1890 The Maritime Strike in Sydney and Melbourne
A Government Brought Down by Anarchist Action
Colonel Tom Price vs JA Andrews
The Parkes Government Hangs On, Again.
…The boom times were coming to an end, and not just in Chicago. Globally, speculation had out-run substance and market confidence was faltering, teetering on the lip of the inevitable downturn. All of the elements normally involved took on added tension, the spaces between cause and effect began to shorten considerably. Those with more to protect had extra reasons for secrecy and violence. Those who had least to lose had less reason to hug the shadows and pretend compliance.
For the active participants, distinguishing real from imaginary threats became a 24-hour a day activity. Sorting information flowing from soap boxes, from Town Halls or from on-line editorials became a complex, time-consuming process. Some ‘actors’ were in a better position than others to control the flow and to shape its movement…
The first ‘Decade of Uncertainty’ to have communication systems which insisted that newspaper chains report events happening thousands of miles apart, 1890 was the first ‘crisis’ year in which it was feasible to consider that a single event could have almost immediate consequences on the other side of the globe. Chicago economistDavid Hale opined through Max Walsh, Australian finance writer, in the 1980’s:
While it was the Barings crisis which triggered the panic of 1890 in the US, it was the collapse into bankruptcy of Jay Cooke, the daring, lionised railway tycoon that began the collapse of the US. In Australia, a string of land boomers, the media folk heroes of the day, went belly up.
Logically, it was also feasible that ‘events’, real or imagined, could be reported at point ‘A’ in order to have effects at point ‘B’. Those in the know were feasibly able to benefit from early knowledge of the event, or from the knowledge that ‘the news’ was false. Hale wrote:
While it may seem hard to believe today, from the start of the silver crusade in the 1870’s right through to its culmination in the election of 1896, large numbers of Americans believed that British interests controlled the country’s economic policy. In popular folklore, British investors were not merely passive beneficiaries of [US] deflation but had actively encouraged it through conspiracy and intrigues.
Folklore or truth, the collapsing global boom was wiping out paper fortunes on main streets and increasing despair in the alleys and out on ‘the selections’. There were investors who had bet on the downturn, and bought cheaply at the bottom of the market. They needed no assistance. Consider another group. The Australian property market had been fuelled by banks, many controlled from London, operating in a ‘free system’ in the colonies – few legal restrictions, no central bank and no government-provided deposit guarantees. When the market here lost most of its upwards traction and financial institutions received calls for due payments, the responsible executives could close their doors and put out the lights. They could, on the other hand, arrange with legislators to change the rules, just a little. When the legislators and the executives of the financial institutions were the same people, or members of one family, or of one gentlemen’s club the re-drawing of the rules might only take a few days. It might involve a quid-pro-quo, but if it kept the bank’s lights on…
Of course, it is also feasible that the legislators, subject to local electorate circumstances might find it difficult, even impossible to carry the proposed legislation. It’s feasible then that a single, disturbed meeting, say, in Sydney, or Melbourne, could have consequences at some distance…A decade of grumbling editorials about ‘the problem of pushism’ provided no progress in understanding, and no change in content. The complaint remained: “Sydney and Melbourne have this huge social evil, the police are powerless and citizens continue to be harassed and assaulted in the street”. The writers say nothing about gang dynamics or its context, and show no interest in exploring why laws to suppress ‘larrikins’ were repeatedly held up in parliament, even when reporters who ‘displeased gang members’ became targets. It would seem another ‘cone of silence’ was in place, lest the uses being made of ‘the social evil’ by the rich and ‘wannabe powerful’ became visible.
At the beginning of the year, political disturbances, major or minor, were not expected. Editorials congratulated Australians for being so well-mannered. Even the collapse of the Premier Building Society was ‘a good thing’ since it shone a light on an unworthy ‘speculative’ diversion from productive enterprise. Meetings, if disturbed, had only the odd ‘noisy individual’ to contend with, a task handled easily by a lone constable. In March, lectures by Henry George, Single Tax guru from New York, were accorded enthusiastic but undisturbed hearings, and striking wharf labourers at Port Pirie, SA, showed total respect for their non-unionist opponents. No military or police interventions were invited. In May, however, ‘gentlemen undergraduates’ from Sydney University were noted creating vulgar disturbances at a performance of ‘Tosca’ and in June, also in Sydney, inflamed passions caused altercations at a first meeting of the United Licenced Victuallers Association (ULVA, aka ‘publicans’) when local optionists were physically prevented from speaking, and complete breakdown of a second. Again, no police or military interventions were considered necessary.
In June 1890, Fleming renewed his agitation on behalf of Melbourne’s unemployed but audiences were on edge, and at times disrupted by seemingly random events, while newspaper bias and government implacability made Rosa, by his own account, think twice before becoming involved. When he did, he resumed his provocative talk of the year before and continued to attract wider attention, his probable aim. The police were keeping the scene ‘under surveillance’. Over a thousand people on occasion were on the wharves listening to Rosa’s suggestions that they had the right to loot, or that they reserve part of any money they did get to purchase muskets. He directed their attention to the uses of melinite, dynamite and nitro-glycerine. From 9 July he suddenly moderated his language and took to directing the straggling processions he had previously led up and down city streets to interview prominent personages, such as clerics and the Governor-General. These served no purpose other than to provide Rosa with publicity.
By August 1890, Rosa was showing signs of nervousness that the situation was no longer his to control. Effigy burning was turning into pitched battles between baton-wielding policemen and assorted malcontents. Troops were often ‘in readiness’ but out of sight. Checks were being made by the Police Office of guns available to the constabulary, which were being rapidly augmented, and the gaps looked to, but not necessarily with much success. Symes attacked ‘the violent and reckless demagogues’ leading the unemployed. He said of Fleming that he was ‘a hard working, well-meaning man’ but why won’t he give up his ‘stupid anarchy?’ Could he not see that the anarchists ‘would gladly reduce Melbourne to ashes for the sake of the scramble and the fiendish gratification it would give them?’
On 20 August, Rosa claimed that pressure of business was forcing him to stop his involvement. In one academic account this meant the movement quickly collapsed. A more accurate rendering would note that in mid-August the unemployed agitation transposed into a General Strike, whereupon the unemployed found themselves rushed with offers of work. The hostility of the THC bureaucrats towards Rosa and ‘his’ troops intensified and Rosa found his simplistic call for jobs for the unemployed ‘or else’ turned into a weapon against those he was trying to impress, namely labor organisers and voters prepared to support ‘labor’ candidates.
Five thousand people gathered in the Sydney Domain on 17 August 1890, the day after Marine Officers walked off their ships and marked the notional beginning of ‘the Great Maritime Strike’. They cheered a speaker’s claim that ‘the day of glory for the working class was at hand!’ Whitelocke, newspaper editor at Broken Hill, was another ‘spouter’ articulating the self-deluding, bombastic mythology on which the embryonic labour movement was driven from over-reaching optimism to defeat in the space of six months in 1890:
…So long as the poor rise …and the military can be found to silence them with bayonet and bullet, so long will revolution be kept in check; but once let the troops reverse and side with the starving masses of their fellow countrymen…(then) the bloodiest struggle that ever filled a revolutionised country will be fought out to the certain victory of the masses…
The Manifesto of the NSW Labor Defence Committee included reference to this strike being ‘a supreme battle’, the chairman of a massive Sydney out-door meeting announced:
Australia had been charged with being the home of trade-unionism and today, he thought, proved the assertion to be true…They were fighting for the individual liberty of every Australian, which meant the liberty of the subject.
At an even bigger protest on 5 September, the chairman hoped that his audience ‘recognised that the present struggle was the greatest epoch in the history of Australia.’ The rhetoric was up against reality. Prices of necessaries such as flour had already risen ‘drastically’ and closing collieries produced a stream of miners to the wharves looking for work. The Sydney TLC began its Harrington Street ‘board and barracks’ to interdict the flow of these and other unemployed but little else was in place.
On the same day, 26 August, that the first issue of a new paper, Truth, appeared on Sydney’s streets with its own lurid and provocative editorials, NSW Premier Parkes met with Police Commissioner Fosberry and Major-General Richardson, NSW military commander, to discuss ‘profound secrets’. One secret became public almost immediately. A Proclamation ‘warning persons against acting together, endeavouring to intimidate and oppressively interfering with certain other of her Majesty’s subjects in the lawful pursuit of their occupations’ was pasted up in Newcastle on 29 August as a company of Permanent Artillery, with Nordenfeldts returned north. ‘Mobs’ stoning ‘free laborers’ on Sydney’s wharves were cleared on two days running and additional barricades were put up by special constables especially sworn in for the task. On 1 September Parkes rejected the TLC offer of unionists to join the para-police.
Employees refusing their employers’ ‘requests’ to enrol as special constables were sacked. Edwin James Brady, (1869-1952) an enthusiastic convert to Marx, was in his own words, ‘at war with the world’ when, in August 1890, he was fired from his clerical job at major wool-broking firm, Dalgetys. He and his father, previously a policeman, were working there when all employees were ‘invited’ to sign up. He was already at odds with his father and his employer, saying later that he had been:
(labouring) in an atmosphere of petty tyranny and cowardly insult … there was one overlord who put murder in my mind … he demonstrated to me what wage-slavery really means.
By his own account he could have been dismissed from Dalgety’s for drinking on company time but when he declined the chance to serve the State he was dismissed. He says that he might also have been dismissed for ‘spouting’ about being part of a revolutionary conspiracy but makes out that that was all a joke. From that point until ‘early 1893’ he provides no information. He resumes his story with: ‘I then gave anarchy a wide berth.’ The meaning is clear enough – from August, 1890 until ‘early 1893’ he was deeply involved in what he, a Marxist, regarded as ‘anarchy’. In his own words, during the first ‘Great Strike’ he ‘was at war with the world’, had ‘murder in mind’ and he was experienced with explosives. An 1897 article places him, without naming him, and three others on the wharves at Circular Quay with a home-made bomb. At some point they became aware that they were being shadowed by plain-clothes detectives and Brady and ‘a friend’ convinced the other two to continue the work of hiding the bomb while they scarpered:
[Surviving] the surveillance of the detectives [the dupes] carried the tale to some shrewder spirits who quickly came to the conclusion that the bomb manufacturer [‘Brady’] was a police pimp and an AGENT PROVOCATEUR.
This heavy charge was almost certainly made by Andrews. The AW was then being published for the Australian Labour Federation by TJ Houghton and the column was unsigned, as though it was by the editor. Why then do I assert it was by someone else, specifically JAA Andrews, and how can I say that it refers to Brady?
My evidence is in the totality of the narrative which follows. This article is only one exchange between the two from a decade of interaction. Without naming him, however, it locates the 1890-bomb story within the chronology of public activities unique to Brady for the period August, 1890 to June, 1891:
THE ANONYMOUS 1897 ARTICLE BRADY’S Verified CAREER
‘the loss of a thirty bob billet’ August 1890, Dalgety’s
‘a political and economic
organisation’ at the same time Female Employees Association 
‘a league of sedentary workers’ from December 1890 – the Clerical
and Mercantile Workers Union
‘a Labor candidate’ The June 1891 election
‘a responsible labor position’ AW editor, Sept-December 1891
The writer, Andrews, literally gave his life for the cause of labour, including being jailed a number of times, and he died in 1903 aged 38 from privations he endured as ‘a believer’. The target, Brady, struggled in the early 1890’s but was never attacked by the government though he might well have been, to become an acclaimed poet and author not far below Henry Lawson in popular and critical estimation. In 1897 both men could look back at years of heart-stopping excitement, amazing highs and deep disappointment. Their political survival stories are remarkably intertwined and if anyone knew Brady’s secrets, it would be Andrews. Earlier opportunities he had had to expose his former friend had not been taken. Chastened by experience and stung, he says, by his target’s continued attacks on ‘the movement’, Andrews had finally reacted. The ‘charge sheet’ contains a sense of personal betrayal. The ‘pimp and renegade’ is ‘the whilom friend who knows the weak spots in your armour and is forgetful of all the kindnesses you have showered on him.’ It contains what is, in the writer’s eyes, a greater crime than betraying a friend – that of the turncoat, the man who was ‘one of [the Labor party’s] most enthusiastic adherents’ but who now ‘venomously’ attacks it. In 1899,newspapers carried an announcement that a series of ‘biographical articles’ by Brady on the labour movement had begun to appear in ‘a Sydney newspaper.’ No trace of these has been located. What may be drafts are in his papers in the ANL in Chapter form, as though they were being prepared for publication. The content is very general and does not respond to Andrew’s charges.
Andrew’s list did not show Brady’s first marriage, celebrated in October, 1890, which is understandable since it failed within months. Not listed, either, is Brady’s assumption of the secretary-ship of the ASL when McNamara stood down in February, 1891. Nor is Brady’s extravagant poetry from this same period, of which ‘Vive Anarchy’ is an example, one section in its published form reading:
Pallid forms, by famine shrunken,
Helots, harlots, ribald, drunken,
Wine and blood-wet, onward thro’ the
torch-lit highways sweep,
Through a city disunited,
Through a city flame-ignited,
To the sound of song and trumpet,
and the cannons’ deep,
Through the gloom
While the fire-fiend madly leaps from tower to temple steep.
The striking ‘death and destruction’ images contributed to his earning the label, ‘anarchist’ but any careful reading shows that he was not enthusing but warning about catastrophic fire and tumult –‘anarchy’- if decision-makers did not pull back from their use of repressive State instruments. The general atmosphere was tense, and prickly with uncertainty. Speakers and editorialists refer repeatedly to the need for, or to the threat of ‘physical force’. Brady’s enthusiasm included, according to Ernie Lane, a penchant for conspiracy. Concern about spies and possible retaliation meant that ‘all… meetings [of the Clerical and Mercantile Workers Association of NSW, [C-MWA] which Brady convened in  were secret and shrouded in an air of the most intense mystery’. Brady has only revealed that a secret courier service to and from southern sympathisers and the Queensland strike organisation ran through the C-MWA and that he maintained it till late 1891. His relations with the others involved must have been very strong, and the implied trust deserved since I know of no other reference. Such a network helps to explain why the movements of these people are difficult to track in detail, why accounts don’t always tally and why few letters between these men and women have survived. Andrew’s friendship with Brady at this time explains his having un-published Queensland intelligence and his not having it later when the friendship ended.(see below) Ernie Lane believed a ‘revolutionary situation’existed and that it centred on the League and Brady’s secretary-ship. Over half a century later, Brady revealed to a friend why this may have been the case. He wrote that WG Higgs had recently reminded him of:
one very dreadful character who had employed me – without authority – making gas-pipe bombs filled with blasting powder and left a bag full of them in the office…
In the context this must be the ASL office, and the period February-June, 1891. The letter went on:
…They were, of course, intended for discovery by H.M. Police! When the bag was opened and the birds began to sing, or smell, two trusties took them, very gingerly, via the South Head Rd ‘bus to Bondi and dropped them over the cliffs…
After a few more remarks, Brady concluded with:
…I have never changed my views and hope to die in the faith of Lenin, Stalin and Marx. Yours under the Hammer and Sickle, E J Brady.
The particular ‘socialism’ he had in mind used bombs for insurrectionary, not individualist propoganda-by-the-deed purposes.
Mary Cameron/Gilmour (1865-1962) has put herself into what may be the 1890 bomb scene. Her undated version has Larry Petrie as the duped bomber, and herself and three ‘accomplices’ – WG Spence (1846-1926), Arthur Rae (1860-1943), and future Australian Prime Minister, Watson – retracing the bomber’s steps to retrieve the device. She asserted they went back to the Quay only to protect ‘the movement’ from the consequences of a dynamite explosion which rightly or wrongly would have been attributed to labour representatives. She asserts that as Rae was the smallest he was given the task of retrieving the device from under the Quay, that he was successful and that the group carried the device away for disposal. Combining the two stories makes Brady a cowardly/cunning schemer and the Cameron group clear-headed, and quick-thinking, much of which is feasible in the light of what follows. She has made the event a minor anecdote not worthy of even a precise date. But when read in conjunction with other material, it is clear that this precursor to what Andrews later called ‘The Reign of Terror’ played a role in her decision to abandon ‘the movement’ to which she had been passionately committed, and join William Lane and hundreds of others in a communal experiment in Paraguay. It is also clear that ‘New Australians’ were not the only men and women reacting to a situation considered intolerable.
On the other hand, could we be dealing with night-mare hallucinations from over-wrought imaginations? Drug-induced false memories, perhaps, common across a bohemian culture but subsequently repudiated by respectable citizens embarrassed by accounts of their youthful, passionate indiscretions? Andrews had a great deal more to say on these matters, and he openly tried ‘alternative living’ himself but even he hid identities behind pseudonyms and totally fictionalised accounts. Could his claims of Brady as ‘police pimp and agent provocateur’ be parts of a marketing strategy he devised to boost sales? Why would Mary Cameron name herself and three other erstwhile pillars of the labour and literary establishment at the heart of such a plot? Any connection between MARY GILMOUR and REVOLUTIONARY CONSPIRATORS, even a fictional one, would have rated an article or two in Meanjin or Overland, or a saucy anecdote at a literary soiree? The obvious neglect of this story and its possible ramifications indicates either a massive cover-up or a monumental blind-spot among historians and cultural commentators.
There are problems with her story, and it has been shown that her memory was not always reliable. The people she names would have had to have been socially so close that they could have quickly determined on a retrieval plan and carried it out. Later public success has made them all biographically notable as individuals but numerous biographies have not brought them together in any significant way. Spence, two-decades older than she, and a millenarian, seems to have played no public part in the Sydney events, which suggests he was not in town. Rae may not have been in Sydney either:
(After long stints as a railway labourer and tree-feller he began organising Victorian and NSW shearers into unions). In (November) 1890, charged under the Masters and Servants Act (1857), he was sentenced to ‘sixty-one consecutive fortnights’ imprisonment’ for bringing the Riverina shearers out in support of the maritime strike and refusing to pay the alternative fines. However, the New South Wales government, under pressure of public indignation, released him after one month in gaol at Hay.
Being a ‘travelling agent’, he is a good example of how difficult it is to accurately track the movements of these people through this period. Released on Christmas Day, he was in Adelaide for a Shearers’ [ASU] Conference early in 1891, then in Wagga on 10 January, and Bombala [both in NSW] in May. After he was elected to the Legislative Assembly in June, 1891, he can be assumed to have been in Sydney when parliament was sitting. Andrews wasn’t in town during the 1890 strike period, either, otherwise he might be a more likely candidate than Brady for a government-agent role. Then there’s Sam Rosa, spouting revolution publically and often, but disappearing when the going became tricky. Even the physical look of these people is cloudy – Rosa, by one account, was written up in The Bulletin as ‘a piratical looking cuss’ with ‘a big Punch-looking nose, (and) terrific red hanging mustachios … matching his shock of red hair’, whereas an 1893 photograph shows him as prim and scholarly with delicate features and a neatly-trimmed moustache. The colourful description perhaps reflects wide-spread doubts about him, or it may be a mis-directed attribution. Brady had red hair as did Arthur Desmond, another dubious character still to arrive in Australia.
Governments became aware in the 1890 August-November period State that the military option in cases of civil dissent was no longer tenable. Where previously, ‘the military’ was the perceived solution to both the threat of loss of production, and the threat of violence, daylight now appeared between them, and it was officially acknowledged that ‘the military’ was no longer a viable option for either. Not one, but two alternative strategies were now required. From the bomb-plot stories, whether their detail is solid or not, two reasonable conclusions can be drawn. Firstly, that activists were being tailed regularly and reports were being made for the Police Chief and for the Premier. This is the alternative strategy adopted after the Circular Quay ‘riot’. Involving a range of measures beyond surveillance it is today known as ‘counter-intelligence.’ Secondly, that the Gilmour group was not so shocked by the idea of a bomb plot that its personnel refused to have anything to do with it. On the contrary, they put themselves at considerable physical risk, and they broke the law, not only for ‘the movement’ but to assist the two who had brought the story. Her story may then relate to a period after the 1891 Strike when industrial heat returned to the NSW side of the border and the men she named were better known.
When Svensen set himself to better account for the evolution of the Great Strikes and located a driving energy on the anti-union side which was not the government, he made the ‘government as independent agent’ not just a possibility but a probability. I don’t mean that governments acted independently but that Svensen insists ‘they’ be considered as players in their own right. McMullin suggested that State premiers reacted quite differently in August-September, 1890 with Queensland employing the highest level of military-led aggression. Closer examination shows that faced with the same legal impasse all reached the same conclusion but chose different means to disguise that conclusion. Parkes called up the Nordenfeldts in NSW but firstly, kept them under tight control and then removed them from the feild altogether. In Victoria Tom Price issued the standard command and helped to bring down the government. The South Australian Attorney General defended strikers against charges of riot and intimidation and made no call to the barracks for assistance. In Queensland the government called out the military to make a great show but never fired a shot. The de facto Premier, Tozer, put the Pastoralists Union in control of the police but when pressed, the Cabinet charged strike leaders with an obsolete 1825 Act against ‘combination as conspiracy’. The military certainly acted to intimidate but never crossed the line into the region where it acknowledged its legality did not exist.
Of the east-coast governments, Parkes’s administration stands out as most in need of a law-and-order response to a situation where military intervention was the usual course of action. Assuming there was a failed bomb plot, revolutionary or sham, it is possible to locate it on or just prior to the 18th of September since around that date Cabinet was considering an urgent note from their Victorian counterparts and a marked change occurred in the attitudes of Premier Parkes and his Treasurer.
Parkes was immobilised with a broken leg at his home just out of the city when, after August 20, escalating disputes between strikers and non-strikers were producing increasing numbers of arrests of labour activists. He was not sufficiently worried to return to his office. Proclamations were sufficient. Acting-Premier McMillan [no relation to MAC-member McMillan] was a channel to government for certain commercial interests at risk if the strike ran too long, and at a Mutual Life Assurance Banquet to open their ‘magnificent new offices’ in the first week of September he also seemed relaxed:
The Government knew nothing officially on this question [ie the government was neutral] … but they did know that brutal intimidation had been practised …and if there was any function which was peculiarly…of the Government it was that it must defend the individual rights of the citizens…[ie, the government was not neutral if violence was threatened]
On the morning of the 19th September, however, McMillan received a Chamber of Commerce deputation and read an hysterical Daily Telegraph editorial of that day which urged the public to take the law into its own hands if the government didn’t act. He responded by saying that the government was of course already prepared but that ‘yesterday, matters had reached quite a different stage’:
(A) temporary, semi-revolutionary government had attempted to be set up …The situation could not be any graver and he told those who sanctioned the disorder that the Government were prepared to go to any extreme to preserve order.
McMillan later argued that he had been thinking of the Labour Defence Committee calling out all unionists, in effect, usurping the roles of the elected government. In addition, he said, the decision to strike was itself a restriction of trade and of free citizen’s rights and therefore a criminal conspiracy. McMillan received his sobriquet ‘Machine-Gun’ at this time, many people believing that he had ordered out a detachment of artillery to mow the crowd down should they show any fight, for example, during the procession of wool to the Quay set down for the 19th. The Minister for Works Bruce Smith became known as ‘Shoot‘em down Smith’ when Willis claimed in the House that some days before, Smith had indicated the government’s willingness ‘to shoot the strikers down like dogs.’
Their supporters among the mercantile-conservative lobby were allegedly so opposed to changes in tax, suffrage and mining legislation introduced by Parkes that they were mobilising in his absence. McMillan was, further, part of a plot to land British marines from Her Majesty’s visiting ships Orlando and Curocoa, arrest the Labor Defence Committee, all parts of a scheme to discredit Parkes, replace his government with a new one, and, of course, shoot any protesters. This ‘plot’ may have been the inevitable result of an over-heated atmosphere, or it may have been what Brady was ‘spouting’, or it may have been true. On 19 September, the possible flash-point, town ‘blades’ and defiant graziers enrolled as special constables drove bullock teams of wool bales to Sydney’s wharves through crowds of unemployed, strikers and onlookers who cheered, cat-called and threw stones. A lightning raid by wharfies cut lines to the teams and since the crowd at the Quay would not disperse when ordered to, the Riot Act was read, twice. The first ‘mumbling’ of the Act completed, the mounted policecharged the crowd. Some newspaper accounts are circumspect while others go a long way towards the more sensational accounts of ‘Jack’ Lang, a schoolboy spectator at the time, and that of Ernie Lane, who was in Brisbane at the time. Andrews was not in Sydney, either. On-the-spot drawings show panic-stricken bystanders trying to escape plunging, rearing horses, while verbal accounts refer to swords drawn against individuals, out-of-control constables, and continuing attack and counter-attack through the lanes and back streets around the Quay for some hours afterwards. The Australian Star editorialised:
The responsibility for the riot … rests chiefly on the persons who organised the procession … for the purpose of expressing defiance.
Suddenly back in his office, Parkes on the 20th spoke of union leaders being guilty of conspiracy but said that any new security arrangements would have to come through him. Feeling repudiated and his ambitions stymied, McMillan resigned, and though Lord Carrington, NSW Governor, refused to accept the resignation ‘under any circumstances’, some time passed before reconciliation was effected publically.
The Sydney TLC strike-organisers seemed to think that government violence would be Parkes’ downfall. According to the Australian Star they believed:
If the men only kept quiet there would be a dissolution of Parliament in a very short time.
Parkes had refused calls for a general election saying that he did not wish ‘to increase the country’s disturbance until this strike is at an end’. In 1889, Parkes had addressed Parliament on the Imperial Mutiny Act (UK) in force in New South Wales and emphasised that any soldier refusing to fire on ‘the mob’ when asked could be court martialed and perhaps shot. In another speech, he allegedly recommended a complainant ‘be hanged on the next lamp-post’. Late in September, 1890, he was much more circumspect in deed if not in words. He had probably already been quietly informed that the legality of a Colonel Tom Price order in August to troops preparing to face Melbourne’s strikers – ‘Shoot Low, and Lay the bastards out’ – was in question, and that the Victorian government was crumbling because of it. The bloodthirsty Government rhetoric and the use of troopers to physically disperse protestors both disappear at this point.
A battle at the Chowder Bay picnic grounds (Sydney) in October pitched ‘the Gipps Street push’ against ‘the Greens’. The day had been organised as an Eight Hours Day fund raiser for the Labor Defence Committee by the Hibernian Catholic Benefit Society. Separated by police making arrests, the combatants arranged to meet again. Parkes refused to call a general election though one was due, on the grounds the country was disturbed. On the 13th October, the MP for the West Sydney seat, Free Trader Alfred Lamb, died, precipitating a bye-election. Leaders of the Parliamentary Opposition and ostensible supporters of Free Trade, Dibbs (1834-1904) and Slattery, urged ‘the movement’ to endorse AG Taylor (1857-1900), ex-member for Mudgee and editor of Truth as its candidate. The Trades and Labour Council [TLC] pushed forward its President, PJ Brennan (1843-1906), an avowed protectionist but was unable to obtain unanimous ‘movement’ support. The de facto ‘labour’ candidate, AG Taylor and/or his volunteer army of supporters destroyed the campaign meetings of the only other candidate, John Taylor, with concerted missile attacks and deliberate destruction of venues. On 26 October on an advertised platform which sought a ‘National Labor Party’ and an end to all parliaments, AG Taylor was elected. The reaction of the SMH was to warn the ‘revolutionary and anarchic forces’ behind his success that the Government would continue to stand against them ‘no matter what (Taylor) might do.’ MPs Crick and Willis ushered Taylor onto the floor of the NSW parliament and were on hand to see him escorted by the sergeant-at-arms back onto the street. Taylor’s first address to Parliament included:
The menacing attitude of the Government merely invited every working man in NSW to erect barricades …hang tyrannical capitalists, shoot the Ministry themselves down like b… dogs… haul down the Union Jack, hoist the flag of NSW republicanism and pulverise the public statues of the Queen and her consort.
Suspended when trying to ‘explain’ earlier remarks about the Queen, Taylor waited outside while a long debate ensued inside. Dibbs seized the chance to attack Parkes’s statement of 14 October that ‘the state of things is little short of revolution … the disturbance to industrial life is quite as great as if Sydney was bombarded by a foreign fleet … very little further would plunge the country into undisguised anarchy’. Dibbs said that he thought Taylor’s election had gone off without trouble and that ‘free people exercising their right to combine and withdraw their labor were insulted by being referred to as Anarchists’. As he spoke, on a slope above the entrance to a south-coast coal mine, extensive preparations for war were, apparently, being made:
The military camp is established on the side of a hill, a few hundred yards above the entrance of the mine, and duty is carried on there as it would be if they were on active service.
Notice the ambiguity – either these troopers were on active service or they were not. If not, why make it appear they were:
A Field Hospital has been fitted up, and Dr Smith, a Sydney practitioner, is in charge. Sergeant-Major Speckman of the medical staff was down today to fix up the hospital on a military basis but has returned to Sydney this evening. Major HP Airey, DSO, who was in charge of this detachment of artillery has also returned to headquarters.
In reality, this was play-acting on a grand scale:
These officers have organised a very comfortable sort of mess…and…everybody is trying to make things as jolly as possible.
No trouble of any kind was expected:
Both the military and the police are on excellent terms of friendship with the miners…and everything is going on in the most rational manner.
The majority of parliamentary members were in on the charade and a motion of ‘no confidence’ was not put, a situation at odds with that developing in the Victorian Parliament. On 30th August, Melbourne’s Colonel Tom Price, (1842-1911) Officer commanding the Victorian Mounted Rifles made his famous ‘Fire Low and Lay Them Out’ speech. Jack Andrews proved that it had been given when the government and its supporters denied that it had. An embarrassed Cabinet reprimanded one of Price’s under-officers who had initially published the order in a rural newspaper where Andrews was working, and sent a please-explain to Price. Neither soldier saw any need to regret their decision. Questions in the House forced, firstly, a tabling of all instructions to the military during the strike, secondly, an ‘impartial’ inquiry and thirdly, a vote of no confidence which forced the Premier’s resignation.
When Parkes was confronted in Sydney with similar questions he perhaps already knew that Police Magistrate Nicolson, Major-General Keogh, retired British officer, and Commander Hay, second-in-command, Victorian Navy, had been appointed by the Executive Council as the ‘impartial’ body to conduct the enquiry. Nicolson, one of two PMs on call to read the Riot Act if required had previously been head of the State’s Detective Force. Sitting at Victoria Barracks for three days, October 23, 24 and 27, the Commission heard a long line of witnesses, mainly Price’s own men, swear he had not used ‘bad language’ such as ‘Shoot the bastards in the guts’ nor had he suggested the troopers might have to shoot their own kin. The real issue, that the order had been given at all, was obscured.
The Victorian Premier Gillies had made the mistake of shilly-shallying when responding to the first of a dozen Members’ suggestions that Price be punished:
He [Gillies] believed there was no-one in the community who was not surprised and deeply annoyed at the language which was acknowledged to have been used by Lieutenant-Colonel Price … The situation was far too serious to justify the use of violent language on either side.
Victoria had had a Nordenfeldt Battery from 1883 and had altered its title to that of ‘Horse Artillery’ in 1889. The order ‘to fire low and lay them out’ was a standing instruction for mounted riflemen and did not have to be issued. Volunteer and reserve soldiery did, however, have to be reminded of the duties they had signed up for, and Price had done this when 240 country troopers assembled in Melbourne at the end of August to confront strikers. Labor-oriented historians have naively echoed the outrage expressed at the time that ‘legitimate industrial action’ was confronted in an ‘un-soldier like and inhuman way’. They seem to think that the strike suddenly produced a military thirst for blood or that Price was an aberration. The military had a series of graded responses to ‘mob control’ issues. These took into account the different roles of police, special constables, hired ‘toughs’ and their own specialities, up to and including cannon which was only to be used ‘as a last resort’. In a charge of cavalry, for example:
The troopers should rely as much as possible on the action of their horses, and the edge, not the point of the sword should be used. The former is more terrifying and inflicts uglier-looking wounds and yet is less likely to prove fatal than the latter.
Price explained to the Enquiry that the intention of the order was ‘to hit the strikers in the legs … not to kill them outright’. The term ‘lay them out’ was used to mean ‘temporary disablement’. General Tulloch, Price’s commanding officer, expressed the matter-of-factness of the situation when indicating that Price had acted correctly on this occasion and that it was his, Tulloch’s place to issue any orders to fire:
I had had considerable experience in riots, and if anyone were killed, there would probably be special enquiries and such like afterwards.
Andrews, being ‘a rank anarchist’, was not called by the Enquiry although it was his letter to the THC which had embarrassed the authorities. He had been working for the Alexandra and Yea Standard when the paper’s editor and volunteer militiaman, Gordon, had been summoned. When he returned from Melbourne Gordon had published an article containing Price’s instructions. and when he was called, he told the enquiry he had found Andrews half-clothed, living off opossums in the bush, so ‘gave him something to do’, namely a job as reporter. Being called to do his duty in Melbourne, he said he had left Andrews in charge of The Standard but said he had to return after his overseer telegrammed saying that Andrews had: 1) inserted copy to the effect that Alexandra miners had subscribed £15,000 to the Strike when they had not subscribed fifteen pence; 2) walked about the town with a revolver saying he would shoot the Mounted Rifles; and 3)gone on strike. In his 1900 Tocsin version Andrews admits that he had had access to troopers’ equipment in the newspaper office but said that he had resisted temptation. Gordon’s account implies Andrews was sacked on his return to the paper. In fact, on Gordon’s own account, Andrews left voluntarily in the second week of October, nearly six weeks after the Price order:
[Our] reporter suddenly cleared out for Melbourne through some unexplained cause.
The Gillies-Deakin governing coalition fell on 30 October when eight of its usual supporters deserted it over the ‘Col Price’ furore. The government resigned but did not dissolve parliament because it claimed ‘a political contest would not be in the interests of the country’. The Governor simply called for a new government under Munro, an MP from the same side, and thus was replaced the first Australian government to be toppled through the actions of an anarchist.
Andrews, the allegedly half-naked, wild man was a member of the Australian Natives Association, a Friendly Society at the centre of the push for national federation of the colonies. (ANA – see They Call Each Other Brother) He had joined in Melbourne and had delivered a paper to the Alexandra and Yea Branch in July called ‘Societies I Have Been In’. This talk then run over several issues of the Standard, 18 July to 8 August 1890. He was to debate ‘Capital Punishment’ at the ANA with a newly-arrived school teacher in August, but the teacher said he was ill and could not appear. His reluctance to meet Andrews could be imagined. On 8 August, Andrews had requested editorial space to reply to a defence of God by a Reverend M. Cahill in the previous issue. He signed himself ‘Nihilist’, called the letter ‘The Reign of Law’ and began the first of three sections with five propositions, the first of which was:
- What is termed a Natural Law is an observed order of facts identical under identical circumstances, and modified identically under identical modifying circumstances.
The fifth proposition began:
- What is commonly called the Universe is but a limited portion, as the Absolute Infinite cannot be manifested. By the Schism or allotment into parts, which may be irrespective and overlapping we have the beginning of relativity which is the origin of all material quality.
The consternation of the locals must have been great.
On the 27th August, as clashes of ‘free laborers’ with unionists continued, and after a deputation from ‘furious public’ citizens, Chomley had asked for the promised men to come immediately. A ‘furious’ public  – that is, a handful of fearful property owners, and Nicolson – used the heat generated by a businessmen’s meeting on the 26th and the announcement of a unionists’ meeting on 31 August, visited and wore down a reluctant Cabinet and had Melbourne put on a war footing. The Age of 30 August 1890 recorded that Crown Law officers had been summoned and that the troop’s oath ‘to cause her Majesty’s peace to be kept’ was taken as justification for calling on the military. In 1906, Price revealed discussions in the Defence Minister’s office sometime in August 1890 about what powers the Victorian government had to call out the military in their behalf. According to Price, the ‘call out’ decision was based on Queens Regulations and, apprised of this, Police Commissioner Chomley had alerted country police stations on 19 August that they, with carbines and swords, would possibly be needed in Melbourne. Price delivered his orders on the 29th, they deployed on the streets of the city on the 30th. No tumult of the sort that occurred in Sydney came about. As The Age insider put it: ‘arrangements had been made’ so that the Mounted Rifles ‘will not come into contact with any crowd of people’.
Nicolson was still not happy. Mindful of his ‘very serious responsibilities’ and the legal penalties he believed he was subject to ‘when engaged in dispersing unlawful assemblies’, he urged Superintendent Sadleir early in September ‘not to expect military aid until the Police resources had been used and had failed’. He did not believe that Sadleir’s arrangements were sufficient or the best use of the police and since Sadleir still insisted the military was needed he, Nicolson, again collected the Lord Mayor and interviewed Minister Gillies to assert:
[On 2 September] I visited the wharf and found a crowd collected there of over 3000 men, one third at least [Nicolson’s emphasis] of whom were criminals, semi- criminals and such other men as who could only be deterred from violence … by the presence of the Police and fear of the law.
Nicolson apparently prevailed upon Gillies to have Sadleir expand the number watching the agitators. Sadleir believed the police could not act against ‘rowdies’ unless they were prepared to act unilaterally but had similarly determined that displays of force might be sufficient. The Melbourne Herald on 3 September reported the previous day’s visitation of eighty mounted police and the same number of foot police as ‘a useless display’ ‘for at no time during the day was there less appearance of any disturbance’. Someone had apparently predicted a riot, despite the police on the spot saying that ‘everything was quiet’. Nicolson was pleased with himself, reporting that the strengthening of the police force [by more police] ‘had a most wholesome effect, as evidenced by the peaceful appearance of the wharf all the following day’.
On 15 September, the Victorian Secretary of Defence was asked by NSW Army Command for ‘a copy of any Local Act or Regulation … regarding the calling out of the Militia Forces in connection with riots’. A reply was sent on the 17th on the instructions of Collins, Secretary for Defence, that ‘we [Victoria] have no act, neither are there any clauses in our Discipline Act… providing for calling out the militia in aid of [the]civil power’. On 16 September, General Order 397 was posted in Victoria’s barracks quoting sections of the (Victorian) Defences and Discipline Act, 1890, which had come into operation on 1 August. Its Paragraph 17 read:
On a summons by proclamation in the Government Gazette and in all cases of actual invasion of Victoria or hostile attack thereon or upon the making of any general signals of alarm as provided in the regulations to be made as aforesaid every person whose services shall have been so engaged as aforesaid shall forthwith assemble and shall be liable to march or embark on board any ship or vessel and to serve according to the terms and conditions of the regulations to be made as aforesaid for their respective services.
This attempt to paper over the hole did not fully convince Nicholson. He contacted the Military Commandant to ask whether the choice of weapon ‘lay with the Officer Commanding the Troops or himself’. His Instructions asked the magistrate to provide in writing a directive to ‘charge the mob [with drawn swords, or fixed bayonets or truncheons] or to fire on the mob’ to the officer if riotous persons have not dispersed fifteen minutes after the Riot Act has been read. A further part of the Instructions read:
The military present acting with a magistrate are, in the eye of the law, present as civilians, and have the same duties and the same responsibilities as civilians; but all are alike justified in using necessary force to disperse persons actually engaged in a riot …and for that purpose they may be armed. … if the magistrate is cool and cautious, the police and troops can incur no responsibility, and would in all likelihood, be held blameless, except in an extreme and clear case of unnecessary violence. … the magistrate, who will be always responsible, should, for his own security, wait until the danger has become so imminent that a tolerable unanimity of witnesses may be hoped for, or at least sufficient to weigh down the misrepresentation certain to be subsequently made.
In the first week of November, Gillies resigned, Andrews rallied the communist-anarchist group, and the Board of Inquiry delivered its report dismissing all charges against Price to the Minister of Defence who presented it to the Executive Council on 3 November. Price was not officially informed of the Inquiry’s decisions and had to write to his commanding officer on 24 November asking about his future, while the search among his superiors for resolution continued. Victoria’s Military Commandant, Tulloch, was certain that ‘as soon as the Magistrate signs the order … all further action unquestionably rests on the shoulders of the Officer….‘ He agreed that differences of opinion between the magistrate and the military officer could lead to such ‘awkward’ situations as the officer being ‘tried for his life for doing his duty’. Although he had ‘never before heard such a question raised’ his concern about potential differences of opinion may have been the reason he had intended to be the ranking officer present at any reading of the Riot Act during the strike. Collins, Defence Secretary, sent Tulloch’s memo to the Crown Solicitor, John Gurner, for an opinion. The government’s legal expert equivocated:
In giving the order the Magistrate to a great extent assumes the responsibility although if he orders measures which are clearly severe beyond all reasonable necessity the officer executing them is not protected and should if they are palpably uncalled for refuse to execute them …
The officer … may take more severe measures … or he may act apart from the Magistrate … and he may possibly find himself justified … but in my opinion it would be very unwise for the officer in command to incur the very great risk and responsibility he would undoubtedly incur by so doing unless the necessity for his so acting was clear beyond all doubt..
On being apprised of this response Tulloch concluded ‘the opinion given practically leaves the question where it was’. He wanted something done:
As the reference to swords, bayonets, truncheons (which soldiers never carry) or firing [in the lnstructions] are different to the instructions given in the United Kingdom might I suggest that the matter be referred home..
Collins minuted back that as the question was one of merely local concern and the colony a self-governing one the Minister thought it was unnecessary to refer the matter ‘home’. By December, the immediate need for certainty had gone although tensions remained. Consultations over the next three months revealed to Tulloch that the other State Commanders could not help him and in March he rather pleadingly returned to Collins: ‘What I want is this. Has the Home Government any precedent to guide us...’