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The 'Six Families' aka 'Six Hungry Families'

The Wikipedia article entitled 'Six hungry families' identifies them as the Leake, Stone, Lee Steere, Shenton, Lefroy, and Burt families. The patriarchs were, respectively: George Leake, Alfred Hawes Stone, James George Lee Steere (who married the daughter of Sir Luke Leake), George Shenton, Henry W. Lefroy, and Augustus Burt. The additional families mentioned in the 1925 article stemmed from Stephen Stanley Parker and Marshall Waller Clifton.

'Six hungry families 'was a phrase used in the 1880s and 1890s to describe six of the most prominent and powerful families in colonial Western Australia, with extensive influence in judicial, political, mercantile and social circles. It was first used by John Horgan during his unsuccessful 1886 campaign for election to the Western Australian Legislative Council.
Horgan used the phrase to imply that the families were hungry for more wealth, power, influence and land, and that this was at the expense of the working class. He was later successfully sued for libel by George Walpole Leake, a member of one of the "six hungry families", and fined £500.

Article in the Western Mail:
(By I.W.T.)
How did this term originate, who were the six families, what were they guilty of, and did John Forrest belong to them ? These questions are repeatedly asked, but there is always some confusion in correctly answering them.
The term - it was a jibe - was coined, by the late John Horgan, repeatedly uttered during an appeal to the electors in the Perth Town Hall when he sought votes in a contest for legislative honours against the late Mr. Sept. Burt. The writer of these notes was present in one of the front seats and enjoyed the entertainment, so can speak of it first hand. Mr. Horgan maintained that this State was "run" by a clique, and anyone not a member or relation of that clique had no chance in the Government service. He referred to the clique as "the six families" but did not definitely state the names of them, contenting himself with general references to the Burt and Stone families.
To the public was left the task of choosing those most suitable and deserving of the title, and by common consent the Burts, Cliftons, Leakes, Roes and Stones generally hold pride of place, the honour of the sixth being about equally contested by the Parkers, Lee Steeres and Shentons.
One thing is certain, and that is that the name of Forrest was never included. Mr. John Forrest (afterwards Lord Forrest) had not at that time risen to prominence.
Mr. Horgan was usually a quiet man, he was a lawyer, but I do not remember him ever appearing in court. On this occasion he waxed eloquent on the iniquities of the six families. They were the stumbling blocks to the progress of the State, and he claimed to be the man to rectify matters if elected.
His memorable speech consisted of a series of advances to the edge of the stage, after the recital of some current grievance. He warmed up as he advanced, and, wagging his long grey beard, always ended with the words "the six families." Then slowly retreating to the small table, he would partake of a glass of water and recover his breath. Then would come another tirade, and another advance with clenched fist and a stamp of the foot on the stage edge, followed by the magic words, "the six families." and so on right through the piece.
A very excitable individual sitting next to me kept on jumping up and exclaiming, "good ole John 'Organ - you're our man." This gave great encouragement to the speaker, and amusement to his audience. However, Mr. Horgan won the seat for a short time in Parliament until a new election took place and Mr. Horgan retired from politics. He had played his part and won everlasting fame as the sole originator of these three mystic words and the hero of the occasion therof.
To understand the full force of the jibe, it must, be remembered that up to the time of the gold discoveries and the consequent influx of "Tothersiders," the population of the colony was very small, probably not more than 40,000. The leading families were undoubtably exclusive and as a result of intermarriage, they were nearly all related or connected more or less by marriage, thus giving point to the jibe.

References and Links

Western Mail, Thursday 8 October 1925

Garry Gillard | New: 1 January, 2023 | Now: 15 March, 2024