In search of the real Edmund Barton: our first prime minister

Dr David Headon at the lectern
Dr David Headon

Historian Dr David Headon reveals the compelling story of Australia’s first prime minister, Sir Edmund ‘Toby’ Barton.

Most of us know that Barton was our first prime minister, that he was an early advocate for the federation of Australian colonies and that he played a key role in drafting the Australian Constitution. Although it is hard to imagine today, convincing the colonies to come together as a nation was not an easy task. It required some masterful political savvy and nuanced deal-making.

But there is always more to a politician’s tale than history’s headlines let on, and Dr Headon parts the curtain for us to reveal the rich tapestry of Barton’s life, one involving international cricket and rugby, Pope Pius X, Shakespeare, fishing and more. Barton was admired for his intellect and even temper, while his ample girth was evidence of a love of good food and fine wine.

Dr David Headon is a cultural consultant and historian. Formerly Director of the Centre for Australian Cultural Studies, Cultural Adviser to the National Capital Authority and History and Heritage Adviser for the Centenary of Canberra, he is now a Foundation Fellow at the Australian Studies Institute (ANU), a Parliamentary Library Associate and the Canberra Raiders club historian.

Presented by the National Archives of Australia in partnership with the ANU Australian Studies Institute as part of the First Eight Prime Ministers Project

Image gallery

Updated:  11 March 2022/Responsible Officer:  Institute Director/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications