Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Perry, John (1845–1922)

by Gillian Fulloon

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

John Perry (1845-1922), country entrepreneur and politician, was born on 13 July 1845 in Sydney, eldest son of Julius Perry, printer, and his wife Caroline, née Echardt. Educated at Rev. James Huston's Surry Hills Grammar School and Fort Street Model School, he began work at 16 with Watkins & Leigh, importers and wholesalers. After three years as bookkeeper for Rodd Bros of Braidwood he returned to Sydney in 1868 and worked as a broker and accountant.

Early in 1870 Perry selected land near Ballina for sugar-cane farming and opened a store at Alstonville, named after Susan McAuslan Alston (d.1917) whom he married in Sydney on 15 November with Presbyterian forms. He also became an auctioneer and contractor; profits from building the Lismore court-house and the Richmond River lighthouse enabled him to extend his farm and store.

In February 1889 Perry, a Protectionist, entered the Legislative Assembly for the Richmond; he favoured local government, water conservation and irrigation, reform of the administration of justice and payment of members. Surviving several redistributions, he represented the Richmond (1889-94 and 1904-13), Ballina (1894-1904) and Byron (1913-20), but from 1892 lived at Marrickville, Sydney. He was party whip for the Protectionists in 1894-98 and served on the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works in 1898-99.

Perry was minister of public instruction and for labour and industry in the Lyne and See ministries in 1899-1904. He tried to improve educational opportunities for country children and later approved subsidies for teachers in isolated areas and the formation of central schools. He was forced to consider more radical reform after Professor (Sir) Francis Anderson's attack on the state education system in June 1901 sparked a public outcry. Calling a conference of school inspectors and departmental officers in January 1902, he announced the appointment of two royal commissioners, G. H. Knibbs and J. W. Turner, to inquire into education overseas. Impressed by Peter Board's report on Primary Education (1903), he arranged for its printing and distribution and convened the January and April 1904 conferences at which it and Knibbs' and Turner's interim report were considered. The teachers regretted the loss of the 'far-seeing, practical and progressive' minister when Perry, having narrowly missed the premiership, accepted office as colonial secretary under T. Waddell in June.

A member of the Loyal Orange Institution of New South Wales, Perry was backed by the New South Wales Alliance for the Suppression of Intemperance in the August 1904 elections. That year he was appointed officier de l'instruction publique by the French government for his assistance after the Martinique volcanic eruptions. In October 1907 he became secretary for mines in Wade's Liberal-Reform ministry, then minister of agriculture in January 1908.

Genial and good-looking, Perry worked hard. He was admired for his 'high sense of honour' and loved for his 'blunt methods'. He strongly opposed the appointment of Henry Willis as Speaker by the Labor government in 1911 and successfully sued him in the Supreme Court for assault and false imprisonment after a fracas in the House. In 1912 he served on the royal commission on the totalizator and signed the majority report opposing its introduction.

Perry was returned as a Nationalist in 1917 but resigned in 1920 and was nominated to the Legislative Council. On 18 February he married a divorcee Josephine Frances Francis, formerly Frankel, née Armitage. He was a director of Marshall's Co-operative Breweries Ltd and T. M. Hall & Co. Ltd. Vice-president of the Kuring-gai Chase Trust, he enjoyed boating, fishing and swimming. Survived by his wife and the son of his first marriage, Perry died at Pittwater on 10 May 1922 and was buried in Waverley cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of N.S.W. (Syd, 1907)
  • A. R. Crane and W. G. Walker, Peter Board (Melb, 1957)
  • Parliamentary Papers (New South Wales), 1912, 4, p 355
  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 1922, p 6
  • Australian Journal of Education, 1 July 1904
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19 Feb 1889, 18 Nov 1911, 14 Feb 1920, 11, 15 May 1922
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 15 Sept 1899, 10 Aug 1904
  • Town and Country Journal, 16 Oct 1907
  • R. J. Burns, Secondary Education and Social Change in New South Wales and Queensland Before 1914 (Ph.D. thesis, Australian National University, 1966)
  • CO 418/32 f 218 (National Archives of the United Kingdom).

Citation details

Gillian Fulloon, 'Perry, John (1845–1922)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/perry-john-8023/text13985, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 14 December 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

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