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Hawker, George Charles (1818–1895)

George Hawker, by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co, 1890

George Hawker, by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co, 1890

State Library of South Australia, 10800

The death of the Hon. George Charles Hawker removes from active politics the last of the band of legislative pioneers who served in the first South Australian Parliament under constitutional government. The pioneer statesmen of the province were for the most part a long-lived race. They took to public work because they loved it, and they remained in harness far the same excellent reason. It is not yet 18 months since Sir Henry Ayers, after nearly 37 years' continuous service, retired from the Legislative Council, and it was only because the chosen constituency was adverse that Mr. Krichauf, another of the original members of the earliest Parliament, is not now assisting to make the laws of the country. Both those gentlemen were connected with the Legislature before the late Mr. Hawker obtained a seat within its walls, but even their record is dwarfed by that of Mr. G. M. Waterhouse, an ex-Premier both of South Australia and New Zealand, who was elected to the old Legislative Council as representative of East Torrens in 1851; while that sturdy pioneer looks a late comer beside Sir Samuel Davenport, who, so long ago as May, 1846, became a non-official member of the first governing body which ruled the destinies of this province. It is but a few months since Mr. Waterhouse, who is now resident in New Zealand, sat, as an auditor of the debates, in the Speaker's gallery of the House of Assembly, while only four years ago Sir Samuel Davenport fought a vigorous battle in the Central District of the Legislative Council. Vitality was the leading characteristic of South Australia's first legislators. The qualities which assisted them to subdue the natural obstacles against which they had to contend in founding the province on a firm basis helped them also in the duties of statecraft. The very requirements of their work ensured health of body and mind, and in building up the fabric of the constitution they seemed to buttress their own lives. Even Governors inhaled the same sustaining breath of life; and Sir George Grey, who was sent to Adelaide in May, 1841, and who for nearly six years presided over the Legislative Council, is still a member of an Australasian Parliament, and is by no means inclined to relinquish his political duties.

Mr. Hawker arrived in South Australia before Sir George Grey. He had then passed his majority, and was well equipped for the successful accomplishment of the work he had come to do. He sought his fortune in a new land, and he knew that to win it continuous and intelligent toil was necessary. He had the benefit of a university education and the advantage of a well-supplied purse, but he had attributes of even greater value still in the campaign on which he had entered. He had hope in his heart, a resolute will, courage to face and patiently bear up against difficulty, and an aptitude for practical and continuous work under the special conditions which existed in a country that had barely yet opened its resources to the white man. Under almost any circumstances Mr. Hawker would have achieved success. Furnished as he was with opportunities such as few of his fellow colonists of those earlier days possessed, his success was great. It did not come, however, without arduous and meritorious endeavor, and so thoroughly well used, have its results been that few have ever begrudged them to him. From youth, through manhood, to old age Mr. Hawker gained and kept the goodwill of all with whom he was brought into contact, and he was in the truest sense a popular man. The respect of his associates came not because of wealth, position, or political influence, although all fell to his lot, but it was the outcome of his high character, his singleness of purpose, and his consistent desire to do the best thing possible for the community in which he resided. In all the relationships of life he set an example for the younger generation to follow. He was a model employer, a considerate neighbor, an enterprising yet scrupulously upright man of business, and a most unselfish politician. The rich are often spoken of with envy or with bitterness, but the references to Mr. Hawker were always kindly, and the use he made of the wealth which fortune and his own industry had placed in his hands was almost universally admitted to be such as to merit approbation. It might confidently be said of Mr. Hawker, as was long ago written of the great Duke of Wellington—"Whatever record leaps to light he never shall be shamed". To few colonists has it been permitted to gain so much of this world's goods and this world's honors without forfeiting in any degree the cordial esteem of their fellow men. Gentleness and courtesy were innate in Mr. Hawker, and even in his old age he was always tolerant of the opinions of others, and invariably anxious to do jusitice to the views of those who differed from him.

Mr. Hawker early learned to mind his own business, and he did this to such good effect that at forty he was able to devote some of his leisure to directing the affairs of State. The South Australian Parliament, as at present constituted, was barely a year old when he entered the Assembly, and he at once took a leading position among the men to whom was entrusted the responsibility of preparing the way for the growth of this young nation. The colony was fortunate in its early legislators, for the liberal laws under which the people now live were for the most part enacted at the very outset, and, save for the extension of the franchise to women, there is no important feature in the existing Constitution which was not placed there by the original architects of the fabric. The capacity, the popularity, and the reliability of Mr. Hawker, therefore, are made abundantly manifest when it is known that, less than two years after his first entrance into Parliament, he was selected to preside over the deliberations of the Assembly. He retained this high and honorable position for five years, and retired then only because of a desire to revisit the land of his birth. Returning to South Australia nine years afterwards Mr. Hawker found that his former services had not been forgotten, and he had no difficulty in once more entering the senate-hall. Very soon he was induced to accept Cabinet office, and he proved himself a most conscientious and capable administrator. His service extended over an aggregate term of four years less a few days, and for more than three consecutive years of that period he directed the operations of the Public Works Department, earning praise from friends and political opponents alike because of the loyalty and the thoroughness with which he met all the requirements of the position. Mr. Hawker's Parliamentary life has been divided into three sections, between each of which a resignation and a journey to England intervened. In the first we see him as the dignified and impartial Speaker; in the second he appears as a polished and trenchant debater, a careful and precise administrator; in the third, freshest in memory, he sits as a sage and philosophic counsellor and adviser, the Nestor of Parliament, whose ripened experience and wide knowledge of the world were always available for the benefit of those who desired to consult them. In each period of his Parliamentary service Mr. Hawker showed himself superior to the littlenesses, the spites, and the jealousies which so often mar the record even of the greatest statesmen. He was always public-spirited, and never prone to magnify his own interests, large although they were, at the expense of those of the country. Wonder has often been expressed that the usual guerdon of long and honorable public work was not bestowed upon Mr. Hawker. The ways of the Colonial Office in these matters, however, are past finding out, and titles do not always follow merit. In the hearts of his fellow-colonists Mr. Hawker held a place as warm as that won by any knight, and the consciousness that South Australia appreciated the labor he had bestowed for her advantage probably gave him greater pleasure and more abiding satisfaction than could have come with the honor so much coveted in political and social circles, and which, it would seem, was about to be conferred.

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'Hawker, George Charles (1818–1895)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/hawker-george-charles-3734/text27273, accessed 22 November 2017.

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