have to provide, in the place of appointed departmental heads, ministers who could maintain continuity of support for their measures – majority approval in a house which would not have a fairly reliable nominee voting bloc around which to rally consistently sufficient numbers. It was also plain enough that government as a whole could not operate through a system of unconnected ministers. Some form of aggregation was necessary, and known from British and other colonial precedent to be necessary, to provide cohesive and purposeful administration of colonial affairs 30. However, there was no firm basis for such groupings which could be guaranteed to extend from the blended council to a fully elected lower house which would also be based on extended representation and franchise. The old unifying factors of opposition to governor, local responsibility, land rights and transportation were gone. In the apportionment of local power, the incentive was for members to push their personal interests and perceptions of what was best for the Colony, which further reduced the scope for any publicly definable political division.

Although it was obvious that the Governor would have the choice in calling a leader to form the first responsible government, it was equally obvious that he must be influenced by the strength and backing of any discernable groups which might exist at the time. Here was the opportunity for strong leaders and interest groups to seize the initiative and establish a party or factional grouping on which to stake their claim to selection by both electorate and governor. At very least, responsible members had an obligation to use the period of grace to explore bases on which accommodations could be made, in the interest of preparing the ground for a compatible ministry. But to a large degree the opportunity went begging 31. With expanded lower house representation in prospect, at least a third of future members was unknown, a question which was exacerbated by the continuing and expected attrition of existing elected members 32. Those with no stomach for mixing with the influx of lower classes 33 expected in the upcoming Assembly either opted out of active politics or sought refuge in the upper house, as did those who thought that they could control democratic excesses from the new Council.

Not only was the uncertainty of future membership a barrier to development of coherent groupings, but also the existing leadership dispersed. Wentworth, the one generally acknowledged as most able to command majority support, left the arena, as did Thomson for the critical period; the dominant interest group was left with the inadequate James Macarthur who was vacillating between the upper and lower houses and his private interests 34. Cowper’s attempt to rally support for a ‘party’ on populist and anti-government issues ensured that its support amongst Council members would be miniscule and remain that way until after the new Assembly brought an influx of new members: Parkes was in this group and as yet without parliamentary influence. Other able men such as Donaldson, Martin and Nichols did not hold any special place or basis of attraction to form a centre-unity group which Wentworth might have been able to achieve if he had so wished.

In consequence, instead of a search for a sound and durable basis for future government, members indulged themselves by retirement and manoeuverings for upper house seats or more secure and compatible electorates 35, while the business of current government continued to be conducted on the traditional personal and sectional interests basis. This in turn ensured that the option of political parties was foregone for the foreseeable future. It also ensured that the Governor was free to lean on his preferred option of entrusting the initial formation of government to conservative hands 36, which in turn, through the attrition of those with strong conservative inclinations to retirement and the upper house, ensured the early instability of the Assembly. Until a clear general basis of division of policies could emerge, political affinities had to rest on the alignment of groups based on personal affinities, interests and loyalties, behind leaders who could attract and maintain the support of those groups and their leaders 37. So three decades of factional government came to New South Wales.



Acronyms and Abbreviations.

1. B. Dyster ‘The Fate of Colonial Conservatism on the Eve of the Gold Rush’ JRAHS vol 54 Part 4 (1968-9), p330.

2. ‘Government’ is accepted as the side which includes the official members’ votes; ‘opposition’ the contrary. Where official votes are badly split, the result has not been included. See Appendix 1b and Appendix 2b for examples.

3. Exemplified V&P NSW LC (1853) 23 September 1853 on Solicitors Fees and 20 December 1853 on Constitution Bill. See Appendix 4b.

4. See V&P NSW LC (1844) 19 December 1844 on General Grievances; (1852) 1 October 1852 on Military Forces.

5. Forrest ‘Political Divisions’ p482-4.

6. This low rate combined with the votes carried on voices indicates a real high level of support, with absenteeism the only real measure of independence.

7. Overall absenteeism and voting showed marginal improvement, but on major issues there was high turnout and support to government.

8. Sydney Morning Herald 26 February 1846, p2 Legislative Council.

9. Debates in Sydney Morning Herald 3 August 1849 and subsequent Legislative Council reports provide a representative sample of approaches.

10. See V&P NSW LC (1846) 25 September 1846; (1854) 11 July, 22 August, 8 September 1854.

11. Ward James Macarthur p1.

12. Forest ‘Political Divisions’ p471,478, 486-7.

13. Dyster ‘Colonial Conservatism’ p347; Ward James Macarthur p152-4.

14. Members nominated as liberals eg Powell Patrician Democrat p 55-8 and Ward James Macarthur p154-5, generally followed a voting pattern against the government on policy votes.

15. Martin Henry Parkes p99.

16. Forrest ‘Political Divisions’ pp 471, 481; Ward James Macarthur p154; Knight Illiberal Liberal p133.

17. Sydney Morning Herald 11 April 1843, p2 Bathurst; HRA I.XXIV, p249 Gipps to Stanley of 13 February 1845.

18. HRA I.XXIII, p 199 Gipps to Stanley of 28 October 1843 (No 174); Sydney Morning Herald 11 December 1844, p 2 Domestic Intelligence.

19. See Notes 27, 28 to Chapter 3.

20. Sydney Morning Herald 26 February 1846, p2 Legislative Council; 23 April 1851, p2 Legislative Council; V&P NSW LC 7,20,21 December 1843.

21. Forest ‘Political Divisions’, after arguing the existence and nature of groupings, falls back (p479) to the position that these groupings were sufficiently inconsistent to be reliable description. Such a conclusion is inescapable.

22. Forest ‘Political Divisions’ p482-3.

23. Foster Colonial Improver p101.

24. Evidenced by activity in introducing measures and their performance in the Council (V&P NSW LC, Sydney Morning Herald, passim).

25. Silvester Speeches p133, 140, 144.

26. Powell Patrician Democrat p59, 61.

27. Ward James Macarthur p98—200.

28. V&P NSW LC (1853) vol I, 21 December 1953

29. See Note 39 to Chapter 1.

30. Irving ‘Responsible Government’ p203; Empire 27 March 1856, p4 The Elections gives Macarthur’s positive reappraisal of his 1853 position.

31. Cowper’s group attempted this internally (Irving ‘Responsible Government’ p193), augmented by some opportunistic searchers for wider popular support (Powell Patrician Democrat p59).

32. Empire 28 April 1856 p4.

33. Therry Reminiscences pp 67-8.

34. Ward James Macarthur p196, 200-1.

35. 11 seats changed hands in 1854-5 and eight elected members retired at the end of the council’s term; five members secured seats in the new upper house.

36. Loveday and Martin Parliament, Factions and Parties p24.

37. op cit p149-52.