KINGSTON, Charles Cameron (1850-1908)


KINGSTON, Charles Cameron (1850-1908)
statesman
was the son of Sir George Strickland Kingston (1807-80), and his wife Ludovina Catherine da Silva, daughter of Lieut.-colonel Charles G. Cameron. Sir George Kingston was born at Cork in 1807, was educated as a surveyor, and having been appointed deputy surveyor-general at the new settlement in South Australia, arrived there in September 1836. He became inspector of public works in 1839 and town surveyor in 1840. He entered the legislative council in 1851 and the house of assembly in 1857, when he became the first speaker. He lost his seat in 1860 but, elected again, was speaker from 1865 to 1880. He was knighted in 1870 and died on 26 November 1880. During his early days in South Australia Kingston's work as a surveyor was much criticized, and does not appear to have been satisfactory (see A. Grenfell Price, The Foundation and Settlement of South Australia). He afterwards, however, became one of the leading public men of his time, and was a dignified and capable speaker of the house of assembly.
Kingston's son, Charles Cameron Kingston, was born at Adelaide on 22 October 1850 and educated at the Adelaide educational institution. He is stated to have been the most brilliant boy that had ever passed through the school. He took up the study of law and was articled to (Sir) Samuel J. Way (q.v.). Admitted to the bar in 1873, he began to practise as a barrister and was especially successful in the criminal court. He became a Q.C. in 1889. In 1881 he was elected a representative of West Adelaide in the house of assembly, was attorney-general in the Colton (q.v.) ministry from June 1884 until June 1885, and introduced and passed the bill bringing in land and income taxes. It has been said of Kingston that by natural instinct he was an aristocrat but by conviction he was a democrat, and his democratic feelings were soon evident in the legislation he sponsored. One of his earliest measures was an employers' liability bill, and he also succeeded in improving the law relating to the estates of married women. He was again attorney-general in Playford's (q.v.) first government from June 1887 to June 1889, and on the protection versus free trade issue successfully fought on the side of protection. An early federalist he represented South Australia with Playford at the federal council held at Hobart in February 1889, and he was again a representative of his colony at the Sydney convention of 1891. In that year he prepared and carried a bill in the South Australian house of assembly for the settlement of industrial disputes by means of boards of conciliation. From January to June 1892 he was chief secretary in Playford's second ministry, and acting premier for the greater part of that period during the premier's absence in India.
From June 1893 to November 1899 Kingston was premier and attorney-general, a record for South Australia. The legislation introduced included the extension of the franchise to women, the establishment of the state bank of South Australia, factory legislation, and the bringing in of the progressive system in connexion with land and income taxes and death duties. In connexion with federation Kingston had been doing important work. At the Sydney convention held in March 1891 he had been a member of the judiciary committee, and of the sub-committee which completed the drafting of the bill to constitute the Commonwealth of Australia. The other members of this subcommittee were Sir Samuel Griffith (q.v.), Barton (q.v.) and Inglis Clark (q.v.) and it has been pointed out that the framing of that bill marks an epoch in the history of federation. "In those few days federation came down from the clouds to the earth; it changed from a dream to a tangible reality." (Quick and Garran; The Federal Movement in Australia, p. 129). At the premiers' conference of January 1895 Kingston and (Sir) George Turner drafted the bill to, be submitted to the parliaments of the various colonies enacting that 10 representatives from each colony were to be chosen by the electors to form a convention, with the duty of framing a constitution to be submitted to the electors. This marked a fresh step on the road to federation. At the convention held at Adelaide in March 1897 Kingston as premier of the colony in which the convention was held was appointed president, and carried out his duties with ability. He was not appointed a member of any of the committees, no doubt it was felt he would have enough to do as president, but he did a good piece of work by supporting Barton when the tussle between the large and small states took place on the question of the powers of the senate with regard to laws imposing taxation. At the close of the subsequent meeting of the Melbourne session of the convention, which lasted from 20 January to 17 March 1898, Kingston expressed his views in no uncertain way. There was still doubt as to what support at the referendum could be expected from Reid, and there was no uniformity of enthusiasm among the other members of the convention. Speaking from the chair at the last sitting Kingston said: "I can but speak for myself alone; but in regard to this constitution, I say unhesitatingly that I accept it gladly. More I welcome it as the most magnificent constitution into which the chosen representatives of a free and enlightened people have ever breathed the life of popular sentiment and national hope. Mine will be no Laodicean advocacy; but with such ability as I may possess, and with the fullest enthusiasm and warmth of which my nature may be capable—with my whole heart and strength—I pledge myself to recommend the adoption of this constitution, daring any danger and delighting in any sacrifice, which may be necessitated by unswerving devotion to the interests of the Commonwealth of Australia."
Kingston visited England at the time of the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897, and was made a privy councillor. At the beginning of 1900 he again went to England and took a leading part with Deakin and Barton in the contest with Chamberlain over the Commonwealth enabling bill. In January 1901 he became minister of trade and customs in the first Commonwealth government. He was elected to represent Adelaide in the following March and was soon immersed in the heavy work of the first session. After six months of preliminary fierce discussion his customs tariff bill was introduced on 18 April 1902, and an even more harassing conflict followed. Reid was leading the free-traders with great ability, and the ranks of labour were divided on this particular question. The burden fell heavily on Kingston who had become used to having a great deal of his own way in South Australia. He found, however, that compromises would have to be made, and the customs tariff act came at last into force in September 1902. Two other bills he brought in had to be abandoned, one dealing with bonuses for manufactures and the other with conciliation and arbitration. The second of these led to a storm. Kingston had incautiously allowed a member of the staff of one of the Melbourne newspapers to see a copy of the bill under a pledge that the information would not be used. The pledge was apparently broken, and Kingston had to admit his mistake. A fortnight later he resigned from the ministry. He wanted the conciliation and arbitration bill to apply to British and foreign shipping engaged in the coastal trade, but Barton would not agree to this partly because he foresaw legal difficulties. He promised to bring in a special navigation and shipping bill which would protect the rights of seamen, but Kingston would not agree to this compromise and left the ministry. He was re-elected for Adelaide at the 1903 election, but gradually took less and less part in the debates. In 1906 he was elected again, without opposition; it was known that he was not fit to fight an election. He continued trying to keep his grip on his work, but his powers gradually declined and he died on 11 May 1908.
Athletic in his youth, Kingston was over six feet in height, in later life weighing about 16 stone, with a big head and high forehead. Mentally he showed a great grasp of essentials; Reid said of him that in spite of his predilection for short cuts he was one of the best parliamentary draughtsmen in Australia. His vigorous, forceful personality brought him much antagonism when in the parliament of South Australia, but he became supreme there, and when he came into federal politics he had so long been in the habit of taking the lead, his colleagues sometimes found him difficult to work with when differences arose. He was a man of great courage and sincerity, his resignation from the Barton ministry showed that he was willing to sacrifice his position for the sake of his convictions. He was a great leader and reformer, a great Australian who spent himself unsparingly for his country.
Kingston married in 1873 Lucy May, daughter of Lawrence McCarthy, who survived him. There were no children. A statue to his memory by Alfred Drury was erected in Victoria square, Adelaide, in 1916.
The Advertiser and The Register, Adelaide, 12 May 1908; The Times, 12 May 1908; F. Johns, A Journalist's Jottings; P. Mennell, The Dictionary of Australasian Biography; Quick and Garran, Constitution of the Australian Commonwealth; H. G. Turner, First Decade of the Australian Commonwealth; R. H. Croll, Tom Roberts; G. H. Reid, My Reminiscences; W. Murdoch, Alfred Deakin.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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  • Kingston — I. /ˈkɪŋstən/ (say kingstuhn) noun 1. Charles Cameron, 1850–1908, Australian politician; premier of SA 1893–99. 2. his father, Sir George Strickland, 1807–80, Australian surveyor and politician, born in Ireland. II. /ˈkɪŋstən/ (say kingstuhn)… …   Australian English dictionary

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