Sir Henry Parkes (27 May 1815 – 27 April 1896), Australian politician, is sometimes called the "Father of Federation" and is at least considered the most prominent among the Australian Founding Fathers. Parkes was described during his lifetime by The Times of London as "the most commanding figure in Australian politics".
Parkes was born in Warwickshire, England to yeoman parents. He married Clarinda Varney and following the death of their two children at an early age they, on assisted passage, emigrated to New South Wales in 1839. Upon arrival in Australia he worked as a farmer's labourer but soon worked as a clerk in the New South Wales Customs Department. He entered business life and at one stage owned a newspaper, but his lack of business acumen quickly became apparent and Parkes went bankrupt after running up debts totalling £48,500.
He was first elected to the New South Wales Parliament in 1854 and was a strong supporter of free trade, immigration programmes and education reforms. He introduced laws that gave the Government the power to employ teachers and create public schools, abolished government funding to religious schools and improved prisons. He was premier of New South Wales five times between 1872 and 1891 and was knighted in 1877.
On October 24, 1889, at the Tenterfield School of Arts, Parkes delivered the Tenterfield Oration. The oration was seen as a clarion call to federalists and he called for a convention "to devise the constitution which would be necessary for bringing into existence a federal government with a federal parliament for the conduct of national undertaking". Parkes convened the 1890 Federation Conference and subsequently the 1891 National Australasian Convention. He proposed the name Commonwealth of Australia for the new nation.
While the last ten years of his life were his most influential politically, Parkes faced immense personal turmoil following the death of his first wife. He remarried quickly to Eleanor Dixon and they had two more children. Dixon soon died and Parkes remarried yet again, this time to Julia Lynch. He died of natural causes on April 27, 1896.
His image appears on the Australian $5 note. The suburb of Parkes in Canberra is named after him as well as the township of Parkes in central New South Wales.