Telegram from Prime Minister W M Hughes to the Commissioner for Police on being assaulted during a public meeting at Warwick and the refusal of the police to arrest the ring leaders.
News of the day

Daily Standard, Tuesday 11 December 1917, page 5






Questioned about Mr. Hughes's Fed al police force, the Premier stated this morning that before he could say anything he would require to see a statement from the Prime Minister as to the functions which it is proposed the police are to perform.

Mr. Ryan added that he presumed Mr. Hughes would have the courtesy to advise him as to the exact functions he wished them to perform, but so far he had had no advice whatever. However, he did not propose taking any precipitate action whatever in the matter. The Prime Minister had evidently come to the conclusion that he must justify the complaint which he had made with regard to the Warwick incident which was wholly exaggerated, and misrepresented and he might have other indirect objects in appointing Commonwealth police, which were not being made plain to the public.

A further report by the commissioner of Police on the Warwick lncident has now been made available.  In it Mr. Urquhart states:—

"Following my report of December 3, on what has now become known as the "Warwick Incident," I have now the honor to forward 12 more statements obtained from residents of Warwick, including the police magistrate, who were present at the scene of the incident, together with a report from Inspector O'Connor, covering the same.

"The conclusions I come to in my report of December 3 are amply borne out by this additional evidence, and it is now further shown:

"(1) That the Prime Minister was in a state of great excitement.

"(2) That his call to 'Arest that man' was immediately responded to, and the man arrested.

"(3) That the only assault that took place on the Prime Minister was by means of one egg, thrown by a man in the crowd.

"(4) That beyond all doubt the reports sent to the Brisbane press were gross exaggerations.

"(5) That the adverse comments on the police in the same press were scandalous, vindictive, and uncalled for; and

"(6) That there is no reasonable ground for finding fault with the police action on this occasion."

"The truth of the above is now established by the consensus of opinions of 19 witnesses, among whom as typical of all may cite Mr. C. E. M'Dougall, Mr. F. E. M. Burne (Police Magistrate), and Mr. R. J. Leeper (solicitor).

"In view of the shocking misrepresentation the Queensland Police has suffered throughout Australia, I beg to request that you will be so good, in justice to us as to arrange for the whole of the evidence to be made available to the public.

The evidence shows that shortly after Mr. Hughes began his speech; Paddy Brosnan, who was then in Grafton street, amongst the crowd in front of Mr. Hughes, interjected and shook his finger at Mr. Hughes. Sergeant Huston promptly arrested Brosnan. Mr. Hughes about this time jumped down off the platform amongst the crowd and called out, as he had already done before he jumped, for the arrest of Brosnan. Mr. Leeper, the local solicitor, states that Mr. Hughes was very excited, and that he put his hand on Mr. Hughes's arm and said: "Mr. Hughes, don't get excited." Mr. Hughes went past Mr. Leeper for a few paces in the direction of where Sergeant Huston had Brosnan under arrest. Mr. Leeper is positive that, from the time Mr. Hughes jumped down off the platform until he returned to it, he was not assaulted nor molested in any way. Mr. J. A. Stewart, contractor and builder, who was near Mr. Leeper, did not see Mr. Hughes assaulted after he jumped down from the platform, neither did any of the other people, whose evidence is attached, nor any of the persons whom the police interviewed.

Paddy Brosnan was fined 10s for having created a disturbance, and the only man, therefore, to whose conduct the Prime Minister took exception during the course of his address was arrested and dealt with.

In his report on the inquiry Sub-inspector O'Connor, in charge of the Toowoomba district, who proceeded to Warwick with Chief Inspector Short to investigate, states :-

"There is a conflict of evidence as to whether Paddy Brosnan threw the egg, which hit Mr. Hughes" —(He was fined for creating a disturbance and not for "assault."—Ed.)- but there cannot be any doubt that the egg-throwing caused the melee which ensued, and, according to Mr. Fenwick's verbal statement to Detective Senior-sergeant Head, he and Alex Rule, who are supporters of Mr. Hughes, were the aggressors. The only man in the crowd who received any damage—in fact the only man who appears to have got a blow—was Bart Brosnan, and there is nothing to show that he did anything to provoke Fenwick and Rule to hit him. Had they refrained from doing so, and had the Prime Minister remained with Mr. McDougall (vice-president of the Queensland Conscription Campaigning Committee—Ed.) instead of rushing back excitedly to the crowd the scuffle, which was only momenttous, might not have occurred. The train arrived at Warwick at 2.59p.m. and left at 3.12 p.m. so that in the space of 13 minutes the melee occurred, and Mr. Hughes delivered his speech.


Pressured by British leaders for increased Australian participation in the war effort, Labor Prime Minister William Morris Hughes announced his intention to hold a national referendum on compulsory military conscription in October 1916. After a particularly bitter campaign, a majority of Australians voted against the proposal, the issue splitting the Federal Labor Party. After joining with the conservative Opposition to form a nationalist government in February 1917, Hughes resolved to hold a second conscription referendum the following December. The campaign was just as volatile as the first, and with the Queensland Government under Premier T.J. Ryan strongly anti-conscription, Hughes decided to tour southern Queensland in a bid to whip up support for his cause. While delivering a pro-conscription speech at Warwick in November, eggs were hurled at the Prime Minister by two Irish-Catholic brothers, Barth and Patrick Brosnan, and after a violent struggle involving Hughes and his tormentors, local police refused to arrest the Brosnan brothers as they had not infringed any State law. This further outraged the Prime Minister, who decided the only way to uphold Federal authority was by creating a separate Commonwealth police force. Events moved quickly, with the first Commonwealth Police Commissioner appointed in December 1917; 13 days later Australians rejected conscription by an even greater margin than the first. In November 2007 the 90th anniversary of the ‘Warwick Egg Incident’ was celebrated with an historic re-enactment at Warwick railway station.


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