Sir William John Lyne KCMG (6 April 1844 – 3 August 1913) was an Australian politician who served as Premier of New South Wales from 1899 to 1901, and later as a federal cabinet minister under Edmund Barton and Alfred Deakin. He is best known as the subject of the "Hopetoun Blunder", unexpectedly being asked to serve as the first Prime Minister of Australia but failing to form a government.
Sir William Lyne
|13th Premier of New South Wales|
14 September 1899 – 27 March 1901
|Preceded by||George Reid|
|Succeeded by||John See|
|Member of the Australian Parliament|
29 March 1901 – 31 May 1913
|Preceded by||New division|
|Succeeded by||Robert Patten|
|Born||6 April 1844|
Great Swanport, Van Diemen's Land, Australia
|Died||3 August 1913 69) (aged|
Double Bay, New South Wales, Australia
|Political party||Protectionist (before 1909)|
Independent (after 1909)
Martha Shaw (m. 1870–1903)
Sarah Olden (m. 1905)
Lyne was born in Van Diemen's Land, the son of a pastoral farmer. When he was 20, he and cousin took up a sheep station in North West Queensland. However, he moved back home after a few years and found work in local government. Lyne moved to New South Wales in 1875, buying a station near Albury and becoming prominent in community affairs. He was elected to the colonial Legislative Assembly in 1880, and first entered cabinet in 1885 under George Dibbs. He was a member of the Protectionist Party, and a major opponent of free-traders Henry Parkes and George Reid.
Lyne was elected leader of the Protectionists in 1895, and became Leader of the Opposition in New South Wales. He stood aside in 1898, but returned as leader the following year and became premier at the head of a coalition with the Labor Party. Lyne led an energetic and progressive government, instituting a number of major social reforms. He supported federation in principle, serving as a delegate to multiple constitutional conventions. However, he considered the draft constitution to be too unfavourable to New South Wales and supported the "no" vote at the 1898 and 1899 referendums.
In 1900, Lyne was asked by Lord Hopetoun (the incoming governor-general) to lead Australia's first national government. Hopetoun was relying on the precedent established at Canadian Confederation, where the premier of the largest colony became the prime minister of the new federation. However, Lyne had no support from leading federationists and was forced to relinquish the honour to Edmund Barton. Lyne became Minister for Home Affairs in Barton's government, and was later Minister for Trade and Customs and Treasurer under Alfred Deakin. Lyne opposed the formation of the new Commonwealth Liberal Party in 1909 and spent the rest of his career as a crossbencher, supporting Andrew Fisher's Labor government. He lost his seat at the 1913 election and died a few months later.
Lyne was born at Great Swanport, Van Diemen's Land (what is now Swansea, Tasmania). He was the eldest son of John Lyne, a pastoral farmer who would serve in the Tasmanian House of Assembly from 1880 to 1893. He was educated at Horton College, Ross, and subsequently by a private tutor. He left Tasmania at 20 to take up land in northern Queensland, but finding the climate did not suit him, he returned to Tasmania a year later. He became a clerk at Glamorgan Council. After 10 years, Lyne left for the mainland again in 1875 and took up land at Cumberoona near Albury, New South Wales.
New South Wales politics
Lyne was the member for Hume in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly from 1880. A Protectionist, he was Secretary for Public Works in 1885 and from 1886 to 1887 and Secretary for Lands in 1889. From 1891 to 1894, he became Secretary for Public Works again in the third ministry of George Dibbs. Lyne was a strong protectionist and fought hard for a high tariff. He also strongly supported railway expansion and pressed on with the building of the Culcairn to Corowa line in his own electorate.
The Free Trade Party was still very strong in New South Wales, and George Reid won the 1895 election and Lyne became Leader of the Opposition due to Dibbs losing his seat. Reid had entrusted John Cash Neild with a preparation of a report upon old age pensions, and he had promised the leader of the Labor Party that he would give Neild no payment for this without the sanction of Parliament. Finding that the work was much greater than he expected, Neild had asked for and obtained an advance in anticipation of a vote. Lyne, by a clever amendment of a vote of want of confidence, made it practically impossible for the Labor party to support Reid, thus aligning the Labor Party who held the balance of power against Reid. Lyne became Premier by agreeing to reforms proposed by the Labor Party. Lyne promised the Labor Party specific reforms and he passed 85 Acts between July and December 1900, including early closing of retail shops, coal mines regulation and miners' accident relief, old-age pensions and graduated death duties.
Lyne was a consistent opponent of the Federation of Australia until the establishment of the Commonwealth in 1901. He was one of the representatives of New South Wales at the 1897 convention and sat on the finance committee but did not have an important influence on the debates. When the campaign began before the referendum of 1898, Lyne declared himself against the bill, and at the second referendum, held in 1899, he was the only New South Wales convention representative who was still dissatisfied with the amended bill. Reid, after some vacillation had, however, declared himself whole-heartedly on the side of federation, and the referendum showed a substantial majority on the "Yes" side.
Following the death of his wife, Lyne remarried in 1906. His second wife, Lady Sarah Jane Lyne died in Canberra in 1961 and is buried in Woden Cemetery Canberra. The couple had married in secret in 1905. On 8 April 1960, Lady Lyne presented a lithograph portraying the opening of the first Federal Parliament to the then newly opened Lyneham High School.
As Premier of the largest colony, Lyne considered himself entitled to be the first Prime Minister of Australia when the colonies federated in January 1901. This was in accordance with the precedent established at Canadian Confederation three decades earlier.
The Governor-General, Lord Hopetoun, was also of this mind, and offered the post to Lyne in December 1900, heading an interim government that would serve until the first federal election. However, since Lyne had opposed federation, most senior politicians, notably Alfred Deakin, told Hopetoun that they would not serve under Lyne. When it was apparent that Lyne would not be able to form a government, he returned his commission to Hopetoun. Eventually, Hopetoun was forced to accept the majority view that Edmund Barton, the leader of the federation movement, should be Prime Minister. Lyne's failure to form a government is known as the "Hopetoun Blunder."
Lyne became Minister for Home Affairs in Barton's cabinet on 1 January 1901 and was elected to the first federal Parliament as member for the Division of Hume in March 1901. He was responsible for the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 (preceded the Commonwealth Electoral Act), including the introduction of women's suffrage and the establishment of the Commonwealth Public Service. He remained Minister for Home Affairs until Charles Kingston left the cabinet, and became Minister for Trade and Customs in his stead on 7 August 1903. He retained this position when Deakin became Prime Minister towards the end of September. The general election held in December 1903 resulted in the return of three nearly equal parties, and Deakin was forced to resign in April 1904 but came back into power in July 1905 with Lyne in his old position.
In April 1907 Lyne accompanied Deakin to the colonial conference and endeavoured to persuade the British politicians that they were foolish in clinging to their policy of free trade. Deakin and Lyne returned to Australia in June, and when Sir John Forrest resigned his position as Treasurer at the end of July 1907, Lyne succeeded him.
Lyne's name is associated with the 'Lyne Tariff'— the Customs Tariff Act of 1908—which significantly increased levels of protection for local industry. It represented the final triumph of politicians favouring protection, over those advocating free trade, and brought to an end the main political divergence of pre-Federation Australia.
In November 1908, the Labor party withdrew its support from Deakin, and Fisher succeeded him and held office until June 1909, when Deakin and Cook joined forces and formed the so-called "Fusion" government. Lyne accused Deakin of betrayal and thereafter sat as an independent Protectionist. His bitter denunciations of his one-time friend continued during the 11 months the ministry lasted but Deakin did not respond. The Labor Party came in with a large majority in the April 1910 election, and Lyne was elected as a pro-Labor independent. However, Lyne lost his seat in the May 1913 election when the Labor Party lost to the opposition Commonwealth Liberal Party.
Lyne died in the Sydney suburb of Double Bay, a few months afterwards. He married twice and was survived by one son and three daughters of the first marriage and by Lady Lyne and her daughter.
Lyne was more of a politician than a statesman, always inclined to take a somewhat narrow view of politics. He did some good work when Premier of New South Wales by putting through the Early Closing bill (regulating shopping hours), the Industrial Arbitration bill, and bringing in graduated death duties; but even these measures were part of his bargain with the Labor party.
He was tall and vigorous, in his younger days a typical Australian bushman. He knew everyone in his electorate and was a good friend to all. He was bluff and frank and it was said of him that he was a man whose hand went instinctively into his pocket when any appeal was made to him. In Parliament, he was courageous and a vigorous administrator.
Scarcely an orator, he was a good tactician. Although overshadowed by greater men like Barton, Reid and Deakin, his views had much influence in his time. In his early political life he was a great advocate of irrigation, and in federal politics he had much to do with the shaping of the policy of protection eventually adopted by the Commonwealth.
His reputation has been badly affected by Alfred Deakin's description of him as "a crude, sleek, suspicious, blundering, short-sighted, backblocks politician".
- "John Lyne". The Parliament of Tasmania from 1856. Parliament of Tasmania. 2005. Retrieved 20 August 2007. and "Electorate of Apsley – History". Parliament of Tasmania. 2007. Archived from the original on 1 September 2007. Retrieved 20 August 2007.
- Serle, Percival. "Lyne, Sir William John (1844–1913)". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Project Gutenberg Australia. Retrieved 14 April 2007.
- "Sir William John Lyne (1844–1913)". Former Members of the Parliament of New South Wales. Retrieved 11 May 2019.
- Cunneen, Chris (1986). "Lyne, Sir William John (1844–1913)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 14 April 2007.
- Childe, Vere Gordon (1923). "Chapter II. The Theory and Practice of Caucus Control". How Labour Governs. www.marxist.org. Retrieved 20 August 2007.
- Lady Lyne has a headstone in the Woden Cemetery that notes the date of death
- "School Gets Historic Lithograph". The Canberra Times. Trove. 9 April 1960.
- "THE LYNE TARIFF". Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931). 3 September 1907. p. 4. Retrieved 26 October 2019.