William Morris ‘Billy’ Hughes, prime minister of Australia 1915-1923, was born on this day (25 September) in 1862. He was born in London and immigrated to Australia in 1884, at the age of 22.
In 1901 Hughes was elected to the first federal Parliament as Labor MP for West Sydney. He later was Attorney-General in Andrew Fisher’s three Labor governments in 1908–09, 1910–13 and 1914–15.
Despite his intelligence and ambition both for himself and for Australia, his colleagues were concerned to have him as leader due to his abrasive nature – often blamed on his chronic dyspepsia.
He became prime minister in 1915, when the Labor prime minister at the time, Andrew Fisher, resigned due to poor health.
In 1916, after numerous conflicts with his party, he left with many colleagues and formed the Nationalist Party. He eventually resigned as prime minister in 1923, and remained in politics until he died in 1952.
He remains the longest-serving member of the Australian parliament, and one of the most colourful and controversial figures in Australian political history.
The photo above, showing Billy Hughes chatting to a general during Prince Henry’s Australian visit of 1934, is from the Sam Hood collection. The telegram beneath it was from Hughes to the mayor of Glebe during the great conscription debate in World War I. It urged the formation of a strong National Referendum Committee to support conscription.