Black Wednesday c1878-1900s
Hand tinted photographic print with character key
Published by The Swiss Studios Melbourne, embossed stamp lower left
18 x 29.6
Provenance: The Richard Berry Collection, Melbourne
Character key in two parts in ink below image: Immediately below image are the numbers 1. to 20:
In table form further below 1. Henderson Africanus 2. “Age” D. Syme 3. Sir C. G. Duffy 4. G. D. Longridge 5. James Mirams/ 6. D. Gaunson 7. W. C. Smith 8. Graham Berry 9. Sir B. O’Loughlin (the “i” has been altered in another hand to “e”) 10. Peter Lalor/ 11. Sir George Bowen 12. Civil Service (possibly a small word or letter has been erased before the word Civil) 13. Francis Longmore 14. J. B. Patterson 15. J. Macpherson Grant/ 16. John Woods 17. Prof. Pearson 18. L. L. Smith 19. Dan Kelly 20. Ned Kelly
Condition: Each edge is irregular from some worm damage or other wearing. There is a 3 cms vertical scratch starting immediately above no 15. There is also some staining on the photographic card.
Comment: The political drama of the Victorian parliament are well summarized in Dr Paul Strangio’s entry in eMelbourne the city past and present website.
“ Black Wednesday On 9 January 1878 Melburnians awoke to the news that Graham Berry's radical liberal ministry had cut a swathe through the upper echelons of the colony's civil service, dismissing judges of the county courts, courts of mines and insolvency courts, police magistrates and wardens of goldfields, coroners and deputy-coroners, some Crown prosecutors, and a number of senior departmental officers. A second round of dismissals on 24 January brought the total retrenched to nearly 400, although most were subsequently reinstated.
Black Wednesday was a spike in the broader struggle between the Berry ministry and the Legislative Council that convulsed Victoria from 1877 to 1881. The struggle erupted in December 1877 when the council deferred Supply ostensibly because it refused to be coerced into sanctioning an expenditure item for the payment of members of parliament that was appended to the Appropriation Bill. Although the public service sackings were justified by the ministry on the grounds of financial exigency, it was also motivated by a desire to reform an intransigent public service blighted by a culture of patronage.
While the 'ultras' in the Berry ministry, firebrands like Peter Lalor, Francis Longmore and John Woods, were the fiercest advocates of drastic action against the council, Berry and Governor Sir George Bowen wore most opprobrium for the dismissals. The Melbourne establishment rounded on Bowen, despite his subsequent protests that he had assented 'purely' on the principle of following ministerial advice. His fear that the episode would be a permanent black mark against his name - never to be 'forgotten or forgiven either in England or in the colony' - seemed confirmed when at the end of 1878 he was posted to the imperial 'backwater' of Mauritius.
The political impact of Black Wednesday is difficult to assess. While there is little evidence that the action eroded popular support for the government, the council's defenders seized on it as evidence of the ministry's revolutionary intent and as a source of economic disruption (the so-called 'Berry blight'). When the deadlock was resolved the council emerged with its powers unscathed.”
Deakin, Alfred, 'The crisis in Victorian Politics, 1879-1881', Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1957. Details
The cartoon is clearly based on the events in Victoria in early 1878. It seems to be, so far, unrecorded. Our enquiries with the State Library of Victoria and other libraries have not turned up another example.
It is just possible that this work might be based on a history painting that was popular at the time but which we have as yet been unable to identify. If this is the case then ‘our’ rather primitive artist has added the Australian touches and the rather comical faces of each of the characters of the Victorian political drama. All the figures menacingly carry flint-stone rifles. The ‘Black Wednesday’ handbill (the word ‘Wednesday’ has been crudely crammed together to fit onto the page) sits on a central rock. It is sitting uneasily under the hand of the Premier (n0 8) who holds a pistol in his hand. The Civil Service (no 12) drawn as a feminine figure, is clumsily shown being protected by Sir George Bowen, the Governor (no 11). The ministers of the crown are to the left of the chief negotiator Graham Berry, the Premier (no 8) with, to the right of the governor, Francis Longmore MLA (no13), reputedly an organizer of the Black Wednesday dismissals, who was dropped by Berry from the ministry in 1880, and the other dissidents. However, we cannot explain why Peter Lalor (no 10) is not shown as part of the dissidents. J Macpherson Grant (no 15), solicitor for the Eureka defence, is also shown.
The Kellys in amour, Dan and Ned (no 19 and 20) appear at right to be availing themselves of the swag of an unseen traveler, while Dan may be altering a horse’s brand. Aborigines watch on from their smoking campsite. At the centre of the image is a leaning (falling?) cross which may be on fire.
The print is laid on a backing board which has the ‘blind stamp’ of ‘The Swiss Studios Melbourne’. Swiss Studio is recorded as being “now open” to the public at 323-25 Bourke St, in 1900. (See The Argus, 17 November 1900, p12). The ‘Picture Australia’ website records various Melbourne politicians’ portraits and landscapes by Swiss Studios from 1900 and another reference from The Argus has the studio still operating in 1920.
There are a number of mysteries relating to the actual production of this image. One area to research might be whether Richard Berry, the Melbourne antique dealer and the previous owner, was related to the premier Graham Berry. This might mean that the original cartoon had been in the premier’s possession and perhaps, after his death in 1904, it was reproduced and framed at The Swiss Studios. In which case the original may have been lost.
$ 1975 including GST
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