The 1867 Deadlock Between The Houses

  1. John Henry Thomas Manners-Sutton           2.  Sir Charles Darling

The recall of Governor Darling meant that both his reputation and his career were ruined. Higinbotham urged the Legislative Assembly not to allow Darling to suffer for having supported the democratic right of the representative House of the Parliament to control the finances of Government. He moved a vote of confidence in Sir Charles and of thanks for his service in Victoria. He attacked those who had petitioned the Queen, characterising them as class who were ‘hostile to the continuance of responsible government.’ He accused the Colonial Office in London of interfering in the affairs of the Colony. He called upon the Assembly to compensate Darling for his loss of salary and pension.

In London, Darling lobbied without success for an inquiry to clear his name. His appeals  to the Colonial Office for financial assistance were also refused. In April 1867, after nine months, he resigned from the Colonial Service in despair.

On hearing the news, the McCulloch ministry prepared to set aside £20,000 as a grant to compensate Darling. This renewed the struggle with the Legislative Council about the Assembly’s right to control the finances, and a second deadlock between the two Houses ensued. The new Governor, John Henry Thomas Manners-Sutton negotiated an interim solution to the problem of the finances, but neither House would give way over the issue of the grant. An election followed. The Government was returned, but the deadlock continued. Manners-Sutton warned his superiors that the prolonged impasse would undermine the constitutional arrangements in Victoria. He was instructed to uphold the right of the Legislative Council  to ‘exercise their discretion’ respecting the grant. The stalemate continued and for months the normal business of Government was at a standstill. The Governor reported the alarming situation to his superiors in London.

Eventually, Manners-Sutton succeeded in finding a new ministry and was on the brink of brokering a compromise. The plan was that the Council would allow the grant to Darling provided the Assembly would abandon the assertion of its right to control the finances of the Colony that was written in the preamble to the legislation. Suddenly news arrived that the Colonial Office had reinstated Darling and made a substantial payment to him. This meant that Darling could not accept the proposed Victorian grant. He explained that he had resigned under a misunderstanding. The real  explanation for the Secretary of State’s sudden reversal of policy towards Darling may have been that he saw that the grant was likely to pass and feared the loss of face for the British Government. In Victoria the issue of the grant became suddenly irrelevant. The constitutional debate over the right of the representative House to control the finances remained unresolved and continued to fester for many more decades.

Eighteen months later, Sir Charles Darling died. In 1870, both Houses of the Victorian Parliament agreed to grant Lady Darling the sum of £5000 for the education of her children and £1000 as an annual pension.

Higinbotham left the Parliament in 1876 but the constitutional issue erupted again in a bitter third deadlock in 1878, known as ‘Black Wednesday’, under the Ministry of Graham Berry. The issue re-surfaced frequently in Victorian politics until the second half of the twentieth when incremental reforms gradually democratised the constitutional arrangements, and  the powers of the two Houses became settled.

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