BERRY, Sir Graham (1822-1904)

BERRY, Sir Graham (1822-1904)
premier of Victoria
was born at Twickenham, near London, on 28 August 1822. His father, Benjamin Berry, was a fairly prosperous tradesman, who had married a Miss Clara Graham. Their son had few educational advantages, and on leaving school at an early age was apprenticed to a draper. Subsequently he was in business for himself at Chelsea. In 1852 he emigrated to Melbourne and opened a business as a general storekeeper and wine and spirit merchant at Prahran, but receiving a legacy, returned to England on business in 1856. He came back to Australia in 1857 and in 1860 bought the Collingwood Observer. In the same year he was elected to the legislative assembly for East Melbourne, almost by chance. A dissolution of parliament had been granted, it was known that there would shortly be another election, and the other candidates withdraw to save the expense of a double election. In 1861 Berry changed his constituency to the neighbouring one of Collingwood and was elected at the head of the poll. As a private member he spoke frequently, and about 1865 became a member of a group in the opposition corner which advocated a policy of protection. He lost his seat at the 1866 election and then went to Geelong and bought an interest in the Geelong Register. He was elected for Geelong West in 1868 and became treasurer in the J. Macpherson (q.v.) ministry in January 1870. Macpherson resigned in the following April. In June 1871 Berry became treasurer and commissioner of trade and customs in the C. G. Duffy (q.v.) ministry and succeeded in increasing the small protective duties of the time. He, however, resigned in May 1872 on account of objection having been taken to the appointment of his father-in-law as a pier-master.
In August 1875 Berry formed his first ministry and attempted to bring in a land tax with exemptions for small estates. The ministry was defeated and the James McCulloch (q.v.) ministry was formed in October. Berry had been refused a dissolution and under a sense of grievance organized a policy of stonewalling, and also, as president of a reform league, addressed many meetings throughout the country. After the 1877 election Berry's followers constituted about three-quarters of the house. He immediately carried a land tax bill through the assembly, and after some delay it was also carried in the legislative council. But ill-feeling between the two houses grew. When Berry included payment of members in the appropriation bill instead of bringing in a separate bill, the council refused to pass the appropriation bill. Early in January 1878, a Government Gazette Extraordinary was issued, announcing that the governor in council had dismissed all the judges of county courts, courts of mines and insolvency; all police magistrates, coroners and wardens of goldfields; the engineer in chief of railways; a large number of heads of departments; and about a hundred other highly paid officials. Opponents of Berry maintained that this was simply a vindictive reprisal on the council, whose members had many friends among those dismissed. The government claimed that as the appropriation bill had not been passed, it lacked the money to pay salaries. The bitterest feelings were aroused and there was panic in financial circles. As the result of negotiations between the houses, an act authorizing payment of members was passed, and the appropriation bill was again submitted and agreed to. Reform of the council then became a popular cry and an attempt was made to pass a constitution amendment bill. It was thrown out by the council, and Berry and C. H. Pearson (q.v.) went as an embassy to England to put the assembly's case before the colonial office. Berry declared that the embassy was a complete success, and when he returned he was met by enthusiastic and cheering crowds throughout the length of Collins-street, Melbourne. In reality, he had failed, for practically he had been told that the colony needed no further powers to enable it to manage its own affairs. Early in 1880 Berry's vast majority had disappeared and James Service (q.v.) came into power for a few months. There was a second election in 1880, at which Berry again obtained a majority and was premier from August 1880 to July 1881. A legislative council reform act was passed, which increased the number of members and reduced the qualification for franchise to all freeholders of £10 annual value. Berry was defeated in July 1881, and was never again premier. In 1883 the opposing forces were so nearly equal that a coalition was effected with James Service as premier and Berry as chief secretary. This ministry lasted nearly three years and useful work was done. In 1883, with Service, he represented Victoria at the federal convention, and was again a representative at the federal council of Australia in January 1886. He was then appointed agent-general for the colony of Victoria in London, and was created a K.C.M.G. soon after his arrival in England. He returned to Melbourne at the end of 1891 and was elected as member for East Bourke Boroughs in 1892. He was treasurer in the Shiels ministry from April 1892 to January 1893, and was then elected speaker in succession to Thomas Bent (q.v.). He carried out his duties with success, but lost his seat at the election of 1897. Parliament then made a grant of £3100 to purchase an annuity of £500 a year for him, and he lived in retirement until his death on 25 January 1904. He was twice married and was survived by eight children of his first marriage and seven of his second.
Berry had few advantages in his youth but educated himself by hard reading and contact with his fellow-men. His fine oratory was marred to some extent in his early days by careless grammar and uncertainty in his aspirates. With the years his speaking gained in polish and dignity without losing its force. An excellent parliamentary tactician and a clever handler of men, he had a great effect on his time, not so much by the actual measures he passed as in his rousing of the power of democracy. He was hated and feared by the moneyed classes, and at one period seemed to them to be merely a dangerous demagogue. In spite of his vanity and egotism he was really interested in the advancement of the people as a whole, and did valuable work against opponents growing too set in their conservatism, and too afraid of innovations. He did his share in the campaign for the unlocking of the lands, and for good or ill was largely instrumental in making protection the settled policy of Victoria.
The Age, Melbourne, 26 January 1904; The Argus, Melbourne, 26 January 1904; H. G. Turner, A History of the Colony of Victoria; W. Murdoch, Alfred Deakin: A Sketch.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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