An Australian in the Palace of the King-Emperor: James Scullin, George V and the Appointment of the First Australian-Born Governor-General

John Waugh

Melbourne Law School


Federal Law Review, Vol. 39, pp. 235, 2011

The nomination in 1930 of an Australian, Sir Isaac Isaacs, as Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia has become a minor landmark in the development of Australian independence. Opposed or supported at the time as a measure of the strength of Australia's links with Britain, the appointment has become, for lawyers and historians alike, a test-case for Australian autonomy and the countervailing cultural and legal force of the imperial connection.

The United Kingdom Dominions Office file covering the first phase of the negotiations was released in 1981; the subsequent file on the final phase of the negotiations was opened only in 2004, and it is now possible to consult the extensive records on the appointment deposited in the Royal Archives. These various records are the last, and most important, parts of the official British paper trail of the appointment. They trace the evolution of King George V's attitude and suggest how and why (contrary to his own wishes and against strong and persistent recommendations from some of his advisers) he accepted Isaacs as Governor-General.

While Isaacs would not have become Governor-General without the refusal of Australian Prime Minister James Scullin and his cabinet to back down, it was not Scullin who persuaded the King to give in, but instead private advisors who operated largely outside the framework of cabinet government. In this as in other ways, the growth of Australian independence was a complex negotiation that involved British concessions in ways that were opaque even to some of the agents of change themselves.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 22

Keywords: Sir Isaac Isaacs, Governor-General, Australia, James Scullin, King George V, Arthur Bigge, Baron Stamfordham

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Date posted: January 16, 2013  

Suggested Citation

Waugh, John, An Australian in the Palace of the King-Emperor: James Scullin, George V and the Appointment of the First Australian-Born Governor-General (2011). Federal Law Review, Vol. 39, pp. 235, 2011. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2201351

Contact Information

John Waugh (Contact Author)
Melbourne Law School ( email )
University Square
185 Pelham Street, Carlton
Victoria, Victoria 3010
HOME PAGE: http://www.law.unimelb.edu.au/staff/John%20Waugh
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