Tasmanian politics during the 1890s was full of federal tension, but other undercurrents persisted, one of which was convictism. Despite the cessation of transportation having occurred over four decades previously (August 1853), any mention of the convict past was still sensitive, especially so if it was made personally as occurred in the House of Assembly in July 1894.
During debate on the Legal Practitioners Bill a lawyer, George Crosby Gilmore (MHA George Town), perpetrated a seemingly mild verbal assault on Allan MacDonald (MHA North Launceston), a co-founder of the Liberal Progressive League, and operator of a ‘crockery shop.’ ‘In the Chamber while the House was at work’ MacDonald was, so the newspapers reported, taking a ‘warm interest’ in the Bill, and his contribution was followed by Gilmore’s, who began to tell the House a story of a teapot.
G. C. Gilmore (1860-1937)
Allan Macdonald (c1853-1898)
Gilmore had apparently purchased a teapot in Launceston, from ‘someone not a hundred miles from here’, but had found that it had been broken and glued, and when he tried to return it he was simply told that it was the ‘way it had been sent out from England.’ According to newspaper reports MacDonald interjected, saying that Gilmore was ‘sent out in the same condition as the teapot’. What this actually meant was unclear, although Gilmore took it to mean that he was a convict or, as he put it, ‘had convict blood in my veins’. Therefore he demanded an apology, but MacDonald refused, and debate continued. When eventually a parliamentary division was called for on the Legal Practitioners Bill the two parliamentarians in question went to opposite sides of the Chamber. However, while on his feet Gilmore apparently went over to MacDonald and twice repeated his demand for an apology, which was repeatedly refused. At this Gilmore struck MacDonald a ‘resounding blow on the face’ and simply walked on to where he could cast his vote on the Bill.
Shocked by the events, the Premier Edward Braddon drew the attention of the Chairman of Committees, John George Davies, to the blow. Accordingly, Davies finished recording the vote on the question before leaving the Chair. The Speaker, Stafford Bird, resumed the Chair and duly took note of the ‘disorder’. Gilmore immediately apologised for his actions, but added that the convict allusion was the ‘gravest and grossest provocation’. To compound the matter, Gilmore then used unparliamentary language — he said that MacDonald had lied, which term the Speaker required that Gilmore withdraw.
Other Members, such as Sir Elliott Lewis, said that he had been sitting ‘between’ the two MHAs, and that MacDonald had indeed said that Gilmore had been ‘sent out’. Worse still, Gilmore suggested that he would settle the matter with MacDonald ‘outside’, which the Speaker took as a threat as Gilmore’s tone carried a ‘most aggravated sound.’ After further debate Gilmore finally withdrew the ‘threat’. For his part in the ‘teapot’ tumult MacDonald made a statement that Gilmore’s interpretation of his remarks had been ‘erroneous’. He had only meant to refer to Gilmore’s legal background, he was ‘sent out a lawyer like the teapot’.
Moreover, MacDonald refused to apologise under ‘threat’ and adding fuel to the fire explained that during the division he had said to Gilmore that ‘I always thought you were a fool and now I am convinced that you are a fool’, upon which Gilmore had struck him! After an attempt was made by Braddon to exclude Gilmore for the rest of the session he was ‘suspended from attendance in his place during this evening’s sitting’ only. The ‘teapot’ incident was over.