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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

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George Reid paperweight

an unknown artist

cast iron, painted (12.0 cm x 6.5 cm depth 5.5 cm)

Sir George Houstoun Reid GCB GCMG KC (1845-1918) was Australian prime minister from August 1904 to July 1905. Brought to Australia at the age of seven, he was admitted as a barrister in 1879 and elected to the Colonial parliament as a Free Trader in 1880. As a minister, and then as both Premier of New South Wales and Colonial Treasurer from 1894 to 1899, Reid greatly increased the number of schools, aided adult education, cut government spending, reformed the land tax laws and created an independent non-political Public Service Board to administer the service. Despite his 'Yes-No' attitude to federation, he insisted the move should be approved by a majority of the electorate, rather than by parliamentarians alone. Leader of the Free Trade Opposition from 1901 to 1904, Reid was involved in the general jockeying for power in the first Commonwealth parliaments. In 1904, he allied twice with a group of Protectionists, first to tip out Deakin and then to overwhelm Watson. These machinations put the Free Traders into power, with Reid as Prime Minister, and he soon plotted what was known as the 'fusion' of the two conservative parties in the hope of destroying Labor. However, during his first month of government, his own party narrowly survived a no-confidence motion and in July 1905 Alfred Deakin used Labor support to oust him from power, claiming that Reid was 'inordinately vain and resolutely selfish, a consummate tactician even more cunning [than Parkes] and if anything exceeding him in violence and variety of vituperation.'

Reid retired from Parliament in 1908. Two years later he was appointed Australia's first High Commissioner in London, an office that he filled with great aplomb. He became a popular after-dinner speaker in London society circles, and by 1916, when Andrew Fisher replaced him as High Commissioner, he was so well established in Britain that the Liberal Party offered him a safe seat in the House of Commons. He held the seat until his death in 1918 - the only Australian ever to have sat in the Colonial, Commonwealth and Westminster Parliaments.

Reid was a popular subject for caricaturists, although Alfred Deakin claimed that even a cartoonist could not do justice to Reid’s ‘immense, unwieldy, jelly-like stomach always threatening to break his waistband, his little legs apparently bowed beneath its weight, [and] his thick neck rising behind his ears rounding to his many-folded chin’. Illingworth's medallion sculpture is a welcome straightforward representation of Reid that emphasises his ambition and intelligence rather than his avoirdupois.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2001

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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