What kind of country doesn't know the name of their first Prime Minister?
Until recently, you would have been correct if you answered 'Australia'. However, thanks to a recent centenary of federation campaign last year, many more Australians are aware that Sir Edmund Barton was the nations first ever prime minister.
On January 18th 1849, in Glebe, Australia, a future leader was born to William and Mary Louise Barton. William was an accountant for an agricultural company, while Mary Louise ran a school for girls and was well educated, which was rare for women to be in such times. The couple were immigrants who moved to Australia in 1824. Their child, one of nine in the family, was named Edmund.
Edmund was a clever child. Over the years he had developed a love for such things as music, art, literature and cricket. He was educated at Fort Street Model School during 1856-1858 and later moved on to Sydney Grammar School. Matriculating to the University of Sydney in 1865, he excelled and won many prizes during his time there. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in classics and recieved a Masters of Art two years later.
With a keen legal mind, Barton set up a successful legal practice in 1871. The next year he became engaged to wed Jean Mason Ross although financial reasons delayed the wedding until 1877. Together they raised six children of their own. He was labelled 'Tosspot Toby' by some due to his fondness for strong liquor. Soon Barton was willing to enter politics, joining the Sydney Mechanics Institute in order to learn the art of debating.
Unfortunately, he lost his first and second attempts for the University of Sydney seats in 1876, and 1877. Edmund succeeded in 1879 as a member in the Protectionist party. By 1883 he had become speaker of the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales. He switched to the seat of Wellington in 1880, then held the East Sydney seat from 1882-1887.
After 1890, Edmund Barton was a success. However, time was hard to find when he had to support his growing family and beliefs that the numerous penal colonies of Australia should federate. He devoted alot of time making speeches to others about the benefits of a federated nation. One difficulty with the whole idea would be the economic competition faced between the states, but this did not thwart Edmund's vision of the federation of Australia. This saw him to become the leader of the federation movement, and in 1891 chosen to be one of four men to draft the constitution bill. He was also one of the delegation who took it to Parliament in Britain.
On January 1st 1901, Barton became the first Prime Minister of Australia. Although Barton was the favourite to win this prestigious position, Lord Hopetoun, the first governor general of Australia, decided the Premier of New South Wales should be the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth. The majority of senior politicians were against the governor general's idea, and so they refused to serve under the William Lyne, New South Wales' Premier.
Barton was knighted in 1902 and left politics in 1903 to become a judge of the High Court of Australia. He later died in Medlow Bath, New South Wales, on 7th January 1920.
Yes, a few Australians would have known all along that Edmund Barton was Australia's first prime minister. But the majority didn't. The majority still can only remember the first verse of our national anthem.