LYNE, Sir William John (1844-1913)


LYNE, Sir William John (1844-1913)
premier of New South Wales and federal minister
eldest son of John Lyne, for some time a member of the Tasmanian house of assembly, and his wife, Lilias Cross Carmichael, daughter of James Hume of Edinburgh, was born at Apslawn, Tasmania, on 6 April 1844. He was educated at Horton College, Ross, Tasmania, and subsequently by a tutor, the Rev. H. P. Kane. He left Tasmania when he was 20 to take up land in northern Queensland, but finding the climate did not suit him, returned to Tasmania a year later. He became council clerk at Glamorgan and lived there for 10 years, but left for the mainland again in 1875 and took up land at Cumberoona near Albury, New South Wales. In 1880 he was elected a member of the legislative assembly for Hume, and remained the representative of that district in the New South Wales parliament and in the federal house of representatives until a few weeks before his death. In 1885 he came into the first Dibbs (q.v.) ministry as secretary for public works. Dibbs resigned a few weeks later but Lyne was given the same portfolio in the P. A. Jennings (q.v.) ministry formed in February 1886. This cabinet lasted less than a year, but when Dibbs formed his second ministry in January 1889 Lyne was made secretary for lands. He was out of office again seven weeks later, the average life of a cabinet at this period was about eight months, but Lyne was at last able to settle down as a minister in October 1891, when he became minister for public works in the third Dibbs ministry which lasted until August 1894. Lyne was a strong protectionist and fought hard for a high tariff, but the free-trade party was still very strong in New South Wales, and the G. H. Reid (q.v.) ministry which now came into power remained in office until September 1899. It might indeed have lasted until the coming of federation, and there was a feeling that whoever might then be premier of the mother colony would be asked to form the first cabinet. Reid, however, had entrusted J. C. Neild with a preparation of a report upon old age pensions, and had promised the leader of the Labour party that he would give no payment for this without the sanction of parliament. Finding that the work was much greater than he expected, Neild had asked for and obtained an advance in anticipation of a vote. Lyne, by a clever amendment of a vote of want of confidence, made it practically impossible for the Labour party to support Reid. Thus Lyne who had been a consistent opponent of federation held the coveted position of premier of New South Wales at the dawn of the Commonwealth. It is true that Lyne had been one of the representatives of New South Wales at the 1897 convention and sat on the finance committee, but he did not have an important influence on the debates. When the campaign began before the referendum of 1898 Lyne declared himself against the bill, and at the second referendum held in 1899 he was the only New South Wales convention representative who was still dissatisfied with the amended bill. Reid after some vacillation had, however, declared himself whole-heartedly on the side of federation, and the referendum showed a substantial majority on the "Yes" side.
B. R. Wise, in his The Making of the Australian Commonwealth, states that when Lyne became leader of the opposition he assured Barton (q.v.) that he would not be a competitor for the distinction of prime minister of the Commonwealth, and that the governor-general, Lord Hopetoun (q.v.), had been informed of this arrangement. This would account for Lyne as premier of New South Wales being asked as a matter of courtesy to form a government. But the general public knew nothing of this, and there was a general gasp of astonishment when the offer became known, and it was realized that men like Barton and Deakin (q.v.) who had led the movement had been passed over. Lyne attempted to form a ministry, and if Deakin had accepted the position offered to him, might have succeeded. But Deakin was loyal to Barton, and Lyne could only recommend that Barton should be sent for. Lyne became minister for home affairs in his cabinet on 1 January 1901. He held this position until Kingston left the cabinet, and became minister for trade and customs in his stead on 7 August 1903. He retained this position when Deakin became prime minister towards the end of September. The general election held in December 1903 resulted in the return of three nearly equal parties, and Deakin was forced to resign in April 1904 but came back into power in July 1905 with Lyne in his old position.
In April 1907 Lyne accompanied Deakin to the colonial conference and endeavoured to persuade the English politicians that they were foolish in clinging to their policy of free trade. Some of his speeches were scarcely tactful or reasonable, but he showed prescience in his statement that it is "a peculiarity of the British race that it rarely, if ever, foresees, or is found prepared to meet, those greater emergencies which periodically mark the record of every nation in history. With characteristic confidence, it ignores the most potent warnings, trusting to blunder through somehow or other".
Deakin and Lyne returned to Australia in June, and when Sir John Forrest resigned his position as treasurer at the end of July 1907, Lyne succeeded him. In November 1908 the Labour party withdrew its support from Deakin, and Fisher (q.v.) succeeded him and held office until June 1909 when Deakin and Joseph Cook joined forces and formed the so-called "Fusion" government. Lyne's omission from this government broke his friendship with Deakin. His bitter denunciations of his one-time friend continued during the 11 months the ministry lasted. However personal the attacks might be Deakin never replied. The Labour party came in with a large majority in April 1910 and Lyne was not in office again. He died on 3 August 1913. He was twice married, and was survived by one son and three daughters of the first marriage and by Lady Lyne and her daughter. He had been created K.C.M.G. in 1900.
Lyne was more of a politician than a statesman, always inclined to take a somewhat narrow view of politics. He did some good work when premier of New South Wales by putting through the early closing bill, the industrial arbitration bill, and bringing in graduated death duties; but even these measures were part of his bargain with the Labour party. He was tall and vigorous, in his younger days a typical Australian bushman. He knew every one in his electorate and was a good friend to all. He was bluff and frank and it was said of him that he was a man whose hand went instinctively into his pocket when any appeal was made to him. In parliament he was courageous and a vigorous administrator. Scarcely an orator he was a good tactician, and though overshadowed by greater men like Barton, Reid and Deakin, his views had much influence in his time. In his early political life he was a great advocate of irrigation, and in federal politics he had much to do with the shaping of the policy of protection eventually adopted by the Commonwealth.
The Sydney Morning Herald, 4 August 1913; B. R. Wise, The Making of the Australian Commonwealth; H. G. Turner, First Decade of the Australian Commonwealth; W. Murdoch, Alfred Deakin; Sir George Reid, My Reminiscences; H. V. Evatt, Australian Labour Leader.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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