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Henry Parkes Henry Parkes i(A15872 works by) (a.k.a. Sir Henry Parkes; H. Parkes)
Also writes as: A Wanderer ; Delta [the Greek letter] ; H. P.
Born: Established: 27 May 1815 Warwickshire,
United Kingdom (UK),
Western Europe, Europe,
; Died: Ceased: 27 Apr 1896 Annandale, Glebe - Leichhardt - Balmain area, Sydney Inner West, Sydney, New South Wales,
Gender: Male
Arrived in Australia: 25 Jul 1839
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Sir Henry Parkes was the youngest of the seven children of Thomas Parkes, a tenant farmer, and his wife Martha nee Faulconbridge of Warwickshire, England. Forced off the land by debt, the family eventually settled in Birmingham. Parkes had a very limited education as he had to help support the family, working as a road labourer before being apprenticed to a bone and ivory turner. He set up his own business and when it failed left for New South Wales with his young wife, Clarinda nee Varney.

Parkes was never a success in business but quickly developed literary and political interests in New South Wales. A. W. Martin (1974) writes that 'He was briefly Sydney correspondent for the Launceston Examiner, and contributed occasional poems and articles on political and literary topics, sometimes under the pseudonym "Faulconbridge", to the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australasian Chronicle and the Atlas. In 1842 he published by subscription a first book of verse, Stolen Moments. Through W. A. Duncan and Charles Harpur, his "chief advisers on matters of intellectual resource and enquiry", he came to be associated with most of the colony's radical patriots.' In 1850 he established the Empire which became the 'chief organ of mid-century liberalism'.

In 1854 Parkes was elected to the Legislative Council and in 1866 became Colonial Secretary in the Martin ministry. He was premier for the first time in 1872 and again in 1878-1883. The Lands, Public Instruction and Electoral Acts of this ministry were the most important legislation for a decade. Parkes was a passionate advocate of equal educational opportunity and the Public Instruction Act enabled 'free, secular and compulsory' education in New South Wales. He went on to lead further ministries in 1887 and 1891 as an exponent of free trade. In 1889 in a famous speech at Tenterfield, Parkes called for a Federal Conference and Convention to devise 'a great national Government for all Australia'. He played a critical role in the Federation conventions of 1890-1891. His political career ended in 1895.

The pre-eminent figure of nineteenth-century Australian politics, Parkes was a self-made man who ruthlessly pursued personal success. He was also a man of principle who had a strong commitment to a just, racially homogenous society and equality of educational opportunity. William Astley ('Price Warung') in a Bulletin obituary (9 May 1896) touches on his complexity and sensed that 'his heart was...not in politics but in literature, in history and in art.. There was a singular vein of sentiment in his nature which found no appropriate vent in his public existence... To see him handle a letter of Tennyson or Carlyle, or the simple autograph of Lincoln, was to receive a lesson in reverence. Books and other mementoes of the illustrious dead were to him the wine of life. And yet he was no scholar - scarcely even to be termed a student. As to his own place in literature, his poems are a byword.'

As a leading politician, Parkes wrote a range of prose works and political pamphlets including Freehold Homes in a Gold Country : Two Public Addresses on the Present Condition and Natural Resources of the Colony of New South Wales, Delivered at Derby and Birmingham (1861); Australian Views of England : Eleven Letters Written in the years 1861 and 1862 (1869); The Case of the Prisoner Gardiner. The Prerogative of Pardon (1876); Speeches on Various Occasions Connected with the Public Affairs of New South Wales, 1848-1874 (1876) and The Federal Government of Australasia : Speeches Delivered on Various Occasions. November 1889-May 1890 (1890).

[Sources: Adapted from P. W., 'Within an Ace of Greatness', The Bulletin (9 May 1896): 6-7; H. M. Green A History of Australian Literature Pure and Applied. Volume 1 1789-1923 (1961); A. W. Martin, 'Parkes, Sir Henry (1815 - 1896)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, MUP, 1974, pp 399-406; A. W. Martin Henry Parkes : a biography (1980).]

Most Referenced Works


  • Sir Henry Parkes was included on the Bulletin's '100 Most Influential Australians' list in 2006.
  • Parkes might also have been the author Delta [the Greek letter], whose poems appeared in the Empire in 1855. However this remains to be conclusively established.
  • Some libraries have also ascribed Down on Their Luck : A True Narrative of Queensland (1887) by 'Wanderer' to Sir Henry Parkes, perhaps confusing this pseudonym with that of Parkes - 'A Wanderer'. A. W. Martin (1980): 384-385 mentions only one visit by Parkes to Queensland in 1889.

  • See also the Australian Dictionary of Biography entry for Parkes, Sir Henry.

Known archival holdings

National Library of Australia (ACT)
State Library of NSW (NSW)
Last amended 2 Jul 2014 16:23:00
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