Many Australians associate Federation with Sir Henry Parkes and his significant contribution in bringing Australia together in 1901, but he was much more than that. Parkes arrived in Sydney in 1839 with his wife and young child (Sir Henry would eventually father 17 children), finding work as a laborer and later in a foundry. He was also a bone and ivory turner and manufacturer, journalist, publisher, writer and politician.
In 1845 he set up business in Kent Street, purchased a lathe and set to work on creating beautiful handcrafted objects. The Powerhouse Museum has a collection of objects relating to Sir Henry Parkes.
Personally Sir Henry and his wife Clarinda were going through a difficult time, with the loss of a child. Professionally his business was prospering resulting in new premises at 25 Hunter Street and other branches opening in regional NSW and Victoria. By the end of the 1840’s Parkes was one of 14 other bone and ivory turner in Sydney, prompting him to broaden his business. He did this by expanding his store to included imported fancy wares.
Sir Henry went on to have a career in journalism and as a publisher. Below is the Albion press (displayed in Technologies that changed our mind 2013-14) imported from England and used by Henry Parkes to produce the newspaper the ‘Empire’, of which he was proprietor and editor, from 1850-1856. This newspaper was the chief proponent of mid 19th century liberalism and its pages were a forum for the sharpest radical and liberal viewpoints of the day. The press was then purchased by Messrs. Craigie and Hipgrave of Armidale, when this firm issued the Armidale ‘Express’.
He was elected to the legislative council in 1856 and Premier of New South Wales in 1872. He was 57 and robust with a shaggy beard- the iconic image of Sir Henry Parkes. His tenure lasted until 1875.
On 2 March, 1891 Sir Henry was elected president of the National Australasian Convention, in attendance were delegates from the colonies and New Zealand. At the opening dinner for the convention Parkes made a toast ‘One people, one destiny’ . It appeared that he was ready for the colonies to join and make his mark in Australian history.
1. Sir Henry Parkes, The Australian Colossus, S Dando-Collins, Random House Australia, 2013
2. Sir Henry Parkes, A.W Martin
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Written by Kate Clancy, Curatorial Volunteer