Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Bowman, David (1860–1916)

by D. J. Murphy

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

David Bowman (1860-1916), bootmaker, union official and politician, was born on 24 August 1860 at Bendigo, Victoria, son of Archibald Bowman, miner, and his wife Isabella, née Spence, both of whom were Scottish-born. Trained as a bootmaker, he had been working in Melbourne when on 20 May 1885 he married Elizabeth Jane Fisher at Ballarat; they had two daughters and two sons. In 1888 the Bowmans moved to Queensland, hoping that the climate would cure his throat condition. When a Brisbane bootmakers' union organized by him struck unsuccessfully in 1889 he was blacklisted. Following the failure of a strike by printers in Brisbane that year, the Brisbane Trades and Labor Council was replaced by the Brisbane District Council of the Australian Labour Federation, with Bowman as president and Charles Seymour as secretary.

In 1891, as an employee of the A.L.F., Bowman was responsible for organizing shearers and bushworkers during the pastoral strike. He was elected vice-president of the A.L.F. next year and president in 1893, when he made his first attempt to enter parliament for Brisbane South. Appointed as an organizer in western Queensland by the Amalgamated Workers' Union in 1894, he stood unsuccessfully for Warrego in 1898, but won the seat next year in a by-election. Beaten in 1902, he returned to Brisbane and opened a newsagency at New Farm.

Bowman remained closely associated with the new Labor Party. He attended each triennial Labor in Politics Convention after 1898 and was a member of the Central Political Executive from 1892 to 1916, except for a period in 1894-95 when it was not functioning. Elected to the Legislative Assembly in 1904 for Fortitude Valley, he held that seat until his death.

Though accepting his party's decision to join the Morgan-Browne coalition in September 1903, Bowman believed that Labor should not ally itself with other parties but should aim to govern in its own right. By 1905, after the passage of the Adult Suffrage Act, he had joined Albert Hinchcliffe and Mat Reid, secretary and president of the C.P.E., and Henry Boote, editor of the Worker, in opposing the continuation of the Liberal-Labor coalition, now dominated by William Kidston. Bowman became vice-president of the C.P.E. in 1904 and at the 1905 and 1907 Labor in Politics conventions led a parliamentary faction opposed to Kidston, which succeeded in committing the party to fighting future elections alone. When George Kerr was forced to stand down as party leader after the 1907 convention, Bowman was elected in his place. He was not an outstanding parliamentarian and was disabled as a leader by poor health. He was, however, liked and respected for his personality and integrity by colleagues and opponents, who in 1911 subscribed £1400 to send him on a health voyage to England. To C. A. Bernays 'he had no very wide command of language, but he had a powerful voice and a stout heart, and what he lacked in polished diction he made up in earnest vigour'.

Bowman was overshadowed by T. J. Ryan during the 1912 general strike and gave way to him as parliamentary leader after he collapsed in the Legislative Assembly later that year. When the Australian Workers' Union was formed in 1913, Bowman became the Queensland vice-president and a member of the board of trustees of the Worker newspaper. He was a delegate to the 1908 and 1912 Commonwealth conferences of the Labor Party, and as vice-president of the 1908 conference opposed electoral alliances with other parties.

Labor won the State election in May 1915 and Bowman became home secretary, but his health was so poor that John Huxham became his assistant minister. Bowman died in Brisbane on 25 February 1916 as the Labor in Politics Convention began. He was buried in Toowong cemetery with Presbyterian rites; his estate was sworn for probate at £960. His memory as an honest, forthright Labor man survived: in 1948 a new Federal electorate in Queensland was named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • D. J. Murphy et al (eds), Prelude to Power (Brisb, 1970)
  • D. J. Murphy (ed), Labor in Politics (Brisb 1975)
  • Worker (Brisbane), 2 Mar 1916
  • Queensland Labor Party, Central Political Executive minutes, 1892-1916 (Labor House, Brisbane).

Citation details

D. J. Murphy, 'Bowman, David (1860–1916)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bowman-david-5315/text8975, published in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 3 October 2014.

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

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