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Barton and Watson, 1902

G. H. Dancey

pen and ink on paper (mount: 50.7 cm x 40.5 cm, sheet: 34.5 cm x 26.5 cm)

In this cartoon, Australia’s third prime minister, Chris Watson, propels a wide-eyed Edmund Barton – the new federation’s first leader – forward by the collar. Its creator, George Henry Dancey, was the chief cartoonist for Melbourne Punch for 23 years, until 1919. After Federation in 1901, the Protectionists, under Sir Edmund Barton GCMG KC PC (1849 –1920), formed Australia’s first ministry. John Christian Watson, known as Chris Watson (1867–1941), was the first leader of the new Federal Parliamentary Labor Party, one of two opposition parties. Barton’s readiness to concede to Watson in parliament was lampooned in the press, including in Dancey’s cartoon, published with the caption ‘The real leader of the house: Labour Man Watson – “You lead all right, Edmund – with a little assistance”’. Born in Valparaiso, Chile, Watson grew up in New Zealand and left school at ten years of age. He migrated to Sydney when he was nineteen and quickly became prominent in New South Wales politics and the Trade Union movement. Barton was born in Sydney, studied law, entered the NSW parliament in 1879 and, for most of the 1890s, was the leading campaigner for Federation. In 1903, Alfred Deakin began his first term as prime minister when Barton joined the High Court bench. The following year, Watson formed Australia’s (and the world’s) first Labor government. Although his government lasted only four months, Watson’s reputation as an amiable, articulate and reliable leader remained intact.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2012

Accession number: 2012.189

Currently on display: Gallery One (Marilyn Darling Gallery)

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Artist and subject

G. H. Dancey (age 37 in 1902)

The Rt. Hon Sir Edmund Barton GCMG KC PC (age 53 in 1902)

Hon. Chris Watson (age 35 in 1902)

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