PEACOCK, Sir Alexander James (1861-1933)


PEACOCK, Sir Alexander James (1861-1933)
three times premier of Victoria
the son of James Henry Peacock, was born at Creswick, Victoria, on 11 June 1861. He passed the civil service examination at 13 years of age, and was an assistant schoolmaster at Creswick for five years. He found himself in ill-health and went to Melbourne where he obtained work in a grocer's shop. His next position was in the office of a legal manager of mining companies, and throughout his life he kept up his connexion with gold-mining. At one time he was legal manager for about 50 companies with offices in Melbourne, Ballarat and Creswick. He took a great interest in the Australian Natives' Association of which he became president, and was also a prominent freemason. He was elected to represent Clunes and Allandale in the legislative assembly in March 1889, and in November 1890 joined the Munro (q.v.) ministry as a minister without portfolio. He became minister of public instruction in the Shiels (q.v.) ministry in April 1892 and for a few weeks was also postmaster-general. When the Turner (q.v.) ministry took office in September 1894, Peacock became chief secretary and minister of public instruction until Turner resigned in December 1899. In 1895 Peacock brought in important factory legislation, a special feature being the wages board system. He has been spoken of as the "father of factory legislation in Victoria", but the acts brought in by Deakin (q.v.) in 1885 and 1893 must not be forgotten. These, however, were so amended by the legislative council as to lose much of their force. Peacock's act showed a distinct advance, he had gone to much trouble to obtain his facts, and is entitled to great credit for the work he did. He worked for federation, was one of the Victorian representatives at the 1897 convention, and sat on the judiciary committee, but did not take an important part in the debates.
When Sir George Turner formed his second government in November 1900 Peacock was given the portfolios of chief secretary and minister of labour, and when Turner went over to federal politics a few weeks later, Peacock became premier, treasurer, and minister of labour. He was subsequently treasurer and minister of labour in the Bent (q.v.) ministry from 1904 to 1909; minister of labour in the Watt ministry 1912; minister of public instruction and of labour in the second Watt ministry 1913; premier and treasurer again for over three years, beginning in June 1914; minister of labour in the Lawson ministry 1920 to 1923; minister of public instruction, forests, and labour in the second and third Lawson ministries; premier, treasurer and minister of labour from April to July 1924; and treasurer, minister of public instruction and of labour in the Allan (q.v.) ministry 1924 to 1927. In July 1928 he was elected speaker in succession to O. R. Snowball, obtained the complete confidence of the house, and remained in that position until his death at Creswick on 7 October 1933. He married Miss M. Holden in 1901 who survived him without issue.
Peacock had a hearty, jovial disposition, with an infectious laugh which became famous, much tact and kindness of heart. He had many friends and few, if any, enemies and was never defeated at an election. He represented practically the same electorate for 44 years, and was in 14 ministries including three terms as premier. He was a capable speaker but scarcely a man of outstanding ability, though he did valuable work in social legislation and was a good minister of public instruction in times of great educational expansion.
The Age, Melbourne, 9 October 1933: The Herald, Melbourne, 7 October 1933; The Cyclopaedia of Victoria, 1903.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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