Alfred Deakin, 2nd Prime Minister of Australia

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Alfred William Deakin

Birthplace: Collingwood, Victoria, Australia
Death: Died
Immediate Family:

Son of William Deakin and Sarah Deakin
Husband of Elizabeth Martha Anne Deakin
Father of Ivy Brookes; Stella Rivett and Vera White
Brother of Catherine Sarah Deakin

Managed by: Scott David Hibbard
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Immediate Family

About Alfred Deakin, 2nd Prime Minister of Australia

Alfred William Deakin (3 August 1856 – 7 October 1919), Australian politician, was a leader of the movement for Australian federation and later second Prime Minister of Australia.

Deakin was the only son of English immigrants William Deakin, accountant, and his wife Sarah Bill, daughter of a Shropshire farmer. Deakin was born in Fitzroy, Melbourne. He was educated at Melbourne Grammar School before graduating in law from the University of Melbourne. Nevertheless he made his name not as a lawyer but as a journalist, working for the Melbourne daily The Age and its autocratic owner, David Syme. He was active in the Australian Natives Association, practised vegetarianism and was also a lifelong spiritualist.

Deakin won the election to the Parliament of Victoria in 1879, as a protectionist and a supporter of the radical Premier, Graham Berry. Between 1883 and 1890 he held office in several ministries. He could probably have been Premier himself, but from 1890 onwards he devoted his attention to the movement for federation. Furthermore, he was nearly ruined in the property crash of 1891, and had to return to the bar to restore his finances.

In 1892, he unsuccessfully defended the mass murderer Frederick Bailey Deeming and assisted the defence in the 1893–94 libel trial of David Syme[1].

Deakin was a delegate to the Federal Conventions of 1891 and 1897-98, and federation became the greatest cause of his life. His early radicalism had become tempered by realism, and he accepted the rather conservative draft constitution which emerged from the conventions, even though it led to a break with some of his old colleagues.

In 1900 Deakin travelled to London to oversee the passage of the federation bill through the Imperial Parliament, and took part in the negotiations with Joseph Chamberlain, the Colonial Secretary, which nearly derailed the whole process. Deakin defined himself as an "independent Australian Briton," favouring a self-governing Australia but loyal to the British Empire. He certainly did not see federation as marking Australia's independence from Britain. On the contrary, Deakin was a supporter of closer empire unity, serving as president of the Victorian branch of the Imperial Federation League, a cause he believed to be a stepping stone to a more spiritual world unity.

In 1901 he was elected to the first federal Parliament as MP for Ballarat, and became Attorney-General in the ministry headed by Edmund Barton. No-one doubted, however, that Deakin was the real leader of the government. When Barton retired to become one of the founding justices of the High Court of Australia, Deakin succeeded him as Prime Minister on September 24, 1903.

But Deakin's path as Prime Minister was far from smooth. His Protectionist Party did not have a majority in either House, and he held office only by courtesy of the Labor Party, which insisted on legislation more radical than Deakin was willing to accept. In April 1904 he resigned. The Labor leader John Christian Watson and the Free Trade leader George Reid succeeded him, but neither could form a stable ministry.

Deakin resumed office in mid-1905, and retained it for three years. During this, the longest and most successful of his terms as Prime Minister, his government passed much of the foundational legislation of the Australian Commonwealth, including bills to create an Australian currency and an Australian Navy (although the actual establishment of the Navy was left to his Labor successor). In 1908 he was again forced from office by Labor. He then formed a coalition, the "Fusion", with his old conservative opponent Reid, and returned to power in 1909 at the head of Australia's first majority government.

The Fusion was seen by many as a betrayal of Deakin's liberal principles, and in April 1910 his party was soundly defeated at the polls by Labor under Andrew Fisher. Deakin retired from Parliament in 1913 and withdrew from public life. He suffered a progressive mental collapse (probably due to early-onset Alzheimer's disease) and became an invalid, dying in 1919 aged only 63.


Deakin continued to write prolifically throughout his career. He wrote anonymous political commentaries for the London Morning Post even while he was prime minister. His account of the federation movement appeared as The Federal Story in 1944 and is a vital primary source for this history. His account of his career in Victorian politics in the 1880s was published as The Crisis in Victorian Politics in 1957. His collected journalism was published as Federated Australia in 1968.


Alfred Deakin was almost universally liked, admired and respected by his contemporaries, who called him "Affable Alfred." He made his only real enemies at the time of the Fusion, when not only Labor but some liberals such as William Lyne reviled him as a traitor. He had a long and happy marriage to Pattie Deakin (nee Elizabeth Browne), and had three daughters:

Ivy (1883 - 1970) married Herbert Brooks

Stella (1886 - 1976) married Sir David Rivett

Vera (1891 - 1978) married Hon. T. W. White

His descendants are still active in Melbourne political and business circles (notably his great-grandson Tom Harley), and he is regarded as a founding father by the modern Liberal Party. The Division of Deakin is named after him.


Serle, Percival (1949). "Deakin, Alfred". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson.

Cheap Livers and Death Dodgers: Vegetarianism in the National Library

^ R. Norris (1981). Deakin, Alfred (1856 - 1919). Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8 pp 248-256. MUP. Retrieved on 2007-04-21.

Other References

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Alfred Deakin, 2nd Prime Minister of Australia's Timeline

August 3, 1856
Collingwood, Victoria, Australia
July 14, 1883
Age 26
South Yarra, Victoria, Australia
Age 29
December 25, 1891
Age 35
South Yarra, Victoria, Australia
October 7, 1919
Age 63