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Mightier than the sword: The life and times of Sir John Waters Kirwan 1866-1949

Partlon, Anne (2011) Mightier than the sword: The life and times of Sir John Waters Kirwan 1866-1949. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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John Waters Kirwan (1866-1949) played a pivotal role in the Australian Federal movement. At a time when the Premier of Western Australia Sir John Forrest had begun to doubt the wisdom of his resource rich but under-developed colony joining the emerging Commonwealth, Kirwan conspired with Perth Federalists, Walter James and George Leake, to force Forrest’s hand. Editor and partowner of the influential Kalgoorlie Miner, the ‘pocket-handkerchief’ newspaper he had transformed into one of the most powerful journals in the colony, he waged a virulent press campaign against the besieged Premier, mocking and belittling him at every turn and encouraging his east coast colleagues to follow suit. A founding member of the Eastern Goldfields Reform League, which convened to bring Western Australia into the national union, he spearheaded the ‘Separation for Federation’ agitation, arguing in the Miner that, if the colony did not federate, the Goldfields should go it alone. Of itself, this was nothing more than an audacious bluff designed to humble Forrest and his supporters, but exploited by key players such as James, Leake, Alfred Deakin, Charles Cameron Kingston, Patrick McMahon Glynn and Josiah Symon, even Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain, it proved an effective weapon. Chamberlain, in his controversial 27 April 1900 cable to Acting Governor Onslow, alluded to the ‘agitation of the Federalist party…in goldfields’ before urging Forrest to ‘bring the Colony into Federation at once’. Friends since his days as editor of the Port Augusta Dispatch (1893-95), Kirwan enlisted South Australian lawyers and parliamentarians Kingston, Glynn and Symon to redraft his petition to the Queen and advise the Separatists. This thesis, the first full-length biography of John Waters Kirwan, is also the first to examine in detail his service to what Kingston called ‘the sacred cause’ of national unity. From his arrival in Queensland in 1889 to his Presidency of the Western Australian Legislative Council nearly 40 years later, it gives new weight to his contribution while pondering why, after such a spectacular debut, he failed to make the most of his short-lived Federal parliamentary career.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Supervisor(s): Reece, Robert
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