Edmund Barton

Sport first brought Edmund Barton (1849-1920) to prominence, when as a young umpire he ended a riot on the cricket field during a match between New South Wales and England. Barton entered the NSW Parliament soon after, and was Speaker at the early age of thirty-four. He was the leading campaigner for Federation during much of the 1890s. In 1901 he became Australia’s first Prime Minister and oversaw the establishment of many of the basic structures of federal government. He resigned in 1903 to become a judge of the High Court.

Download the Edmund Barton Prime Fact and explore the Barton collections at the National Library and National Archives.


21 September 1900

First Governor-General and Prime Minister

On 21 September, Queen Victoria appoints Lord Hopetoun as the Commonwealth of Australia’s first Governor-General. He arrives from England ill with typhoid fever, so the Queen invites the NSW Premier, William Lyne, to form a government. Most politicians refuse to work with Lyne who had opposed Federation, and Hopetoun is forced to appoint Edmund Barton as Australia’s first Prime Minister.


Swearing in Lord Hopetoun as Governor-General of the Australian Commonwealth.
1 January 1901

Edmund Barton becomes Prime Minister

Edmund Barton, leader of the Federation movement, is appointed as Australia’s first Prime Minister for an interim period pending national elections, which he later wins. During Barton’s term, he introduces legislation to establish the High Court of Australia, sets the first national customs duties and excises, and establishes the White Australia Policy. For more information, visit the Australian Prime Ministers Centre.


Edmund Barton c. 1901.
1 January 1901

Commonwealth of Australia proclaimed

On 1 January the Commonwealth of Australia is proclaimed in Centennial Park, Sydney. The Proclamation and Letters Patent of the Governor-General, Lord Hopetoun, are read out and the nine members of the interim federal Ministry are sworn in. The Ministry includes Edmund Barton (Prime Minister, Department of External Affairs), Alfred Deakin (Attorney-General’s Department), Sir William Lyne (Department of Home Affairs), Charles Cameron Kingston (Department of Trade and Customs), Sir James Robert Dickson (Department of Defence), Sir John Forrest (Postmaster-General’s Department), Sir George Turner (Department of the Treasury), Sir Neil Elliot Lewis and Richard O’Connor. Edmund Barton is Prime Minister from 1901 to 1903. Sir Robert Randolph Garran is appointed as the first, and briefly, the only Commonwealth public servant on 1 January 1901 as Secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department and parliamentary draftsman. Their roles in the first Commonwealth government are commemorated in the names of Canberra’s early suburbs.


Opening of the first Commonwealth Parliament of Australia, Exhibition Building, Melbourne, 1901.