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JAMES SERVICE (1823-1899): ONE of the FATHERS of AUSTRALIAN FEDERATION

This On Her Majesty's Service stampless cover has 2 markings, one being a Victorian Frank for the Minister of Railways and the other a postmark for MELBOURNE/ 17 S/ JE 22/ 96. The cover is addressed to Messrs Jas Service & Co, Collins St, Melbourne, and it bears a 'generic' printed VICTORIAN RAILWAYS/________Station, without the Station filled in (Figure 1).

 

 

James Service was born in Ayreshire Scotland on 27 November 1823, and as a young man he worked in a Glasgow tea importing business. In 1853 he arrived in Melbourne as a company representative, and in the following year he went into business on his own. His business must have been successful for the building at the corner of Collins and William Streets was shown to be substantial in ca. 1870. There, he was an agent for Robur tea, Bryan & May and the Standard Oil Company of New York (Figure 2).

 

 

He became a founding member of the Emerald Hill municipal council (now South Melbourne), and became a prominent banker and representative of business interests .He was elected to the Victorian Legislative Assembly for Melbourne in 1857, retaining this seat until 1859. He represented several other constituencies up to 1886. He was a moderate liberal in the context of Victorian politics, but as a free trader he increasingly sided with the conservatives, since all the more radical liberals were protectionists. He was President of the Board of Land and Works from 1859-1860 and Treasurer from 1874-1875. His attempt to cut tariffs in his 1875 budget led to the fall of Kerferd's government.

When Graham Berry's radical ministry fell in March 1880, Service formed a minority government. In May, Service admitted that he could not continue as Premier and asked the Governor, Lord Normanby, for a dissolution, which was granted. But the elections did not improve Service's position and in August he resigned, allowing Berry to return to power.

In March 1883 the liberals were defeated at elections, and Service formed a new and much stronger government, taking the Treasury as well as the Premiership. When Service agreed not to attempt to reduce tariffs, Berry joined him as a minister, for such was the fluidity of party politics at this time. The young Alfred Deakin (a future Australian Prime Minister) held office for the first time in this government. The Service government lasted three years and passed some important legislation, including a Public Service Act which removed political patronage from the public service, a new Factories Act and a new Lands Act.

Service was Premier of Victoria in the early days of the land boom from 1883 to 1885. To a contemporary observer, Service was a "canny, senile Scotchman, listened to with respect as a preacher of monetary moderation, but more and more disregarded by a community which will bear neither whip nor rein on the financial road to embarrassment." He was no means uninvolved in the land boom for he was a large shareholder and director of the Commercial Bank, which crashed largely because of lavish advances to shareholders.

By the time of the 1886 election Service was in declining health and he decided to retire from active politics. In 1888 he was elected to the Victorian Legislative Council for Melbourne Province as a popular senior statesman, and served there until his death on the 12th April, 1899. The funeral procession from his home in Melbourne stretched for 1½ miles. In the view of some, he rivals Henry Parkes for the claim of "Father of Australian Federation". An early photo of James Service is shown in Figure 3.

 

The contents of this paper were extracted from the Australian Dictionary Biography.

 

 
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