A couple of years ago on this blog I began looking at Brosnans/Brosnahans who died on active service during WWI. I never took that further than the Australian Brosnan war dead and maybe I should carry on the work a bit further. Right now, however, it seems more appropriate to remember Brosnans who made their mark with anti-war activity. Over the next wee while I’m going to write up something of the Brosnans who opposed conscription in New Zealand and paid the penalty of losing their freedom for their troubles. But first, I want to mark an important centenary being celebrated in Queensland today. This commemoration remembers a pair of Australian Brosnan brothers who took their anti-conscription fight direct to the Australian Prime Minister of the day, Billy Hughes. On 29 November 1917 Pat and Bart Brosnan were involved in throwing eggs at the PM as he got off a train at Warwick in Queensland during Australia’s controversial conscription referendum debate.
One of the eggs hit the prime minister’s hat, setting off a physical stoush on the railway platform as Hughes’s supporters and anti-conscription protestors clashed. After the latter had been removed from the station, the Prime Minister began his speech promoting conscription. But Pat Brosnan returned to the platform and began interjecting. This prompted Hughes to wade into the crowd, calling for Pat to be arrested. And here’s where this minor incident in the great furore of those months in 1917, when Australian society was riven by the conscription issue, took an unexpected turn, and one that would have long-term consequences. The policeman at hand, you see, was Senior Sergeant Henry Kenny, a Catholic of Irish descent who refused to make an arrest on the grounds that the egg throwers might have breached Commonwealth law but he was only answerable to the Queensland government.
This led directly to Hughes subsequently setting up the first Commonwealth police force since he was convinced that the Queensland force was “honeycombed with Sinn Feiners”. The significance of the “Warwick egg incident” is even noted on the official website of the current Australian Federal Police:
“… federal policing in Australia can trace its origins to the closing stages of World War 1 to an incident when Queensland Police would not follow the directions of Prime Minister William Hughes. On 29 November 1917 while campaigning to introduce military conscription, Hughes was the target of eggs thrown by protestors when he arrived at Warwick Railway Station in southern Queensland. Prime Minister Hughes was incensed that the attending Queensland Police would not arrest the offenders under federal law, so when he returned to Parliament he set about drafting legislation to create the Commonwealth Police Force (CPF). The ‘Warwick Incident’ was the last straw for the Prime Minister who was engaged in a range of jurisdictional struggles with the Queensland Government at the time.”
I don’t know much about Pat and Bart Brosnan but years later when Billy Hughes died, Pat Brosnan was interviewed by the Melbourne Age, expressing his sympathies for Hughes’s widow and his admiration for his long ago adversary:
Melbourne Age, 30 October 1952: