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Sir Henry Parkes: Father of Federation, Premier of NSW, Statesman, Visionary, Political Leader, Poet, Humanist

Sir Henry Parkes: Father of Federation, Premier of NSW, Statesman, Visionary, Political Leader, Poet, Humanist

May 27, 2015 brings the 200th anniversary of the birth of Sir Henry Parkes. After he died, the London Times described him as 'a colonial colossus.'

Henry Parkes received little schooling and worked on a rope-walk, breaking stones, as an ivory and bone turner, ironmonger, labourer and on the wharves before trying business life and ultimately politics. He and his first wife travelled to Australia on an assisted passage. Parkes steadily educated himself, reading voraciously and widely, including all the great poets.

There has never been anyone else like Sir Henry Parkes in Australian public life. Not only was he the father of federation. His friends included Thomas Carlyle, fellow poet Lord Tennyson and British Prime Minister Gladstone. He convinced Florence Nightingale to send trained nurses to Australia. He conceived the international rabbit competition which led to the Pasteur affair and put Australia at the forefront of microbiology. He encouraged talented men to enter politics. Yet he shunned the limelight, rarely attending social functions.

Whenever he received begging letters, (which he did, daily), Parkes always wrote back enclosing money. No wonder he went bankrupt three times! Yet he was Premier of NSW 5 times, leaving its finances well in the black every time. He married three times, the last time to a 23-year-old beauty. Clearly, Parkes loved women, and they loved him. He encouraged women to attend political meetings, even though they didn't have the vote. NSW Parliament House dining room was managed by a husband and wife; when the husband died, Parliament wanted to fire his widow, but Parkes stood up for her, saying she was perfectly capable of managing the dining room on her own, which she did for years to come.

But not everyone loved Sir Henry; he had a long-running feud with poet Henry Lawson's mother after Parkes wouldn't give young Lawson the help she demanded and he constantly wrestled with political aspirants chasing his seat.

Reviews

Great book. Great Man.

Phillip Adams, Late Night Live

A new biography by historian Stephen Dando-Collins traces Parkes's unlikely trajectory in a lucid and lively narrative that wears its extensive research lightly and introduces the reader to a Sydney town all but unrecogniseable today. Dando-Collins gives the reader solid but digestible slabs of the geography and culture Parkes found himself immersed in, and provides and evenhanded account of Parkes's achievements and failures (which were many). [an] excellent biography.

Patricia Anderson, The Australian

Stephen Dando-Collins has presented an absorbing biographical study of a unique statesman, the narrative enriched by superbly researched details of Australia’s growth and social development in the 19th Century.

Professor Marie Bashir AC CVO, Governor of New South Wales

As many school teachers know, the history of Australian Federation is a bit of a dry and dusty topic for students, and it takes a great deal of skill to make it palatable. Which is why I welcome this very readable biography of Henry Parkes a.k.a. 'The Father of Federation' because there are plenty of interesting titbits to liven up proceedings in the classroom. I hope schools invest in a copy of this biography. The author's style makes light work of a complex career, and it humanises the man as well. The biography is also enjoyable reading for teachers who just want a bit of extra background to liven up their lessons about Federation!

Lisa Hill, ANZ Lit Lovers

An important, long overdue warts and all biography of Australia's most formidable politician: uneducated, bankrupt and depressive, Henry Parkes nonetheless steered a fractious country to nationhood. championed womens' rights, established secular state education and set a standard for honest governance that his successors, particularly in New South Wales, have proved incapable of emulating.

Geoffrey Robertson

Thoroughly researched

Noel Shaw, The Examiner, Launceston

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Formats & editions

  • Paperback

    9781742757988

    November 3, 2014

    Vintage Australia

    416 pages

    RRP $19.99

    Online retailers

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    Or

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • Hardback

    9781742757971

    November 1, 2013

    Knopf Australia

    416 pages

    RRP $45.00

    Online retailers

    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Amazon
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Dymocks
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • The Nile
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop
    Or

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • EBook

    9781742757995

    November 1, 2013

    Random House Australia

    432 pages

    Online retailers

    • iBooks
    • Amazon Kindle
    • Booktopia
    • eBooks
    • Google Play
    • Kobo

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