Tom Price (1852 – 1909) premier
At the Boundary Street Welsh Methodist Sunday School in Liverpool, Tom Price learned to become a passionate Wesleyan Methodist. He went on to become South Australian Premier in 1905 with a long list of achievements. In matters social, political and religious he adjudged the rightness of a policy by its propensity to strengthen the home. He was staunchly ‘family first’.
When Tom Price became premier of South Australia in 1905, the Welsh Revival was in its second year. It may have harvested a hundred thousand souls, made a massive dint in the crime rate, brought healing to communities embittered and fractured by industrial strife, and was exported all over the world. Tom Price was a Welsh revivalist in an antipodaean political setting, his biographer reporting of his parliamentary oratory as he might have spoken of a great Welsh preacher: ‘There were occasions . . . when the fire burned and the divine afflatus so filled him that no written records could express the thoughts which flashed to his tongue for utterance.’
In his first year in parliament in 1893 his emotional speech on the plight of factory workers had so moved a member of the opposition (George Hawker) that he crossed the floor, thus allowing the legislation to be passed. Passionate polies are great, and passionate polies of character are greater. Tom Price was such a one.
Born in Brymbo in North Wales in 1852, Tom Price signed the pledge as a total abstainer with a cross because he was too young to have learned how to write but not too young to have suffered from the intemperance of his father. At the Boundary Street Welsh Methodist Sunday School in Liverpool, he learned to become a passionate Wesleyan Methodist and a passionate reader, both of which he remained all his life.
Married in 1881 to Anne Lloyd, he enjoyed as happy a marriage as his early childhood had been miserable. Both experiences reinforced his evangelical values to make him home-centred in his philosophy. In matters social, political and religious he adjudged the rightness of a policy by its propensity to strengthen the home. He was staunchly ‘family first’.
Every Sunday evening, even after becoming premier, he gathered his extended family around the harmonium to sing Sankey’s revival hymns.
After qualifying as a stone mason, Price migrated to Australia in 1883, seeing in every circumstance the over-ruling of Providence. In Adelaide, he found the same combination of interests as occupied him in Liverpool: the Church, temperance and trades unions. Returned to parliament in 1893, he represented the labour interest with the, at first, rather fierce indignation of the one who had suffered penury and powerlessness at first hand. He was working class politician who never lost his taste for the best things in life.
But by temperament and conviction, he came to value social harmony above conflict, and his values persuaded him that the propertied classes, too, have rights which the legislature needed to respect.
When he became premier in 1905 Price also took the positions of Commissioner of Public Works and Minister for Education. He worked far too hard, and his many achievements in office were won at the cost of his life:
• he electrified Adelaide’s trams;
• extended the franchise thus reducing the power of the legislative council;
• completed Adelaide’s outer harbour to increase merchant shipping;
• issued certificates to guarantee the quality of exports;
• increased the minimum wage for government employees;
• resisted the introduction of the totalisator as a method of gambling on the accurate grounds too often neglected by politicians, that legalising something makes it respectable and therefore increases the consumption of it;
• strengthened the Licensing Act in the interests of temperance;
• negotiated with other state premiers a good deal for SA on the use of the waters of the Murray River;
• offered the Northern Territory to the new federal government who took over its control;
• altered the administration and the curriculum of state schools to make them better equipped to prepare students for the demands of the new century, especially increasing opportunities for technical education;
• and promoted the industry and trade of SA to financiers and bankers in Britain, opening up provincial markets outside of London.
As Minister for Education his motto was that ‘The true aim of education is the building up of moral and spiritual beings’. Probably the last public address he gave was at Victor Harbour state school, where he exhorted the boys to develop ‘a backbone’ and to be morally pure and the girls to be pure and make the boys better for knowing them and he ended with the unforgettable words, Character is best after all.
Further information – Australian Dictionary of Biography: http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A110296b.htm
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