PARKES, Sir Henry (1815-1896)


PARKES, Sir Henry (1815-1896)
statesman
was born at Stoneleigh, Warwickshire, England, on 27 May 1815. His father, Thomas Parkes, was a small tenant farmer. Of his mother little is known, but when she died in 1842 Parkes could say of her that he felt as if a portion of this world's beauty was lost to him for ever. He received little schooling, and at an early age was working on a rope-walk for fourpence a day. His next work was in a brickyard, and later on he tells us he "was breaking stones on the Queen's highway with hardly enough clothing to protect me from the cold". He was then apprenticed to John Holding, a bone and ivory turner at Birmingham, and probably about the year 1832 joined the Birmingham political union. Between that year and 1838 he was associated in the political movements that were then endeavouring to better the conditions of the working classes. He was steadily educating himself with much reading, including the British poets, and in 1835 addressed some verses, afterwards included in his first volume of poems, to Clarinda Varney, the daughter of a comparatively well-to-do man. On 11 July 1836 they were married and went to live in a single room. Parkes commenced business on his own account in Birmingham and had a bitter struggle. The two children born to him died, and after a few unsuccessful weeks in London he and his wife sailed for Australia as bounty immigrants in the Strathfieldsaye, which arrived at Sydney on 25 July 1839. Another child had been born two days before.
During his first fortnight in Sydney Parkes looked vainly for work. He and his wife had only a few shillings when they arrived, and they existed for a time by selling their belongings. Parkes then engaged as a labourer with Sir John Jamison (q.v.) near Penrith at £25 a year and a ration and a half of food, principally rice, flour and sugar, for the meat was sometimes unfit to eat. Six months afterwards he returned to Sydney and obtained work at low wages, first in an ironmongery store and then With a firm of engineers and brassfounders. About a year after his arrival he was appointed a customs house officer and his position was now much better, though he was burdened with old debts. He was still in this position in 1843, but in 1844 he had opened in business as an ivory and bone turner in Kent-street. He afterwards removed to Hunter-street where he also kept a stock of writing-desks, dressing-cases, fancy baskets, ornaments and toys. He had few friends, but when his volume of verse, Stolen Moments, was published in 1842, the list of subscribers included many of the most distinguished people in Sydney. About this time he met Charles Harpur (q.v.) and W. A. Duncan, then editor of the Weekly Register; he mentions in his Fifty Years of Australian History that these men were his "chief advisers in matters of intellectual resource". He began to take an interest in the public proceedings of the colony and the burning question of the day, the stoppage of transportation. Self-government was another important question, the first step having been made in 1843 when the new legislative council was appointed consisting partly of nominated and partly of elected members, and the powers of the governor were much restricted. The third question was the land laws over which the struggle was to last for many years. Parkes began writing for the Atlas and the People's Advocate, but it was not until 1848 that he first began to speak in public. In that year Robert Lowe (q.v.), afterwards Viscount Sherbrooke, was a candidate for the representation of Sydney as the champion of the anti-transportation cause. Parkes became a member of his committee, was appointed one of his secretaries, and wrote the address to the electors which helped to secure Lowe's return. This was the beginning of Parkes's political career. In 1849 he was active at a meeting got up to petition both houses of parliament for a reduction of the suffrage qualifications. He made his first political speech, and advocated universal suffrage, which was not to come for many years. Parkes thought his own speech a very weak performance. As a result of the petition the qualification was reduced to £10 household and £100 freehold. The transportation question was raised again by the arrival of the convict ship Hashemy on 8 June 1849. Despite the pouring rain a huge public meeting was held on Circular Quay protesting against transportation, and the agitation was kept up until success was achieved in 1852. At the various meetings held Parkes spoke continually and also aided the cause by his writings in the press. In December 1850 he established the Empire newspaper, at first only a broadsheet published weekly, but it soon became a daily. Parkes as editor was strong in his loyalty to the British empire, but felt that an honest independent journal that would not be blind to the faults of the government could do a very useful work. It so happened that the governor, Sir Charles Fitzroy (q.v.), had neither the ability nor the industry of his predecessors, and the Empire's vigorous articles did not hesitate to point out his shortcomings nor those of the men surrounding him. Parkes as editor and proprietor became a figure of great importance, and while he had control of this paper he worked unceasingly in writing articles, procuring news, and managing the business side of the paper. It would indeed have been better if he could have employed a manager for he never became a good business man. In his paper he fought for a new constitution, and on the platform spoke strenuously against the views of W. C. Wentworth (q.v.). Wentworth in 1853 obtained the appointment of a sub-committee which brought forward a scheme for a constitution that was hotly debated in August of that year and carried by 33 votes to 8. Parkes has, however, pointed out that the minority represented the party to be created by the bill, and destined to rule the country. Long years after he was able to say that "in the heated opposition to the objectionable parts of Mr Wentworth's scheme, no sufficient attention was given to its great merits". Wentworth went to England to support the bill in its passage through parliament in 1854, and resigned his seat as a representative of Sydney. Charles Kemp and Parkes were nominated for the vacancy and the latter was successful by 1427 votes to 779. Parkes in his speeches advocated the extension of the power of the people, increased facilities for education, and a bold railway policy.
Parkes began his political career very quietly. He was with the minority in the legislative council and they could afford to bide their time until the new constitution came in. His work at the Empire office was very heavy, and in December 1855 he announced his intention of retiring from parliament. He was persuaded to alter his mind, and a month later became one of the liberal candidates for Sydney in the legislative assembly. The first parliament was opened on 22 May 1856 and for some months little was done. Ministry after ministry was formed only to disappear in a few weeks. Parkes was once offered office but declined as he felt he would be deserting his friends. The Empire was not paying its way in spite of its reputation, and if it was to be saved Parkes would have to give his whole time to it. About the end of 1856 he resigned his seat. Considering the short period he had been in parliament the response was remarkable. The press and public men of the period united in deploring his loss, and more than one effort was made to start a testimonial for him, but he resolutely declined to accept one. It is clear that his sincerity and power had made a great impression on the community. He put all his energies into an attempt to save his paper. there was no limit to the number of hours he worked in each day, but he was unsuccessful. The liabilities of the paper amounted to fully £50,000 and, though his friends rallied round him and tried to ease the situation by advancing the sum required to pay off a mortgage of £11,000 in 1858 the position became hopeless. Early in that year Parkes had entered the legislative assembly again as member for the North Riding of Cumberland. An interesting sidelight on his growing reputation is the fact that before this election (Sir) Charles Gavan Duffy (q.v.) wrote to a friend in Sydney urging the desirability of Parkes being elected. With remarkable prescience, he said: "I am confident that 10 years hence, and I do not doubt that 10 generations hence, the name which will best personify the national spirit of New South Wales in this era will be the name of Henry Parkes". Parkes sat in this parliament for about six months and then resigned at the end of August 1858 on account of his insolvency. His liabilities were estimated at £50,000 and his assets at £48,500. On the literary side the Empire was an excellent paper, but only a man of great business ability could have made a financial success of it at this period. The issuing of a certificate of insolvency was bitterly opposed and the proceedings were long drawn out. It is evident that Parkes had resorted to the usual shifts of a man in financial difficulties, but it was shown that, in some cases at least, he had acted under the advice of his banker, and he was ultimately exonerated by the chief commissioner in insolvency of any fraudulent intent.
Relieved of his heavy work on the Empire, which was continued in other hands, Parkes stood for parliament and was elected for East Sydney on 10 June 1859. He stood as an independent candidate but in the list of candidates elected he was described by the Sydney Morning Herald as a "radical". He was generally in favour of (Sir) John Robertson's (q.v.) land policy, of the extension of education, and of free trade. He was not a bigoted freetrader as he was as strongly in favour of developing manufactures as he was of encouraging agriculture. He also believed in immigration, and his well-known powers as an orator led to his being sent to England with W. B. Dalley (q.v.) as commissioners of emigration at a salary of £1000 a year each in May 1861. Their duties were confined to diffusing information, and Parkes spoke at about 60 meetings at towns in the west and north of England and in Scotland. He felt that he had done good work, but it was difficult to say how much effect his words had. During the 14 months he was in England he met many interesting people, and became in particular friendly with Carlyle and his wife. He returned to Australia in January 1863. In August he opposed J. B. Darvall at East Maitland and was defeated, but in the following year was elected for Kiama. In January 1866 the premier, Charles Cowper (q.v.), resigned in consequence of an amendment moved by Parkes having been carried. Strictly speaking the governor should have asked Parkes whether he could form a government, but (Sir) James Martin (q.v.) was sent for and Parkes was given the position of colonial secretary. This ministry remained in office for nearly three years, from January 1866 to October 1868. An important piece of legislation carried through was the public schools act of 1866 introduced by Parkes, of which an essential part was that no man or woman would be allowed to act as a teacher who had not been properly trained in teaching. Provision was also made for the training of teachers, and the act marked a great advance in educational methods. A council of education was formed, and for the first four years after the passing of the act Parkes filled the office of president. In spite of the fears of some of the religious bodies the act worked well, and many new schools were established all over the colony.
In March 1868 the Duke of Edinburgh, while on a visit to Australia, was shot by an Irishman named O'Farrell. Parliament temporarily lost its head and passed a treason felony act of great and unnecessary severity. This led to much ill-feeling, and Parkes, who as minister in charge of the police force was much concerned with the incident, was unable to free himself entirely from the hysteria of the time. About the middle of 1868 after the prince had recovered and left Australia, Parkes unwisely brought up the subject again in the course of a speech to his constituents. He inferred that O'Farrell was only the instrument in a plot to murder the prince. It is not impossible that there may have been a plot to avenge the execution of some Fenians at Manchester in 1867. But any evidence Parkes may have had was not definite enough to have warranted a public statement, and as a result he incurred enmity from a large number of people for the remainder of his life. He resigned from the Martin ministry in September 1868, and for the next three and a half years was out of office. In the first year of the Robertson (q.v.) government he moved a want-of-confidence motion which was defeated by four votes. Parkes continued to be one of the most conspicuous figures in the house, and at the 1869 election was returned at the head of the poll. A much larger proportion of assisted Irish immigrants than English or Scotch had been arriving in the colony for many years and Parkes felt there was an element of danger in this. He stated that he had no feeling against the Irish or their religion, but his protestations were without avail and the Irish section of the community became hostile to him. Whatever may have been the merits of the question it would appear that in this matter Parkes put convictions before policy. In 1870 he was again in financial difficulties and was obliged to resign his seat. He had been in business as a merchant in a comparatively large way, and when declared insolvent he had liabilities of £32,000 and assets of £13,300. He was at once re-elected for Kiama, but an extremely hostile article in the Sydney Morning Herald led to his resigning again. The suggestion had been made that his presence in the assembly while in the insolvency court might influence the officials. It was not until December 1871 that a seat could be found for him and he was then elected at a by-election for Mudgee. The Martin-Robertson ministry had involved itself in a petty squabble with the colony of Victoria over a question of border duties, and Parkes effectively threw ridicule on the proceedings. When parliament met the government was defeated and a dissolution was granted. In the general election which followed Parkes was generally recognized as the leader of the people's party, and the ministry was defeated at the polls. When parliament assembled Parkes was elected leader of the opposition. The acting-governor had sent for Mr Forster (q.v.) before parliament met, but he was unable to form a ministry, and in May 1872 Parkes formed his first ministry which was to last for nearly three years.
Parkes had always been a free-trader and no doubt his convictions were strengthened when in England by contact with Cobden and other leading free traders. During his first administration he so reduced the duties in New South Wales that practically it became a free trade colony. Generally there was a forward policy. Railway and telegraph lines were much extended, and at the same time there was some reduction in taxation. In 1873 the retirement of Sir Alfred Stephen (q.v.), the chief justice, led to an incident which raised much feeling against Parkes. It seems clear that Parkes at first encouraged his attorney-general, E. Butler, to believe that he would be appointed chief justice. Opposition developed in many quarters and Parkes gradually realized that Sir James Martin was generally considered to be the most suitable man and offered him the position. When the announcement of his appointment was made on 11 November 1873 Butler took the opportunity to make a statement, read the correspondence between Parkes and himself, and resigned his seat in the cabinet. However much Parkes may have been to blame for his early encouragement of the aspirations of his colleague, there appears to be no truth in the suggestion then made that he had, by appointing Martin, found means of getting rid of a formidable political opponent. The ministry went on its way though unable to pass bills to make the upper house elective and to amend the electoral law. The council was jealous of its position and succeeded in maintaining it for the time being. Two or three unsuccessful attempts were made to oust the government without success, but in February 1875 the release of the bushranger Gardiner (q.v.) led to the defeat of the ministry.
When Parkes was defeated Robertson came into power, and for the next two years little was done of real importance. Parkes became tired of his position as leader of the opposition and resigned early in 1877. In March the Robertson ministry was defeated and Parkes formed one which lasted five months. The parties were equally divided and business was sometimes at a standstill. Parkes said of this ministry that it had "as smooth a time as the toad under the harrow". Robertson came in again from August to December, and then J. S. Farnell (q.v.) formed a stop-gap ministry which existed for a year from December 1877 to December 1878. In the middle of this year Parkes made a tour of the western districts of the colony speaking at many country centres. This gave him many opportunities of criticizing the government then in power. At the end of the year it was defeated, but the situation was still obscure, because the parties led by Robertson and Parkes were nearly equal. Robertson tried to form a government but failed, and tired of the unsatisfactory position resigned his seat in the assembly. He was then approached by Parkes, and a government was formed with Robertson as vice-president of the executive council and representative of the government in the upper house. The combination was unexpected, as each leader had frequently denounced the other, but everyone was glad to escape from the confusion of the preceding years, and the ministry did good work in its four years of office. It amended the electoral law, brought in a new education act, improved the water-supply and sewerage systems, appointed stipendiary magistrates, regulated the liability of employers with regard to injuries to workmen, and made law other useful acts. When it left office there was a large surplus in the treasury. Towards the end of 1881 Parkes was in bad health. He still kept up his habit of working long hours, and except for week-end visits to his house in the mountains he had no relaxation. It was suggested that a grant should be made by parliament to enable him to go away on a voyage, but he declined to allow this to be brought forward. Be also vetoed a suggestion that a substantial testimonial should be presented to him by his friends. He decided to visit England at his own expense, and at a banquet given by the citizens just before sailing he drew a picture of what he hoped to do in the coming to years. He was never able to carry it out but at least he had the vision to see what was needed. He stayed in America for about six weeks on his way to Europe and did his best to make Australia better known. In England he was received everywhere as an honoured guest, and while everywhere he insisted on the desirability of preserving the ties between England and her colonies, he asked always that they should be allowed to work out their own salvation; "the softer the cords" he said "the stronger will be the union between us". Among the friends he made in England was Tennyson, and Lord Leigh, being aware that Parkes had been born at Stoneleigh, invited him to stay at Stoneleigh Abbey. Parkes was much interested to see again the farmhouse in which he was born and the church in which he was christened. On his way home he visited Melbourne where he was given a banquet on 15 August 1882. Two days later he was back in Sydney.
When Parkes returned the government was apparently in no danger, but there was a general feeling that an amendment of the land laws was necessary. Far too much of the land was falling into the hands of the large graziers and dummying was a common practice. As far back as 1877 Parkes had realized that the land laws were not working well, and Robertson's bill only proposed comparatively unimportant amendments. Robertson, however, was a strong man in the cabinet and Parkes unwisely took the line of least resistance. The ministry was defeated, a dissolution was obtained, and at the election the party was not only defeated, Parkes lost his own seat at East Sydney. Another constituency, Tenterfield, was found for him but he took little interest in politics for some time. He went to England as representative of a Sydney financial company and did not return until August 1884, having been absent 14 months. Shortly afterwards he resigned his seat and announced his retirement from politics. He was now in his seventieth year. He opened an office in Pitt-street as representative of the financial association which had sent him to England, and remained in this position until 1887. He could not, however, keep long away from politics. At the beginning of 1885 W. B. Dalley (q.v.), while acting-premier, offered a contingent of troops to go to the Soudan and the offer was accepted. Parkes strongly disapproved and, though public opinion was against him, on 31 March he won the Argyle seat. When he took his seat in September objection was taken to reflections he had made on parliament, and Sir Alexander Stuart (q.v.) moved a resolution affirming that the words he had used were a gross libel on the house. His motion was carried by four votes and Parkes was quite unrepentant, but the ministry did not dare go any farther. One of the supporters of the ministry moved that Parkes should be expelled but only obtained the support of his seconder. In October 1885 parliament was dissolved, the government was reconstructed and G. R. Dibbs (q.v.) became premier. At the election Parkes stood against Dibbs at St Leonards and defeated him by 476 votes. It was, however, pointed out that this success was due not a little to Parkes's advocacy of a bridge across the harbour, and a railway line going inland from North Shore. The ministry was defeated and was succeeded by a Robertson ministry which lasted only two months. The next ministry, under Sir Patrick Jennings (q.v.), had a life of nine months but was defeated in January 1887. In the meantime Robertson had retired from politics and Parkes, as leader of the opposition, formed a ministry and obtained a dissolution. He fought a strenuous campaign pointing out that in the four years since he was last in office the public debt had more than doubled and the surplus of £2,000,000 had become a deficit of £2,500,000. He proposed to do away with the recent increase in duties, to bring in an amended land act, and to create a body to control the railways free of political influence. Parkes had made enemies in various directions, but generally his personal popularity was great. His speeches, not always free from personal attacks, were received with enthusiasm, and his party was returned with a two to one majority. When parliament met free trade was soon restored and there was a well-meant but abortive inquiry into the state of the civil service. The question of Chinese immigration was much before the public in Australia, and Parkes was opposed to their coming, but not as his biographer asserts because he considered them to be an inferior race. Indeed some years before he had said of them "They are a superior set of people . . . a nation of an old and deep-rooted civilization. . . . It is because I believe the Chinese to be a powerful race capable of taking a great hold upon the country, and because I want to preserve the type of my own nation . . . that I am and always have been opposed to the influx of Chinese". In spite of some discouragement from the British government he succeeded in passing an act raising the entrance tax to £100 per head. Though Parkes was personally opposed to it a payment of members act was passed, and two important and valuable measures, the government railways act and the public works act both became law. The government, however, was defeated on a question of the appointment of railway commissioners. At the ensuing election Parkes was returned with a small majority and formed his fifth administration, which came in in March 1889 and lasted until October 1891. In October 1889 a report on the defences of Australia suggested among other things the federation of the forces of all the Australian colonies and a uniform guage for railways. Parkes had come to the conclusion that the time had come for a new federal movement. So far back as 1867 Parkes at an intercolonial conference had said: "I think the time has arrived when these colonies should be united by some federal bond of connexion." Shortly afterwards a bill to establish the proposed federal council was introduced by him and passed through both the New South Wales houses. This was afterwards shelved by the action of the secretary of state for the colonies. Various other conferences were held in the next 20 years at which the question came up, in which Parkes took a leading part, but in October 1884 he was blowing cold and suggesting that it would be "better to let the idea of federation mature in men's minds", and New South Wales then stood out of the proposed federal council scheme. He now felt more confidence in the movement and on 15 October 1889 telegraphed to the premiers of the other colonies suggesting a conference. This was held in February 1890 and may be considered the first real step towards federation. In May he moved resolutions in the assembly approving of the proceedings of the conference that had just been held in Melbourne, and appointing himself and three other members delegates to the Sydney federal convention of 1891. On 18 May he broke his leg and was laid up for some time. It was 14 weeks before he was able to be assisted to his seat in the house. When the convention met on 2 March 1891 Parkes was appointed president "not only as the premier of the colony where the convention sat, but also as the immediate author of the present movement". The next business was the debating of a series of resolutions proposed by Parkes as a preliminary interchange of ideas and a laying down of guiding principles. It was at this convention that the first draft of a bill to constitute the Commonwealth of Australia was framed. When it was about to be submitted to the New South Wales assembly Reid (q.v.) on the address-in-reply moved an amendment hostile to the bill. Parkes then announced that in view of Reid's amendment he proposed to put the federal bill third on the list. Dibbs moved a vote of no confidence, defeated only on the casting vote of the speaker, and Parkes resigned on 22 October 1891.
Parkes was now in his seventy-seventh year and his political career had practically ended. He was never to be in office again, and it was a blow to him that when he notified his supporters that he did not desire the position of the leader of the opposition, Reid was elected to lead his party. After that Parkes became practically an independent member. In 1895 he opposed Reid at the general election and was unsuccessful by 140 votes. He had fought Reid because he felt that the question of federation was being neglected by the government, but Reid was too popular in his constituency to be defeated. Parkes's second wife died in the course of the election and he had many other anxieties. In 1887 a sum of £9000 had been collected by his friends and placed in the hands of trustees for investment. From this fund he had been receiving an income of over £500 a year, but the financial crisis of 1893 reduced this to little more than £200. Parkes was obliged to sell his collection of autograph letters and many other things that he valued, to provide for his household. A movement was made in December 1895 to obtain a grant for him from the government but nothing had been done when he fell ill in April 1896 and died in poverty on the twenty-seventh of that month.
Parkes married (1) Clarinda Varney, (2) Eleanor Dixon, (3) Julia Lynch, who survived him with five daughters and one son of the first marriage and five sons and one daughter by the second. His eldest son, Varney Parkes, entered parliament and was postmaster-general in the Reid ministry from August 1898 to September 1899. The children of the second marriage were faithfully brought up by Julia Lady Parkes and one of them, Cobden Parkes, born in 1892, eventually became New South Wales government architect. Parkes had left directions that his funeral should be as simple as possible, but though a state funeral was declined, a very large number of people attended when he was placed by the side of his first wife at Faulconbridge, in the grounds of his former home in the Blue Mountains. His portrait by Julian Ashton is at the national gallery, Sydney. He was created K.C.M.G. in 1877 and G.C.M.G. in 1888.
Parkes's literary work includes six volumes of verse, Stolen Moments (1842), Murmurs of the Stream (1857), Studies in Rhyme (1870), The Beauteous Terrorist and Other Poems (1885), Fragmentary Thoughts (1889), Sonnets and Other Verses (1895). It has been the general practice to laugh at Parkes's poetic efforts, and it is true that his work could sometimes be almost unbelievably bad. Yet though he had no real claims to be a poet he wrote some strong, sincere verse which has occasionally been included in Australian anthologies. His prose work includes Australian Views of England (1869), and his autobiographical Fifty Years in the Making of Australian History (1892), extremely interesting in places but necessarily giving a partial view of his own work. A collection of his Speeches on Various Occasions, delivered between 1848 and 1874, was published in 1876, and another collection dealing mostly with federation appeared in 1890 under the title of The Federal Government of Australasia. In 1896, shortly after his death, An Emigrant's Home Letters, a small collection of Parkes's letters to his family in England between 1838 and 1843, was published at Sydney, edited by his daughter, Annie T. Parkes.
Parkes was tall, rugged in features, commanding in personality. He was a fine orator who eschewed flights of rhetoric and spoke as a plain man to plain men, with great effect, in spite of occasional difficulties in controlling his aspirates. He had no schooling worthy of the name but had read widely. It has been said of him that he lacked gracious manners and was too conscious of his superiority, but his kindly reception by the Carlyles and Tennyson suggests that he was not without charm. He was interested in early Australian literary men, having been a friend of both Harpur (q.v.) and Kendall (q.v.). He was a bad manager of his own affairs; what he had he spent, and he died penniless. Yet he evidently knew a good financier when he saw him, for he had able treasurers in his cabinets and their financial administration was good. He was vain and temperamental, and frequently resigned his parliamentary seat only to seek election again soon afterwards. He was not a socialist but he had strong views about the rights of the people and for most of his parliamentary life was a great leader of them. In his later years, however, he seems to have been worn down by the strong conservative opposition he encountered, and he was responsible for less social legislation than might have been expected. Early to recognize the need for federation, when he saw that it had really become possible he fought strongly for it, when many leading politicians in New South Wales were fearful of its effect on their colony. His indomitable character which had raised him from a farm labourer to premier of his colony, and his recognition of the broader view that was required in a great movement like federation, had an immense effect when its fate was in doubt, and turned the scale in its favour.
Parkes, An Emigrant's Home Letters; C. E. Lyne, Life of Sir Henry Parkes; Parkes, Fifty Years in the Making of Australian History; Sir Thomas Bavin, Sir Henry Parkes, His Life and Work; Quick and Garran, The Annotated Constitution of the Australian Commonwealth; G. H. Reid, My Reminiscences; Bruce Smith, Honour to Whom Honour is Due; H. V. Evatt, Australian Labour Leader; The Sydney Morning Herald and The Daily Telegraph, Sydney. 28 April 1896; See also K. R. Cramp, Journal and Proceedings Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. XXIII, pp. 205-20; Joseph Jackson, ibid, pp. 221-8.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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