Labour History

The “Necessity” of a Socially Homogeneous Population: The Ruling Class Embraces Racial Exclusion

Labour History (2015), 108, (1), 123–144.


In 1888, the colonial governments of Australia came together to agree on a policy of racial exclusion — aimed at preventing Chinese immigration. This article argues that key figures in the colonial ruling class feared the development of a racially divided population and shows them drawing on the mainstream liberal theory of anti-slavery, and John Stuart Mill’s theory that representative government required social homogeneity, to construct and legitimise their position. While anti-slavery has long passed as a major element in public policy, Mill’s argument for homogeneity shaped Australian justifications for White Australia through much of the twentieth century and, arguably, still informs elements of contemporary immigration policy.

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*The author would like to thank the two anonymous referees ofLabour Historyfor their comments and suggestions, the Editorial Working Party ofLabour Historyand those who have read earlier versions of this article and made valuable suggestions. Google Scholar

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69.In the conservative, quasi-intellectual journal, Victorian Review, there are many articles using Mill as an authority; for example,Arthur Lloyd Windsor, “The Decay of Individuality,” Victorian Review 1, no. 5(March1880):796–812;Samuel Rinder, “A Californian Political Economist: A Reply,” Victorian Review 4, no. 22(August1881):414–23;Rev. James L Hegarty, “Primary Instruction in Victoria,” Victorian Review 1, no. 2(December1879):205–19. Google Scholar

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85.Parkes, Fifty Years, 478. Google Scholar

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101.Martin, Henry Parkes, 268. The respite was in part due to Parkes’ bankruptcy and forced resignation from Parliament. Duffy, a Catholic, had broken the ice and written to Parkes saying he belonged back in Parliament; significantly, Parkes sent this letter to Carlyle. Duffy’s approach led to a rapprochement between Parkes and NSW Catholics that facilitated electoral victory in 1871. The mixing Parkes desired to see was believed to be impossible in Britain. In1882, Alexander Montgomery argued that the “fundamental basis ofallIrish discontent lies in the simple antipathy of race and religion. The hatred of England as England and Protestantism as Protestantism, is as lively and intense to-day amongst the Irish Celts as ever it was when they had a real oppression to complain of.” Thus intermarriage was prevented, and Montgomery described the gulf in racial terms;Alexander Montgomery, “The Backbone of the Irish Question,” Victorian Review 5, no. 29(March1882):588–89. All these discussions are framed in terms consistent with Mill’s approach. Google Scholar

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106.Quoted inRussell McGregor, “‘Breed Out the Colour’: Or the Importance of Being White,” Australian Historical Studies 33, no. 120(October2002):296. Google Scholar

107.Ibid., 286. Google Scholar

108. Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, no. 37(12 September1901), 4804, 4807. Google Scholar

109.Ibid., 4807, 4817, 4806. Google Scholar

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112.The dangers of a cultural divide between rulers and ruled were described byM. C. McCarthy O’Leary, “Ireland since the Land League,” Victorian Review 10, no. 60(1884):575–79: “The gentry of the country belonged, for the most part, to an alien race and to an unpopular religion. The descendants of English settlers, of James’ planters or of Cromwell’s soldiers, they held but little in common with the lower order. The very distinctions of rank necessitated a difference in occupations, whilst on Sunday – on that day which is supposed to unite all Christians in humble adoration of the Giver of all Good – the landlord and his family went in solitary state to church, whilst his tenantry were to be seen flocking in crowds along the roads to worship at a different shrine. Such singular circumstances could not fail to serve as a bar of separation to keep asunder those whom similar hopes and a community of interests should have united most closely together.” Google Scholar

113.Bede Nairn, Civilising Capitalism: The Beginnings of the Australian Labor Party(:Melbourne University Press, 1989), 255. Google Scholar

114.Ibid., 253. Google Scholar

115.Ibid., 254. Google Scholar

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Author details

Griffiths, Phil