Gregson and Governor’s Salary
On 14 February 1857, Thomas George Gregson, a colourful colonial parliamentarian, moved a resolution that all government salaries be reduced. This was awkward, as the Constitution contained a ‘Civil List’ of official salaries which had been entrenched at the insistence of the British Government. In fact, the inclusion of the Civil List had helped Tasmania gain the first self-governing Constitution in the Australian colonies.
Nevertheless, the Governor, Sir Henry Fox Young, did not take Gregson’s attack personally: he understood that it was an attempt to instigate a clash between the Premier William Champ’s customs-taxation policy and Gregson’s plan for public service retrenchments. In fact, a slogan then common was ‘retrenchment or ruin’. Despite Gregson’s resolution, and even without additional taxation revenue, Champ refused to accept the reduction in the Governor’s salary and resigned. Therefore, Young called upon Gregson, who was in the era before political parties had formed the effective Leader of the Opposition, to form a Government.
T. G. Gregson
Gregson managed to form a Ministry. His cabinet included his son, John
Compton Gregson as Attorney-General and a personal friend, Charles Meredith,
as Colonial Treasurer. Sworn in as Colonial Secretary and Registrar of
Records on 26 February 1857, Gregson’s agreement with the Governor
contained an historic reference. It was the first to use the term ‘Premier’ because
Gregson had openly declared to Young that he was forming a ‘Cabinet
of which I shall be Premier’, whereas in other Australian jurisdiction,
such as NSW, the term ‘Prime Minister’ was still in use.
Hot-tempered as he was, Gregson’s parliamentary performance was often somewhat eccentric. There are too many incidents to recount here, but on one occasion in April 1857 stands out. During a speech by Frederick Maitland Innes (who went on to become Premier) Gregson was ostensibly dozing with one foot curled up under him on the seat cushion and a handkerchief draped over his face! He was not faining sleep for long, however, for when describing this amusing scene the press noted that Charles Meredith demanded that Innes ‘repeat his precise words’ so that they ‘may be taken down.’
Unfortunately, as it was 122 years before Tasmania gained a Hansard service, the words remain unclear, but the newspaper added, ‘From that moment all after was confusion worse confounded.’ On top of this, twelve Opposition parliamentarians walked out of the proceedings! Gregson limped on for another three weeks as Premier. On Friday 24 April 1857 he lost control of the House of Assembly when its adjournment was decided at a division by 11:7 votes. The next day William Pritchard Weston was sworn in as Premier of Tasmania. Gregson’s long parliamentary career continued until 1872.