George Houstoun Reid – Fact sheet 213

George Houstoun Reid
George Houstoun Reid (NAA: 1200, L11178)

Prime Minister of Australia 1904–05

Born in Scotland in 1845, George Reid migrated to Australia with his family in 1852. Pursuing a legal career, Reid was admitted to the Bar in 1879. The following year he entered the New South Wales parliament, where he was instrumental in creating the Free Trade party. In 1894, Reid’s Free Traders won an effective majority in the New South Wales state parliament, and Reid became Premier and Treasurer. As a senior colonial politician of this period, Reid was a key figure in the federation movement. Reid entered federal parliament in 1901 as Member for East Sydney, becoming Leader of the Opposition. A conservative politician, he favoured Free Trade in state and federal politics.

It was on the collapse of the Watson Labor government on 18 August 1904 that Reid became Prime Minister. He governed in a coalition with conservative Protectionist, Allan McLean, and his followers. Reid also served as Minister for External Affairs. Alfred Deakin refused to join the coalition, leaving Reid’s government a majority of one in the House of Representatives and outnumbered in the Senate. The Reid government’s only substantial achievement was in industrial relations with the passage of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, 1904. A censure motion proposed by Deakin brought the Reid–McLean government down on 5 July 1905. It had been in power for less than eleven months. Reid was the only Free Trade Prime Minister, and remained the leader of that party until 1908.

In December 1909, George Reid resigned from parliament and was appointed Australia’s first High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. He sought an extension of his term, but was replaced by another former Prime Minister, Andrew Fisher, in January 1916. On 10 January 1916, Reid was elected to the British House of Commons. He died in London on 12 September 1918.

Research guide – Our First Six: Guide to the Archives of Australia’s Prime Ministers

National Archives holdings relating to George Reid

The National Archives holds a range of records relating to George Reid both as a federation figure and his years in the Commonwealth parliament.

In the table below, reference numbers direct you to the item or series in RecordSearch, the Archives database. There you can find more information. In many cases you can view entire digitised records. The information will appear in a new browser window.

Collection references

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