Cornishman Sir John Quick 1852 – 1932

Tom and Libby Luke tomluke@westnet.com.au from Bendigo Australia sent us the following story about the Cornishman Sir John Quick born at Trevessa Farm, Towednack Cornwall.

The Cornish Contribution to the Federation of Australia in 1901 and the enormous work of Sir John Quick of Bendigo.
Sir John Quick was a key figure in getting Australian Federation underway, a self made man and a very active freemason.
He was born at Towednack near St Ives, Cornwall on April 22 1852 and was only 2 when his family arrived on the Bendigo goldfields. His father died soon after and Quick’s early life was hard. Leaving school at 10 he worked in foundries, mines and in a printing room for several years. He taught himself shorthand and became a junior reporter with the Bendigo Advertiser before heading to Melbourne in 1872. He put himself through university with the help of scholarships and more newspaper work, particularly as the parliamentary reporter for the Melbourne Age. He graduated as a lawyer in 1877 and was called to the bar in 1878.
Returning to Bendigo, he entered state parliament in 1880 and became a strong advocate for Federation. He married Catherine Harris in 1883 and they settled in Quarry Hill. Despite not being native-born, he was allowed to join the Australia Natives Association and used his presidency of the Bendigo branch as a platform for his efforts towards a single Australian nation.

His key moment came in 1893 at the Corowa Federal Conference when, to break the deadlocked arguments, he put the resolution that each state would pass its own legislation towards the Constitution, then a national referendum would be put to adopt it. This ensured that the decision to federate would be equal between all states, and not seen as being imposed by the stronger ones.

Quick travelled widely over the next few years to promote Federation and was the second elected of the ten Victorian delegates to the 1897-98 Constitutional Convention. His evangelism for the cause is clear in his ringing words:

“The question is whether there is to be a continuation and intensification of our separate existence as separate colonies, under which there will be antagonism, isolation, parochialism, and belligerency, with all the frightful family of evils flowing therefrom; or whether there is to be an integration and union into one people with one destiny. There can be no reasonable doubt about the magnitude of the issue, and the supreme importance and fate-begetting character of the alternative.

One will lead to national decay and ruin! the other, as sure as the dawning sun dispels the mists and gloom of night, will lead on to national life and national immortality. Well then may we say in warning tones, at the critical juncture and awe-inspiring moment of our history, ‘Unite, and live’; ‘Divide, and perish’. The shadow on the dial swiftly moves towards the fateful hour. Australians! quit yourselves as men, and prove yourselves worthy of your heritage!”.
(Advance Australia, ANA, 1897)

With the success of the referendum, he was elected unopposed federal member for Bendigo in the first Australian Parliament in 1901, as well as being knighted at the opening ceremony for his contribution to the new country. He held the seat until 1913, was appointed Post Master General in 1909, but any hopes for higher office were frustrated by differences with Prime Minister Alfred Deakin.

He returned to the law in 1913 and wrote several key legal and historical texts (Quick and Garran’s The Annotated Constitution of the Australian Commonwealth is still a widely quoted standard text on the topic) before being appointed Deputy Chairman of the Arbitration Commission from 1922 to 1930. He was proud to note that all the disputes brought before him (bar one) were resolved without recourse to strike action.

The young John Quick was initiated into Masonic Lodge Judah while studying in Melbourne, with the encouragement of his future father-in-law Edward Harris, a former mayor of Eaglehawk and Master of Eaglehawk Lodge. On his return to Bendigo, Quick joined Zenith Lodge. He was their WM in the busy pre-Federation year of 1899 and was appointed Deputy Grand Master for the United Grand Lodge of Victoria in 1914.

But, whether from his need to earn a living in Bendigo (no parliamentary pensions then!), or feuds from his political career, or even his friendship with “Germans” such as WC Vahland in the hysteria of World War 1, he did not become Grand Master.

He died in 1932, in retirement in Camberwell, Melbourne, proud of the country he helped create.

© Jim Evans, President of the Bendigo Historical Society © Bendigo Advertiser

Sir John Quick “Humble Beginnings”
Of all the thousands of people who came to Victoria in the 19th Century seeking to make their fortunes by far the greatest ethnic group were Cornishmen.
Life in Cornwall at that time was very hard and they had a magnificent knowledge of hard rock mining coming from their own tin, copper and arsenic mines.
They were also experts in steam winding machinery remembering that Richard Trevithick of Camborne Cornwall had built the first high pressure boiler and the world’s first mobile steam engine and locomotive. Later their expertise was also evident in deep quartz mining again from their previous work in their homeland.
John Quick the son of John and Mary Quick was born on the 22nd April 1852 at Trevessa Farm Towednack in Cornwall. This was in the West Penwith mining area of Cornwall.
When he was two years old in 1854 his parents along with John emigrated to the Goldfields of Victoria and to Bendigo which at that time was known as Sandhurst after the British Army Barracks in Berkshire.
This part of his life will be another story further down this series of articles on the great man.
Trevessa Farm at Towednack was in the Quick family for many generations and is situated near the coast just South of St.Ives
Towednack Church is said to have the shortest steeple in all of Cornwall as it was struck several times by lightning during its construction. Local legend says this was the work of the Lord as a response to the sins of the then parishioners.
We first visited Trevessa farm in 2001 and met with the then owners Adrian and Margaret Biggs. Upon identifying ourselves as Australians they told us of the frustrations they had in dealing with Australia House in London to provide a plaque as so many Australians had visited during their tenure at the farm.
At the time I (Tom) was the President of the Cornish Association of Victoria, Australia and we informed them we were sure my committee would back us in providing such a plaque. This was duly arranged and cast here in Australia and forwarded to Cornwall.
Prof. Richard Snedden wrote a life story of Sir John and at the unveiling of the Plaque in 2002 to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the birth of Sir John it was read to the assembled crowd by John Bolitho (Jowan Cleth) Grand Bard of Cornwall (Gorsedh Kernow)
A large audience assembled for the unveiling including the Mayor of St.Ives, local dignitaries and Councillor’s, former Grand Bards and local citizens.
The Banners of The Cornish Associations of Victoria and South Australia were carried by Dr. Nigel Hicks and the late Vivian Pryor both noted Cornishmen.
All in attendance were offered Australian wine supplied by Jonathon Ball a founding member of the Eden Project in Cornwall. Jonathon and his wife Victoria visited Bendigo in 2002.
It was further explained that when as a member of an Australian Government Committee visiting Great Britain in 1911 Sir John had made a pilgrimage back to the place of his birth at Trevessa.
Future Australian visitors with a Cornish heritage and there are countless thousands will now be able to visit this place so much tied to our Federation and read with pride of Sir John Quick.
In 2004 just two years later Professor Michael L’Estrange A.O. as Australian High Commissioner in London made a trip to the South West of the U.K. and in particular Cornwall.
Councillor Graeme Hicks a Cornwall Councillor along with his brother Dr. Nigel Hicks (Libby’s cousins) arranged a visit to Trevessa Farm. It was noted that he expressed that visiting Trevessa was a highlight of his visit to Cornwall.
Upon his leaving a broad Cornish voice was heard to say “What a pity Sir John went to Bendigo, if he had stayed here Cornwall might have a constitution also.

© Tom and Libby Luke 6th July 2014

For photographs of Trevessa and the ceremonies plus a DVD of the unveiling of the plaque, please contact Tom& Libby tomluke@westnet.com.au

©Savecornwall.org 8th July 2014

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