Joseph Chamberlain

Joseph Chamberlain MP

Joseph Chamberlain (1836-1914) was British Colonial Secretary from 1895 to 1903. He entered the British Parliament in 1876 as a Liberal. His sons Austen Chamberlain and Neville Chamberlain were also successful politicians, with Neville going on to become a Conservative Prime Minister of Great Britain.

Negotiating a Constitution

In 1900 Joseph Chamberlain met with an Australian delegation sent to discuss the proposed Commonwealth Bill. Although the Constitution had been conceived and drafted by successive Australian Constitutional Conventions, the Constitution Bill still needed to be passed by the British Parliament before Australia could federate. Chamberlain opposed several key aspects of the Bill and there was much tension during the negotiations.

The Western Australian Government appealed for British support for further concessions from the other Australian colonies. Chamberlain clearly indicated to their representative, attending the conference as an observer, that Federation would proceed without Western Australia if necessary. The Colonial Secretary also made clear that the prospects of future increased Imperial assistance to a dependent Western Australian colony were low. His intervention helped convince the Forrest Government that the concessions they asked for were not achievable.

Focus Questions

Key words

Colonial Secretary


Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act

House of Commons

Further reading

New World Encyclopedia - Joseph Chamberlain

Wikipedia - Joseph Chamberlain

National Library - The Papers of Joseph Chamberlain

Letter from Alfred Deakin to John Kirwan

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