Acting PM James Fenton rests in peace again


fenton graveTHE restored grave of acting Prime Minister James Fenton will be unveiled at Mornington Cemetery at 3.30pm on Sunday 27 October.

James Edward Fenton was an MP 1910-34 including acting PM for five months in 1930 during the Great Depression, one of the most tumultuous times in Australian politics.

The unveiling will be the culmination of a campaign by Dunkley MP Bruce Billson and Mornington and Dis­trict Historical Society to restore the grave.

About $10,000 for the work came from the federal Labor government’s Your Community Heritage Program.

Historical society member Val Wilson, who conducts tours of the cemetery and has been researching its old graves for many years, saw the grave during a tour and looked up Mr Fenton.

She was surprised a former acting PM’s grave had fallen into disrepair. Mr Fenton has no living relatives.

James Fenton, who was awarded the Companion of the most distinguished Order of St Michael and St George (CMG), died in 1950 aged 86 at his home in Frankston, and given a state funeral in Frankston and buried at Mornington cemetery in Craigie Rd.

A printer and journalist before entering Parliament, he represented Maribyrnong in the Federal Parliament from 1910 to 1934 and was acting PM in the Scullin Labor government in 1930 during James Scullin’s absence at the Imperial Conference (the forerunner of Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings – CHOGMs). He left the Labor Party in 1931 as a follower of Joseph Lyons.

In the Scullin government he served as Minister for Trade and Customs when Joseph Lyons was treasurer.

With Mr Lyons, he bitterly opposed an economic plan to counter the depression, and resigned from the party in the great split of February 1931.

The defection of the two men and others caused the defeat of the Scullin government.

Mr Fenton and Mr Lyons formed the United Australian Party, a forerunner of the modern Liberal Party.

The party won the next election in a landslide.

Mr Fenton became Postmaster-General and introduced legislation to start the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

He lost his seat in 1934.

Mr Fenton was a long-time resident of Merricks North and lived on the corner of Tubbarubba Rd and One Chain Rd with his wife, two daughters and a son.

He successfully lobbied for a post office at Merricks North and the building of a hall, which was used as a school until Red Hill Consolidated School was built in 1951.

The building was later named Fenton Hall and is on the corner of Bittern-Dromana and Merricks roads.

His wife Elizabeth died at Dromana in 1926 and in the early 1940s Mr Fenton and his daughter Phyllis moved to The Crest in Frankston.

His son Edward Fenton farmed at Bal­narring for a time.

Mr Fenton is notable for having been appointed a Cabinet minister by two governments of different political persuasions.

In early 2011, Bruce Billson started lobbying the federal government for the grave to be restored.

He said at the time Mr Fenton was “an important contributor to this country’s politics and government who was afforded a state funeral, and his grave should be kept in adequate order”.

An interpretative plaque is part of the restoration.

Historical society president Diane White said the group had worked with Mornington Peninsula Shire’s heritage adviser on the restoration.

The unveiling will be part of History Week with the historical society conducting its annual Mornington Cemetery tour, led by Val Wilson, at 1.30pm.

Mrs Wilson won a heritage award from the National Trust in May for her research into and website ( of pioneer graves in the cemetery.


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