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Edmund Barton

Right Honourable Sir Edmund Barton KBE (January 18, 1849 - January 7, 1920) was the first Prime Minister of Australia and a founding member of the High Court of Australia[?].

Barton was born in Glebe, a suburb of Sydney as the ninth child of William and Mary Louise Barton, Edmund Barton was educated at Sydney Grammar School, where he was twice dux and school captain. He graduated with first class honours in classics from the University of Sydney, where he also demonstrated considerable skill at cricket.

Barton became a barrister in 1871. On a cricket trip to Newcastle in 1870, he met Jane Mason Ross, who he married in 1877.

In the late 1870s, Barton's attention turned to politics, elected to the seat of University of Sydney in the state legislative assembly in 1879 after two unsuccessful attempts. In 1882, he became Speaker of the assembly. Through the late 1880s Barton sat in the Legislative Council.

During the 1890s Barton changed his earlier economic views and joined the protectionists in opposition to the majority free trade parties of the time.

Barton was a strong advocate of the Federation of the colonies through the 1890's, and was elected to represent New South Wales at the succession of conferences on the topic throughout the decade. After the death of Henry Parkes[?], Barton effectively led the movement. Barton was apparently keen to achieve popular support for the measure even if it took some time to achieve, unlike Parkes, who believed that the amount of public consultation was unnecessarily delaying Federation. Eventually, referenda supporting federation were passed by 1900 and Barton, in a delegation with Alfred Deakin and other prominent politicians of the time, successfully lobbied the British Parliament to approve the Federation.

Late in 1900, the first Governor-General Lord John Hopetoun[?] arrived from London and proposed to appoint William Lyne[?] as the first Prime Minister of Australia (as no federal Parliament had yet been established, the usual convention of appointing the leader of the winning lower house party did not apply). As an opponent of federation, his appointment was unacceptable to the prominent federationists, and after tense negotiations Barton was announced as the first Prime Minister and an initial ministry appointed. The main task of this initial ministry was to organise the conduct of the first federal elections, which were held 3 months later.

Barton's Protectionist Party easily won this first election, and Barton and his cabinet began the work of putting together a government. One notable reform was the immediate introduction of women's suffrage, the second country to do so (first was New Zealand). Barton did not personally support the concept, but went along as part of a deal in which suffrage supporters had endorsed Federation. More infamously (from a contemporary viewpoint), Barton's government enacted the White Australia policy.

For much of 1902 Barton was in England for the coronation of Edward VII[?] - the trip was also used for the negotiation of a permanent British naval presence.

In 1903, Barton left Parliament to become one of the initial group of judges of the High Court of Australia[?]. He was succeeded by Deakin.

Barton had a distinct love of drinking and eating - particularly drinking which earned him the nickname "Tosspot Toby".

Barton died 7 January 1920 on holiday at Medlow Bath, New South Wales.

"For the first time, a nation for a continent and a continent for a nation" - Barton campaign slogan.

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