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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Andrews, John Arthur (1865–1903)

by Andrew Reeves

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

John Arthur Andrews (1865-1903), anarchist and journalist, was born on 27 October 1865 at Sandhust (Bendigo), Victoria, son of John Andrews, clerk, and his wife Eliza Mary Ann, née Barnett, both London-born. Andrews entered Scotch College, Melbourne, in October 1879 and matriculated in 1881. He became a clerk in the Department of Mines on 13 February 1882 but was dismissed for insubordination in December 1886. He then earned a living from journalism, contributing paragraphs, verse and articles to Melbourne Punch, the Sydney Bulletin and the Melbourne Herald. In 1888 he edited the Australian for the Australian Natives' Association.

From early 1887 Andrews was active in the Melbourne Anarchists' Club as a debater and public speaker. He emerged as a leading theoretician; his idealistic anarcho-communism, derived from Kropotkin, competed with D. Andrade's anarchist-individualism for hegemony within the club. In 1888 he edited the final issues of the club's journal, Honesty.

Recurrent ill health and the collapse of the Anarchists' Club led Andrews to abandon Melbourne. In 1890 he was briefly sub-editor and reporter for the Alexandra and Yea Standard, which first reported Lieutenant-Colonel Tom Price's order, during the maritime strike, to 'Fire low, and lay them out' if necessary. He moved to New South Wales where he edited Anarchy (1891), published a magazine, The Revolt, and regularly expounded the tenets of philosophical anarchism in the Sydney Domain. In 1893-94 he reported for the Mudgee Guardian. Returning to Sydney early in 1894 he produced A Handbook of Anarchy. Its publication led to his arrest on an arbitrary technical charge and he was sentenced to three months gaol. In December he was arrested again, charged with 'seditious libel' in The Revolt, and sentenced to five months gaol.

Imprisonment disillusioned Andrews with New South Wales. He sold his printing machine and returned to Victoria, where he published a pamphlet entitled Each According to his Needs (Carlton, 1895) and a short-lived magazine, Reason, during 1896. He modified his anarchism in these later years. Dissatisfied with decrying abstract concepts of the state, he now differentiated between Victorian emphasis upon personal independence and initiative and the fawning colonialism of the New South Wales government. While anarchism remained his ideal of human organization, in his last years he was credited with giving assistance to aspiring Labor politicians and was highly esteemed in the labour movement.

Andrews was an enthusiastic correspondent for international anarchist journals and in 1897 he was offered a post with the American publication, Firebrand. In a vain attempt to raise the fare to the United States, he went to Sydney where he stayed until at least 1899 reporting for the Australian Workman and Australian Worker and aiding another attempt to establish an anarchist society. Andrews was a fair linguist and claimed a good knowledge of geology and mining, law and public business. He was also a gifted writer of verse of which four volumes were published. Through his friendship with Bernard O'Dowd he was appointed editor of Tocsin, but some months later, in August 1902, he entered hospital in Melbourne suffering from tuberculosis. On hearing of his illness the Trades Hall Council passed a resolution of sympathy.

Self-sacrificing to the point of asceticism, Andrew's remained an enigma to his many and diverse friends. He ate little, wore the scantiest of clothing and his hair long, and was 'given to the use of Eastern narcotics'. But his intensity of purpose, honesty and gently ironic humour reflected an innate kindness that deeply affected friends who deplored the debilitating effect privation had upon him. He never married. He died in hospital on 26 July 1903 and was buried in Boroondara cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Lane, Dawn to Dusk (Brisb, 1939)
  • S. Merrifield, ‘The Melbourne Anarchist Club 1886-1891’, Australian Labour History, Canberra, Bulletin, Nov 1962, and ‘John Arthur Andrews’, Labour History, Melbourne, Recorder, May 1965, Oct 1966
  • Bulletin, 7 Jan 1893, 31 Mar 1900, 16 Aug 1902, 28 Mar, 6 Aug 1903
  • Australian Star (Sydney), 21 Feb 1895
  • Tocsin, 9 Apr, 28 May, 30 July 1903
  • Worker (Sydney), 1 Aug 1903
  • M. MacNamara, A View of Society: Melbourne Anarchists in the 1890s (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Melbourne, 1972)
  • Dwyer papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Andrews papers (Merrifield collection, State Library of Victoria).

Additional Resources

Citation details

Andrew Reeves, 'Andrews, John Arthur (1865–1903)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 30 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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