Charles Kingston

Charles Cameron Kingston PC (22 October 1850 – 11 May 1908) was an Australian politician. He was an early radical liberal Premier of South Australia serving from 1893 to 1899 with the support of Labor led by John McPherson from 1893 and Lee Batchelor from 1897 in the House of Assembly, winning the 1893, 1896 and 1899 colonial elections against the conservatives. He was a leading proponent of and contributed extensively on the Federation of Australia and was elected to the federal House of Representatives with the most votes amongst the seven elected in the single statewide Division of South Australia at the 1901 election, serving under the Protectionist Party, going on to represent the Division of Adelaide at the 1903 election.

Charles Kingston
20th Premier of South Australia
Elections: 1893, 1896, 1899
In office
16 June 1893  1 December 1899
GovernorEarl of Kintore
Sir Thomas Buxton
Preceded byJohn Downer
Succeeded byVaiben Louis Solomon
Personal details
Charles Cameron Kingston

(1850-10-22)22 October 1850[1]
Adelaide, South Australia
Died11 May 1908(1908-05-11) (aged 57)[1]
Adelaide, South Australia
Political partyLiberal
Spouse(s)Lucy May McCarthy
ParentsGeorge Strickland Kingston and Ludovina Catherina De Silva Kingston (née Cameron)

A radical liberal in state politics, his government introduced such progressive measures as electoral reform including the first law to give votes to women in Australia (and second in the world only to New Zealand), a legitimation Act, the first conciliation and arbitration act in Australia, establishment of a state bank, a high protective tariff, regulation of factories, a progressive system of land, and income taxation,[1] a public works programme, and more extensive workers' compensation.[2]

Early life

Kingston was born in Adelaide, the son of Sir George Kingston, a Protestant Irish-born surveyor, architect and landowner in the early days of British settlement in South Australia and later a member of the first Parliament of South Australia. His mother, Ludovina Cameron, was of Portuguese descent. George Kingston boasted that he was "the first Irishman to set foot in the colony"[3] and it is true that the Kingstons were among Adelaide's founding families. Charles was educated at the Adelaide Educational Institution (schoolmate S. J. Magarey was born just one day later than him) and served his articles with Sir Samuel Way, Adelaide's leading lawyer and later Attorney-General of South Australia. He was called to the bar in 1873,[4] despite the objection of the elder brother of his future wife, Lucy May McCarthy on the grounds of Kingston's alleged seduction of her. He became a QC in 1889.[1][5]

In 1873 Kingston married Lucy McCarthy, who was an invalid for much of her life. They had no children, but in a remarkable gesture, Lucy took in a child, Kevin Kingston, whom Kingston had fathered with another woman, Elizabeth Watson, in 1883. As a result of the scandal, Kingston was ostracised by Adelaide "society," his contempt for whom he never troubled to conceal. Kevin died in 1902.[6]

Kingston and his older brother Strickland Gough "Pat" Kingston (1848 – 3 October 1897) formed a business partnership Kingston & Kingston in 1879 which they dissolved in July 1884. S. G. Kingston was a brilliant lawyer but unstable. He was jailed for the gunshot wounding of a cabdriver in June 1884[7] and killed himself after losing an important case in Port Augusta.[8]

Kingston had a passion for Australian rules football in South Australia and helped formulate its code and was President of the South Australian Football Club.[9]

Colonial politics

In April 1881, Kingston was elected to the South Australian House of Assembly as a radical liberal for the seat of West Adelaide. He favoured reform of the Legislative Council (which was dominated by wealthy landowners) and other radical reforms. He was described by William Maloney as the originator of the White Australia Policy, although this policy was supported by virtually all Australian politicians at the time of federation.[1]

Kingston was Attorney-General of South Australia from 1884 to 1885 in the government of John Colton and again in 1887-89 in the government of Tom Playford. In 1893, he succeeded Playford as leader of the South Australian liberals and defeated the conservative premier, John Downer, to become premier from 1893 to 1899, a record at the time of six-and-a-half years, not to be broken until Thomas Playford IV and Kingston was also Chief Secretary and Attorney-General and Minister for Industry from 1895 to 1899. Kingston came to office with the support of a new third party, the South Australian division of the Labor Party, led by John McPherson, which held the balance of power.

A big, imposing man with a full beard, a booming voice and a violent, cutting debating style, Kingston dominated the small world of South Australian colonial politics in the 1890s. He was a great hero to liberals and working-class voters and much hated by conservatives. In 1892, Richard Baker called him a "coward, a bully and a disgrace to the legal profession" in the Legislative Council and Kingston replied by calling Baker "false as a friend, treacherous as a colleague, mendacious as a man, and utterly untrustworthy in every relationship of public life". Kingston arranged for a duel but Baker had him arrested. Kingston was thus bound over to keep the peace for a year.[1]

Kingston had not supported votes for women at the 1893 elections but was subsequently persuaded by his ministerial colleagues, John Cockburn and Frederick Holder of its political advantages and lobbied by the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Women's suffrage in Australia took a leap forward, enacted in 1895 and taking effect from that year's election, South Australia was the first in Australia and only the second in the world, after New Zealand, to allow women to vote, and it was the first in the world to allow women to stand for election.[10]

Kingston's government also established the state bank of South Australia, regulated factories, imposed death duties, and increased land tax and progressive income taxes.[1][5]

When Tom Buxton was appointed Governor of South Australia, Kingston was angry that the government had not been involved in the decision and so made life as hard as possible for Buxton and his family. The governor's allowance was reduced, and customs duty was charged on its household items (including his wife's invalid carriage).

A leading supporter of Federation, Kingston was a delegate to the Constitutional Conventions of 1891 and 1897 to 1898 which worked to draft an Australian Constitution. In 1897, he travelled to London for the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, where he was made a Privy Councillor and awarded an honorary Doctor of Civil Laws degree by Oxford University. He also turned down the offer of a knighthood, to the distress of his wife. There, he lobbied senior British politicians in favour of Australian federation.[1]

In 1899, Kingston's government was defeated in the House on a bill relating to the reform of the Legislative Council, leading to Kingston's resignation as Premier. By then, however, he was more interested in federal politics, as the six Australian colonies moved towards federation. He was a leading figure in the popular movement for federation, and in 1900, he travelled to London with Edmund Barton and Alfred Deakin to oversee the passage of the federation bill through the Parliament of the United Kingdom.[1]

The Liberal and Democratic Union would not be formed until the 1906 election.

Federal politics

When the Constitution came into effect on 1 January 1901, Barton formed the first federal ministry, and Kingston was appointed Minister for Trade and Customs. In March 1901, he was elected as one of seven statewide members of the Division of South Australia in the first Australian House of Representatives. Kingston topped the poll, with 65% of the vote; South Australia was not divided into electoral divisions in time for that election. In 1903, he became the first member for the Division of Adelaide.[1] His Central District seat in the Legislative Council was won by George Brookman.

Kingston was a "high protectionist" and favoured very high tariffs to protect Australia's fledgling manufacturing industries. Most of his time as minister was spent negotiating a customs bill through both houses of the Parliament since no party had a majority in either house, and the forces of the Free Trade Party resisted his bill at every stage. Negotiating with his opponents was not among Kingston's many talents, and his bullying style made him many enemies. He also insisted on involving himself in the administrative details of his department and insisted on prosecutions of businesses to enforce his high-tariff policies.[1]

In July 1903, Kingston resigned suddenly in a fit of anger from the opposition of John Forrest and Edmund Barton to his attempt to impose conciliation and arbitration on British and foreign seamen engaged in the Australian coastal trade. He never held office again, and although Labor offered him a position in Chris Watson's ministry, he turned it down, presumably because of ill health. He remained as member for Adelaide and was allowed to run unopposed at both the 1903 and 1906 elections.[1][5]

Kingston died in Adelaide of a sudden stroke in May 1908 and was buried at the local West Terrace Cemetery, survived by his increasingly-eccentric wife.[1] An Adelaide by-election was held to elect a new MP. The Division of Kingston is named after him.


Kingston's body was exhumed in March 2008, nearly 100 years after his death because two people thought they may be his direct descendants from one of his illegitimate children.[11] It is claimed that Kingston was ostracised by Adelaide society for his sexual indiscretions[12][13] and that he fathered at least six illegitimate children.[14][15]


  1. Playford, John (1983). "Kingston, Charles Cameron (1850–1908)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 22 November 2007.
  2. Ross McMullin, The Light on the Hill: The Australian Labor Party 1891-1991.
  3. "George Kingston". Kingston House. Communitywebs. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 22 November 2007.
  4. "Latest News". Evening Journal (Adelaide). V, (1285). South Australia. 22 March 1873. p. 2. Retrieved 29 March 2018 via National Library of Australia.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  5. Serle, Percival. "Kingston, Charles Cameron (1850–1908)". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Project Gutenberg Australia. Retrieved 22 November 2007.
  6. Kingston fathers more than Federation Sydney Morning Herald 11 May 2010 accessed 15 April 2011
  7. Adelaide, Wednesday Sydney Morning Herald 7 August 1884 p. 8
  8. Breaking the News The Advertiser 5 October 1897 p.5 accessed 21 May 2011
  9. "Charles Cameron Kingston". Retrieved 17 April 2015.
  10. "Women's Suffrage Petition 1894:" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 March 2011. Retrieved 8 January 2016.
  11. Former premier's body exhumed for paternity DNA test which proved that this was the case and they were in fact defendants of Kingston. - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
  12. "Premier's body exhumed to prove paternity | The Australian". Archived from the original on 28 May 2008. Retrieved 26 May 2008.
  13. Premier's body dug up | Herald Sun
  14. "Womanising political pioneer Charles Kingston exhumed over paternity rumours | The Australian". Archived from the original on 28 May 2008. Retrieved 26 May 2008.
  15. Digging for political bastardry | Archived 30 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine
Political offices
Preceded by
Sir John Downer
Premier of South Australia
Succeeded by
Vaiben Louis Solomon
New title Minister for Trade and Customs
Succeeded by
William Lyne
Parliament of Australia
New division Member for South Australia
Served alongside: Batchelor, Bonython,
Glynn, Holder, Poynton, Solomon
Division abolished
New division Member for Adelaide
Succeeded by
Ernest Roberts
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