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The Darwin By-Election – 102 Years Ago Today

Today, June 30, is the 102nd anniversary of the Darwin by-election, in Tasmania, in 1917. It was the 21st by-election since Federation in 1901.

Darwin was the electorate now known as Braddon. Located in north-western Tasmania, it included the towns of Devonport and Burnie.

The by-election is notable because it was caused by the unexpected death of Charles Howroyd, the shortest-serving member of the House of Representatives, the man who ended the career of Labor’s King O’Malley.

The by-election led to the return to parliament of W.G. Spence, a union leader and one of the founders of the ALP, now sitting on the other side of the political divide.

The by-election was held in a climate of political upheaval following the split in the Labor Party over conscription. It was a time of bitter political infighting and sectarian conflict.

There are no particularly significant historical effects arising from the by-election, but the interplay of individuals and electorates is fascinating in its own right.

Charles Howroyd – MP for Five Days

Howroyd
Charles Howroyd – photo from Psephos

The by-election was caused by the death of Charles Howroyd, a Nationalist (Liberal). Howroyd won Darwin at the May 5, 1917 federal election. He died five days later, on May 10, aged just 50. To this day, Howroyd remains the shortest-serving member of the House of Representatives.

Howroyd had been a state Labor member, holding North Launceston in 1906 and then moving to Bass in 1909. He was a founding member of the ALP, one of many who left the party over conscription in 1916-17.

The by-election caused by Howroyd’s death was held just seven weeks after the 1917 federal election.

The Hughes Landslide of 1917

The 1917 election was a victory for Billy Hughes and the Nationalist Party. The party had only just been formed after ALP members who split with the ALP, or were expelled from it, over the issue of conscription, joined with the Liberals. The former Labor prime minister was now the leader of his former opponents. [Read more…]


No, William McWilliams Wasn’t The Last Country Party Member From Tasmania

The man shown here is Llewellyn Atkinson. He was the Country Party member for Wilmot (Tas) from 1921 until 1928.

He’s been dead since 1945 and now not even Nationals leader Michael McCormack knows that he was the last Country Party member from Tasmania.

Atkinson
Llewellyn Atkinson; Photo credit: Psephos

Yesterday, Tasmanian Senator Steve Martin joined The Nationals. Elected in a recount of Jacqui Lambie Network votes a few months back, Martin briefly sat as an independent before signing up to the former Country Party.

Martin was welcomed into the party room yesterday as the first-ever Country Party/Nationals senator from Tasmania.

According to an ABC report, McCormack told the media: “The last National Party member in parliament (from Tasmania) was William McWilliams, a former Country Party leader all the way back in 1927.”

Umm, no. McWilliams left the Country Party in 1922 and only returned to Parliament in 1928 as an independent.

The misinformation was dutifully repeated by Guardian Australia and The Australian.

The Land also repeated the fake history and then made it worse by suggesting that McWilliams had been the Country Party’s “inaugural leader in 1903”, at least fifteen years before the party was formed.

In a variation on the theme, The Conversation told us there had been no Country Party representation in Tasmania “since the early 1920s, when William McWilliams was briefly leader of the Country Party”.

Again, no. There were two lower house Country Party members – in Braddon and Wilmot – between 1921 and 1928. [Read more…]