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Sir Henry Parkes Knocks Queen's Head Off

A Coventry kid who helped make Australia into a country has replaced the Queen on a banknote down under.

Sir Henry Parkes was Prime Minister of New South Wales five times, and was known as the “Father of the Federation”.

He is now the centre of an antipodean storm as he has been selected to replace the Queen on the $5 note.

But his roots stretch to the other side of the world, and to a little cottage in what is now part of Coventry.

Born in Moat House Lane, Canley in 1815, and christened in Stoneleigh, he was the youngest child of one of Lord Leigh’s tenant farmer.

He lived in the area until misfortune hit his family. His father was jailed for debt and they were driven from their land.

The young Henry then was set to work in a road-mending gang in Gloucestershire, and then went to work in a rope factory.

After some time he moved to Birmingham where he was apprenticed to an ivory turner.

Stuck in poverty as a young married man, with his first two children dying in infancy, he got a free place on an emigrant ship, Strathfieldsaye, and went to Australia in 1839.

Two days out of Sydney, he and his wife Clarinda gave birth to a daughter, also called Clarinda, at the height of a storm.

Parkes arrived with just three shillings to his name, and after a few business set-backs, made a success of desk and toy business in Sydney.

He then started the Empire newspaper, and used it as on outlet for his strong, and sometimes radical, political views.

After being elected to the legislative council in 1854, he successfully campaigned against the transportation of convicts to Australia, and laid the foundation for public education in Sydney.

A school near his home cottage, in Prior Deram Walk, is names after him today, as is a nearby road.

He became Prime Minister of New South Wales in 1872. He held the office four times, and was a leading figure behind moves to unite the six Australian colonies.

Life than began to turn full circle, and his enemies pelted with flour and eggs when he was brought out of retirement to address a hostile crowd.

He died shortly after that episode, virtually a pauper. His nostalgia for the fields of Warwickshire had remained – his house was called Kenilworth.

However, his name has lived on. A town in New South Wales, Parkes, is named after him, and is twinned with Coventry.

During the recent poll on whether Australia should become a republic, his name was invoked by the Monarchist camp, and there are two Sir Henry Parkes Foundations.

Peter Walters, of Coventry and Warwickshire Promotions said Parkes’ new profile could attract more visitors to the city to see his birthplace.

He said:

“He’s not well-known here but he is in Australia and a lot of people visit Coventry from there because they have family connections.

“It would be great to see more Australians over here and this could attract them.

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CWN / Heritage / Famous People / Sir Henry Parkes / 7 Jun 00

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This page modified on 10 November 2008 09:49:15AM