Sir George Reid
2nd Prime Minister of Australia
The Right Honourable
Preceded by Henry Parkes
Succeeded by George Turner
Monarch Victoria

Edward VII

Governor General Victor Villiers, Earl of Jersey
Personal details
Born 25 February 1845
Renfrewshire, Scotland
Died 16 May 1917
London, England
Nationality Flag of the United Kingdom British
Political party Free Trade Party
Spouse(s) Florence Reid (1891-1917)
Profession Statesman
Religion Presbyterianism

Sir George Houstoun Reid, GCB, GCMG, KC (25 February 1845 – 16 May 1917) was an Australian politician, being the second Prime Minister of Australia.

Reid was a major conservative force in New South Wales, and one of the colonies leading political minds. After forming the economically liberal, Free Trade party alongside Henry Parkes in 1889, thus becoming a major force in Australia, co-leading the party alongside Parkes. A supporter of federation, he led the movement around Sydney and following the 1894 federal election, he become the first unoffical Deputy Prime Minister, succeeding Parkes upon his death.

Early life

Reid was born in Johnstone, Renfrewshire, Scotland, son of a Church of Scotland minister, migrated to Victoria with his family in 1852. His family was one of many Presbyterian families brought out from Scotland by Rev Dr John Dunmore Lang, with whom his father worked at Scots' Church, Sydney. He was educated at Scotch College, where he said he could "read, write and count fairly well", but had "a lazy horror of Greek" and no appetite for the "wide range of metaphysical propositions" which formed part of the curriculum.

At the age of 12, Reid and his family moved to Adelaide, and he obtained a job as a clerk. At the age of 15 he joined the School of Arts Debating Society, and according to his autobiography, a more crude novice than he was never began the practise of public speaking. He became an assistant accountant in the Colonial Treasury in 1864 and rose rapidly and became head of the Attorney-General's department in 1878. In 1875 he had published his Five Essays on Free Trade, which brought him an honorary membership of the Cobden Club, and in 1878 the government published his New South Wales, the Mother Colony of the Australians, for distribution in Europe. In 1876 he began to study law seriously, which would the independent income necessary to pursue a parliamentary career (given that parliamentary service was unpaid at the time). In 1879, Reid qualified as a barrister.

Political career

Reid's career was aided by his quick wit and entertaining oratory; he was described as being "perhaps the best platform speaker in the Empire", both amusing and informing to his audiences "who flocked to his election meetings as to popular entertainment". In one particular incident his sense quick wit and affinity for humour were demonstrated when a heckler pointed to his ample paunch and exclaimed "What are you going to call it, George?" to which Reid replied: "If it's a boy, I'll call it after myself. If it's a girl I'll call it Victoria. But if, as I strongly suspect, it's nothing but piss and wind, I'll name it after you." His humour, however, was not universally appreciated. Alfred Deakin detested Reid, describing him as "inordinately vain and resolutely selfish" and their cold relationship would affect both their later careers.

Reid was elected top of the poll to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly as a member for the four-member electoral district of East Sydney in 1880. He was not active at first, as he was building up his legal practice, although he was concerned to reform the Robertson Land Acts, which had not prevented 96 land holders from controlling eight million acres (32,000 sq km) between them. Henry Parkes and John Robertson attempted to make minor amendments to the land acts but were defeated and at the subsequent election Parkes' party lost many seats.

In February 1884, Reid lost his seat in parliament owing to a technicality; the necessary notice had not appeared in the Government Gazette declaring that the Minister for Public Instruction was a position that a parliamentarian could hold instead of being excluded from parliament for holding an "office of profit" . At the by-election Reid was defeated by a small majority as a result of the government's financial hardships due to the loss of revenue as a result of the suspension of land sales. In 1885 he was re-elected in East Sydney and took a great part in the free trade or protection issue. He supported Sir Henry Parkes on the free trade side but, when Parkes came into power in 1887, declined a seat in his ministry. Parkes offered him a portfolio two years later and Reid again refused. He did not like Parkes personally and felt he would be unable to work with him. When payment of members of parliament was passed Reid, who had always opposed it, paid the amount of his salary into the treasury. Reid had become Sydney's leading barrister by impressing juries by his cross-examinations and was made a Queen's Counsel in 1898.


After the draft Constitution was presented to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly on 25 April 1891, Reid held an equivocal position on the movement, however, as the 1892 neared, Reid began to take a more positive stance on federalism. Due to the leading member of the federation movement was the Free Trader Henry Parkes, Reid took a higher position in the movement.

Leading the federalists around the Sydney urban area, Reid's stance on the Constitution was gradually being questioned by the public. He had a distaste for the senate and how strong it was, as well as how the seats of the senate were elected based on states, rather than population. Throughout 1892, Reid petitioned both Andrew Inglis Clark (the writer of the constitution) and Henry Parkes to change the senatorial system before the federal referenda that year.