Born in Twickenham, near London in 1822, Graham Berry became an apprentice draper after completing his primary school education. He married Harriet Blencowe around 1848 in England and they had 13 children.
Following their migration to Australia in 1852, Berry furthered his education in economics and politics by reading, but being a juror in a Eureka Stockade trial triggered his enjoyment of public speaking. He spoke with a broad London accent, and was a master of heated impromptu remarks. On his arrival in Melbourne however, he set himself up in South Yarra as a general store-keeper and wine merchant, and prospered. He was first elected to the Legislative Assembly for East Melbourne in 1861 and was described by "The Argus" newspaper as an 'extreme liberal'.
In 1866 he moved to Geelong where he started a newspaper, the "Geelong Register", as a rival to the "Geelong Advertiser" but when this wasn't successful, he bought the latter. As editor he wrote wonderful articles about himself whilst ignoring the activities of his rivals and eventually in 1869 he was elected to West Geelong. This was shortly after his wife Harriet died in childbirth. He continued working and soon married again to Rebecca Evans. Rebecca bore him another 7 children.
Our speaker, Peter Mansfield, of the Geelong Historical Society painted a picture of a rather unpleasant man who had a passionate dislike for politicians whose views differed from his. He detested William Clark Haines of Barrabool Hills and he described Premier Sir Charles Sladen as evil.
However his political career lasted 40 years and he was one of the most determined Liberal politicians of 19th century Victoria. He was a radical speaker which perhaps didn't endear him to others. He never penetrated high society but was pleased to be able to give his younger children the education that he had lacked.
During his political career, Berry continued to argue for reform for distribution of wealth and power in society. When Charles Duffy formed a Liberal Government in 1871, Berry became Treasurer. He was keen on high tariffs to protect local manufacturing and he proposed higher land taxes to break up the vast properties owned by the squatters.
In 1875 he became Premier and Treasurer of Victoria. Following a modified version of his Land Tax Bill, Berry next introduced a bill for the payment of Members of the Assembly. He 'tacked' this on to the Appropriation Bill so that the Council couldn't reject it without paralysing the Colony's finances. It was however rejected. On 8 January 1878, Berry's government began to dismiss public servants including judges, arguing that there was no money to pay them. Until a compromise was reached 2 years later, almost no legislation was passed and administration ground to a halt.
Berry was a great fighter and even travelled to London to appeal when a bill to reduce the power of the Legislative Council was rejected. He received no help in London but was still hailed as a hero by the crowds who greeted him on his return.
Eventually after some modest reforms to the Legislative Council were made, Berry resigned in July 1881. Under a coalition government led by James Service, he accepted office as Chief Secretary and Postmaster-General for 1883-1886. In 1886 he was appointed Victorian Agent-General in London - a prestigious position and was made KCMG, becoming Sir Graham Berry. At the age of 70, in 1892 he returned to Melbourne and became Treasurer and in 1894 was elected Speaker, a position he held until 1897 when he retired. Still interested in politics, he spent the remaining years of his life supporting the cause of the Australian Federation. Sir Graham Berry was Premier of Victoria in 1875, 1877-1880 and 1880-1881.
In 1875, Berry retired to St. Kilda where he died in 1904. He was given a State Funeral and was buried in Boroondara Cemetery, Kew.
References and image at Wikipedia: Graham Berry
Contributed by Jan Hanslow (PPPG Member No. 1057)
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