Forrest, John, first Baron Forrest, of Bunbury 1847-1918, Australian explorer and politician, the third son of William Forrest, of Leschenault, near Bunbury, by his wife, Margaret Guthrie, daughter of David Hill, of Dundee, was born 22 August 1847 in Western Australia. He was educated at Bishop's School, Perth, and entered the survey department of the colony in 1865. He soon displayed marked capacity for the work of exploring, and in 1874 established his reputation by his successful expedition from Champion Bay to the overland telegraph line between Adelaide and Port Darwin, a distance of 2,000 miles through the heart of the continent, accomplished with horses only, without the aid of camels. Recognition of this feat took the form of a freehold grant of 5,000 acres and appointment as deputy surveyor-general in 1876. In 1883 Forrest was promoted to be surveyor-general and commissioner of crown lands with a seat in both the executive and legislative councils of the colony; and, when responsible government was attained by the colony in 1890, he was summoned to form the first ministry, in which he took office as treasurer. He remained in power until he resigned (1901) to join the first Commonwealth administration. As premier of Western Australia Forrest was responsible for programmes of public works and railway extension which added greatly to the prosperity of the colony, including the harbour at Fremantle and the supply to the Coolgardie goldfields of six million gallons of water daily by a pipe line of 350 miles from near the coast. He instituted also the system of free land grants of 160 acres on settlement conditions, and founded the agricultural land bank to make advances to agriculturists for improvements. But he worked steadily also for Australian federation, subject to securing the concessions which he deemed necessary for Western Australian interests. He represented Western Australia at the colonial conferences in London in 1887 and 1897, playing a prominent part in each, and obtaining on the latter occasion the decision of the imperial government to entrust the administration of matters affecting the aborigines entirely to the colonial government
In the first Commonwealth ministry, that of (Sir) Edmund Barton [qv.], Forrest, after a few days' tenure of the postmaster-generalship, succeeded to the ministry of defence vacant through Sir J. R. Dickson's death (January 1901); subsequently, in August 1903, as the outcome of Mr. C. C. Kingston's resignation, he assumed the portfolio of home affairs, a post which he retained under the first ministry of Mr. A. Deakin [qv.] until its fall in April 1904. In the second Deakin administration he held office as treasurer from July 1905 to July 1907, when differences with his colleagues on their attitude towards the labour party resulted in his resignation. He accepted, however, his old portfolio in the third Deakin administration (1909-1910), in the administration of (Sir) Joseph Cook (1913-1914), and in the national Australian governments from February 1917 to March 1918, when the development of a fatal disease from which he had for a considerable time suffered rendered further public work impossible. He received in 1918 a peerage—the first bestowed on an Australian politician—as the culminating reward for services which had won him the K.C.M.G. in 1901 and the G.C.M.G. in 1911, and it was his most earnest wish to proceed to England to take his seat in the House of Lords and to obtain further skilled aid for his health, but he died at sea 4 September 1918
Forrest's greatest work was accomplished for Western Australia, and he never failed, when in federal politics, to press for the carrying out of his great project, the establishment of railway connexion between that state and the rest of the continent. For an Australian statesman his political views were conservative; they prevented him from attaining the premiership of the Commonwealth, which was the goal of his ambitions. A strong and outspoken opponent of the labour party, he nevertheless won the respect of his opponents, whose denunciations of his peerage as undemocratic were modified by personal regard. Resolute in the support of local autonomy, he attached the greatest value to the imperial connexion and was unwearied during the European War in defending British institutions and aims. In private life he was a warm and trusted friend. He married in 1876 Margaret Elvire, eldest daughter of Edward Hamersley, J.P., of Pyrton, near Guildford, Western Australia. They had no children.
Forrest's Explorations in Australia, 1876
A. W. Jose, History of Australasia, 1921
H. G. Turner, First Decade of the Australian Commonwealth, 1911
Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates
Contributor: A. B. K. [Arthur Berriedale Keith]