Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Bath, Thomas Henry (1875–1956)

by H. J. Gibbney

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

Thomas Henry Bath (1875-1956), miner, politician, farmer and co-operator, was born on 21 February 1875 at Hill End, New South Wales, son of Thomas Henry Richard Bath, itinerant miner, and his wife Sarah Ann, née Barrow. With only a primary schooling he began work as a miner and sailed for the West Australian goldfields in 1896. Used to the traditional solidarity of mining camps, he slipped easily into the cosmopolitan world of goldfields unionism and, after briefly returning to New South Wales, joined the Amalgamated Workers' Association on its foundation in 1897. Induced to become secretary of a local chapter of the American Knights of Labor, he represented it at the Coolgardie Trade Union Conference of 1899 and in September 1900 became first editor of the Westralian Worker. Though not a trained journalist, he was intelligently self-educated and had a flair for polemical writing. The paper was an immediate success but did not improve when Bath gave way in July 1901 to the professional Wallace Nelson. He invested later in a disastrous paper called Democrat, run by Nelson.

As secretary of the Kalgoorlie and Boulder Trades and Labor Council Bath was involved in faction-fighting between miners' unions, and his membership of socialist ginger groups provided some of the impetus for the election of six Labor members to the Legislative Assembly in April 1901. When John Reside, member for Hannans, died in December Bath won the selection ballot and the election. Though his fluency and orderly mind were ideal parliamentary qualities, Henry Daglish did not include him in the first Labor ministry of August 1904 and he became chairman of committees. However, Daglish chose him for lands and education when the ministry was reconstructed in June 1905. When the government fell in August and the party crashed at the October election, Bath's reputation for rigid probity won him leadership of the dispirited rump.

A government land-settlement scheme gave Bath a 160-acre (65 ha) wheat farm north of Tammin, expanded subsequently to 733 acres (297 ha). He held his Kalgoorlie suburban seat until 1911. In 1907-10 he shared with Julian Stuart the editorial chair of the Westralian Worker but was so weary by 1909 that he planned to abandon politics. He was persuaded to remain in parliament but gave up the leadership and his editorial work. John Scaddan, whose self-education he had supervised, succeeded him as leader and became premier in October 1911. Bath administered lands and agriculture until November 1914 when he resigned the portfolios and his Avon constituency to devote his life to farming. An original university endowment trustee of 1903, he helped to establish the University of Western Australia as a royal commissioner in 1910 and as a senator in 1912-19. He was also a committee-member of the Public Library and Museum of Western Australia.

Bath had long preferred co-operation to socialism as a social panacea and from 1922 was a leader in the farmers' co-operative movement represented by Westralian Farmers Ltd. He was a trustee of the wheat pool from 1925 and in May 1927 attended an International Wheat Pool conference at Kansas City. He wrote regularly on the economics of wheat in Wesfarmers Gazette which he edited for a time, and in the Primary Producer; his pamphlets on similar topics warned against the coming depression. For several years he was unpaid secretary of the Co-operative Federation of Australia. From the mid-1930s he was an active exponent of the bulk handling of wheat; in 1943-48 he was vice-chairman, then chairman of Co-operative Bulk Handling Ltd which disposed of the whole State crop. In 1948 he was appointed C.B.E.

Bath died of coronary occlusion at his Mount Lawley home on 6 November 1956, and was cremated. His wife Elizabeth Maria Jane, née Fensome, whom he had married at Kalgoorlie on 27 July 1904, predeceased him by many years; he was survived by one son and two daughters. His estate, valued for probate at £6714, was left to his children excepting two bequests to sisters and eight to charities.

Slim, dark, dapper and quiet, Bath returned in old age to the Methodist faith of his youth but though serious, he was never solemn. To his children, he was sometimes witty and was 'soppy about Shakespeare'. His passion was expressed as a foundation member of the Shakespeare Club in 1930 and as president in 1940-45 of the Perth Repertory Society and as a vice-patron in 1946-55. In both the main phases of his career he was the rock on which others depended. The Labor Party used him until he was worn out. The wheat pool relied on him to persuade farmers of the need for price reductions. An obituarist said of him, 'It was his voice and his pen that gave [the co-operative movement] purpose, that informed its spirit and defined its direction'. The remark was equally true of his work for the labour movement.

Select Bibliography

  • Truthful Thomas, Through the Spy-Glass (Perth, 1905)
  • J. S. Battye (ed), Cyclopedia of Western Australia, vol 2 (Adel, 1913)
  • J. Sandford, Walter Harper and the Farmers (Perth, 1955)
  • F. Alexander, Campus at Crawley (Melb, 1963)
  • H. J. Gibbney, ‘Western Australia’, Labor in Politics, D. J. Murphy ed (Brisb, 1975)
  • Trades Union and Labor Conferences (Western Australia), Reports, 1899-1910
  • Australian Labor Federation (Western Australia) Conferences, Reports, 1910-15
  • Wesfarmers News, 15 Feb 1962
  • H. J. Gibbney, Working Class Organization in West Australia from 1880 to 1902 (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Western Australia, 1949)
  • J. R. Robertson, The Scaddan Government and the Conscription Crisis 1911-17 (M.A. thesis, University of Western Australia, 1958)
  • Parliamentary Labor Party (Western Australia), minutes (State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

H. J. Gibbney, 'Bath, Thomas Henry (1875–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bath-thomas-henry-5154/text8647, published in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 24 October 2014.

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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014