CARRUTHERS, Sir Joseph Hector McNeil (1857-1932)


CARRUTHERS, Sir Joseph Hector McNeil (1857-1932)
premier of New South Wales
son of John Carruthers, was born at Kiama, New South Wales, on 21 December 1857. His father was unable to pay for secondary education, and the boy was sent to the William-street and Fort-street superior public schools. After a short term at the Goulburn high school, he went on to the university of Sydney and graduated B.A. in 1876. Two years later he took his M.A. degree and was admitted to practise as a solicitor. For some years he followed this profession and in 1887 was elected a member of the legislative assembly for Canterbury. In March 1889, as minister of public instruction, he joined Parkes's (q.v.) last ministry and soon showed himself to be an energetic administrator. He took a special interest in technical schools, and especially the Ultimo technical college which afterwards established a great reputation. Parkes resigned in October 1891, but when the G. H. Reid (q.v.) ministry was formed in August 1894 Carruthers was given the position of minister of lands and passed an important crown lands act in 1895. The act of 1861 had not solved the perennial troubles between the squatters and the selectors, but the new act made an important change by dividing pastoral leases into two, one half of which was to be available for free selectors while the pastoral lessee was able to obtain a long term for the other half. Another important thing was that the right of the crown tenants to the value of their improvements was recognized. Carruthers made an able speech in introducing this measure. In July 1899 he took over the position of treasurer but a few weeks later Reid was defeated and resigned.
Carruthers was an ardent federalist and was elected third on the list as one of the ten New South Wales representatives at the 1897 federal convention. At the Adelaide session held in March 1897 he was appointed a member of the constitutional committee, and when the draft constitution came to be considered by the various legislatures he, on 5 May 1898, introduced the bill in the legislative assembly of New South Wales. It was a difficult task as there was considerable opposition in that chamber, and various amendments were suggested. At the September meeting of the convention held in Sydney, the longest debate took place over the question of deadlocks, and Carruthers proposed, and carried by 28 votes to 13, a proposition that in certain circumstances there should be a joint sitting of both houses at which a three-fifths majority should carry the measure. This was afterwards altered, in 1899, to an absolute majority of the total number of the members of both houses. At the Melbourne session held early in 1898 he fought vigorously for the irrigation rights of New South Wales.
With the coming of federation Reid went to the federal house and Carruthers became leader of the opposition in New South Wales in 1902. In August 1904 he was called upon to form a ministry and though he had a majority of only one in the house, his ministry never seemed to be in real danger during its term of office of over three years. As premier and treasurer he did admirable work and not only showed increasing surpluses each year, but at the same time succeeded in reducing taxation and railway rates. His local government act of 1906 was a notable achievement, and a beginning was made on the Burrinjuck irrigation dam. Between 1904 and 1907 closer settlement schemes made nearly six million acres available for settlement. He fought a strenuous election campaign in 1907, overtaxed his strength, and was obliged to retire temporarily from politics in September. In October 1908 he entered the legislative council and shortly afterwards was created K.C.M.G. Though he did not hold office again for many years, he was a power behind the scenes in the politics of his day. Much interested in primary production, he had model farms of his own in the south west of New South Wales, and he was chairman of a select committee on agriculture in 1920-1 which did valuable work. In April 1922 he joined the coalition ministry under Sir G. W. Fuller as vice-president of the executive council and leader of the upper house, and remained in office until June 1925. He died on 10 December 1932. He was twice married and was survived by Lady Carruthers, three sons and four daughters.
Carruthers had many interests. In his younger days he played both cricket and football for his university, and in later years became a leading bowler. He was chairman of the New South Wales cricket association and also of the board of Associated Race Clubs, a trustee of the art gallery and a member of the university senate. For 21 years he represented the district which contained the spot where Captain Cook landed in Australia. By his efforts a large area there was set aside as a national park about the close of the century. In 1908 he wrote a letter to The Times which led to the erection of a statue of Captain Cook in London, and afterwards on his suggestion the territorial government of Hawaii dedicated to the public the land surrounding the bay where Cook was killed. He also came to the conclusion that Cook's name required vindicating in some directions and in 1930 John Murray published for him his Captain James Cook, R.N. One Hundred and fifty years after. In these as in other things Carruthers showed that he belonged to the type of man who, seeing the necessity for something being done immediately does it. Few premiers of New South Wales succeeded in doing so much distinguished work. Early in his career Parkes recognized his untiring energy and ability, and, if his comparatively frail body had allowed him, he might have done even more remarkable work for his own state or for the Commonwealth.
An elder brother, the Rev. James E. Carruthers, D.D., had a distinguished career in the Methodist Church. Born at York-street, Sydney, in 1848, he entered the ministry in 1868, did circuit work for 46 years, was president of the New South Wales Wesleyan Methodist conference in 1895, president of the New South Wales Methodist conference in 1913 and president of the general conference of the Methodist Church of Australasia from 1917 to 1920. For about 20 years he edited the Methodist and was author of Memoirs of an Australian Ministry (1922), and other works. He died on 15 September 1932.
Sydney Morning Herald, 12 December 1932, 16 September 1932; The Daily Telegraph, Sydney, 1 October 1907; G. H. Reid, My Reminiscences; B. R. Wise, The Making of the Australian Commonwealth; Quick and Garran, The Annotated Constitution of the Australian Commonwealth; P. Mennell, The Dictionary of Australasian Biography.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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