Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Bailey, Henry Stephen (1876–1962)

by L. J. Louis

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Henry Stephen Bailey (1876-1962), politician, was born on 9 September 1876 at Ballarat East, Victoria, youngest child of Thomas William Bailey, Kentish-born stoker, and his wife Margaret, née Kemple, of County Galway, Ireland. After education at a state school and St Patrick's College, Bailey became a clerk with a legal firm in Ballarat. Membership of the local debating society developed skills and brought him into contact with future Labor leaders, including J. H. Scullin. Soon after his marriage on 11 February 1902 at St Patrick's Cathedral, Ballarat, to Blanche Mary Nicholson (d.1914), he went to the South African War as a lieutenant in the 4th Battalion, Australian Commonwealth Horse, returning later that year.

Bailey then settled at Port Fairy as a solicitor's clerk and set about establishing a solid political base. He was secretary of the town's racing club (racing was a lifelong interest) and in 1906-15 borough councillor, serving as mayor in 1912-13. Meanwhile, his activities in the Political Labor Council culminated in endorsement for the Legislative Assembly seat of Port Fairy. At the 1914 election he narrowly defeated the sitting Liberal, J. F. Duffus, despite the latter's appeal to the substantial Roman Catholic community on the education issue, while Bailey (though himself a Catholic) stood by Labor's opposition to grants to denominational schools.

In parliament Bailey was an informed speaker with an unadorned style free from personal invective. He was an enthusiastic champion of issues such as rail services and freights, land (especially soldier) settlement, and the need to develop industries and port facilities in his electorate. An effective local member, he held Port Fairy with ease until the seat was eliminated by the 1926 redistribution; next year he won adjacent Warrnambool for Labor for the first time. His success in country electorates secured for him considerable standing in his party; he became known as a spokesman for the moderate and rural elements of Labor policy, and as one who had stood loyally to principle in the conscription crisis. Thus in the Labor ministries of G. M Prendergast in 1924 and of E. J. Hogan in 1927-28 and 1929-32, Bailey became president of the Board of Land and Works, commissioner of crown lands and survey and minister of water supply.

The second Hogan minority Labor government was to be overwhelmed by the Depression crisis. Bailey was not in sympathy with the radical demands pressed by militant industrial labour, and supported the Premiers' Plan in defiance of a party ultimatum in early 1932 threatening expulsion. At the election following the government's defeat in April, his loyalty to his lifelong associate Hogan, who continued to support the plan, and his attacks on the central executive of the party cost him his endorsement; he stood as Premiers' Plan Labor candidate, only to be defeated by J. V. Fairbairn of the United Australia Party. After Labor's débâcle, the central executive expelled the intransigent supporters of the plan, including Bailey on 17 June. He was the only dissident to respond to a summons to defend his case, and again the only one to apply (unsuccessfully) to rejoin the party at its annual conference in January 1933.

In November Bailey contested a by-election for Warrnambool as an independent, but lost on preferences. The politician, without a seat or a party, then joined the Country Party, but failed to win Wannon at the 1934 Federal election. However, at the State election next year he won for the United Country Party his old seat of Warrnambool. His history and interests and his moderate political views made for an easy transfer to the Country Party, which under (Sir) Albert Dunstan stood for rural rehabilitation and promised relief for workers. Bailey's qualifications ensured him a place in Dunstan's government, formed with Labor support in April 1935; he became minister without portfolio (2 April 1935–22 June 1936), minister of labour (22 June–28 July 1936), chief secretary (22 June 1936–14 September 1943) and attorney-general (26 April 1938–14 September 1943).

The Dunstan government did not leave a remarkable legislative record though Bailey, carrying heavy responsibilities, was an active minister: the Companies Act of 1938 was regarded as his major achievement. The ministry was caught up in some scandals, but while there were allegations of improper practices relating to the licensing laws, racing, and the attempt to introduce night trotting, none against Bailey himself were sustained.

The defeat of the Dunstan government ended Bailey's career as a minister. He held his seat for a further seven years but in May 1950 was defeated, partly because he had long since left the district. He had for many years lived in Alma Road, St Kilda, on a property which he had divided into self-contained flats. He died there on 26 July 1962 and was buried in the Catholic section of St Kilda cemetery. Bailey was survived by his second wife Elizabeth, née Gibson, whom he had married at East Melbourne on 23 August 1928, by their two sons and a daughter, and by two sons of his first marriage. His estate was valued for probate at £33,608.

Select Bibliography

  • L. J. Louis, Trade Unions and the Depression (Canb, 1968)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Victoria), 1914-50
  • Port Fairy Gazette, 1905-26
  • Labor Call, 11 Sept 1924, 2, 9 Feb 1933
  • Age (Melbourne), 18 Sept 1943, 27 July 1962
  • private information.

Citation details

L. J. Louis, 'Bailey, Henry Stephen (1876–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bailey-henry-stephen-5095/text8507, published in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 24 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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