Australian Dictionary of Biography

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de Largie, Hugh (1859–1947)

by Howard J. Smith

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Hugh de Largie (1859-1947), by Swiss Studios, 1900s

Hugh de Largie (1859-1947), by Swiss Studios, 1900s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23379138

Hugh de Largie (1859-1947), miner, trade unionist and politician, was born on 24 March 1859 it Airdrie, Scotland, son of Archibald Hamilton de Largie, coalminer, and his wife Mary, née McLaren, both of whom died while he was very young. De Largie received primary education at St Margaret's School and from 10 worked in the Lanarkshire mines. He became active in the local miners' union and the Scottish political labour movement. At 25 he married Mary McGregor at Glasgow. Hugh and Mary, devout Roman Catholics, migrated in 1887 to Queensland, where de Largie helped return Thomas Glassey to parliament. Next year they moved to the Illawarra district in New South Wales and, during the 1890 maritime strike, he acted as delegate for the Mount Kembla miners. Later, in the Newcastle mining district of Wallsend, he worked as miners' delegate and secretary to both the local branch of the Australian Socialist League and the Labor Electoral League.

Because his politics barred him from working as a miner in Newcastle, in 1895 the family moved to the Western Australian goldfields. De Largie rose to prominence in the Amalgamated Workers' Association, established in January 1897, a union of industrial workers favouring 'one big union' and opposed to craft unions. The first Western Australian Trades' Union and Labour Congress, which was called by the A.W.A., was held at Coolgardie in April 1899; he was elected president of the goldfields division of the joint Labor parliamentary committee. He and (Sir) G. F. Pearce were the two Labor candidates for the Senate in the first Federal elections; both were elected.

An equable, humourless person, de Largie spoke in a 'plain and fearless fashion' with a pronounced Scots accent. In the Senate he advocated the White Australia policy and favoured protection over free trade. In 1908 he presided over a conciliation board to settle a mining dispute at Airlie, New South Wales. He sat on royal commissions on navigation (1906), postal services (1908-10), and the pearl-shell industry (1916). He chaired parliamentary select committees on the case of H. Chinn in 1913, and in 1920-21 on Senate officials. He was Labor whip in the Senate in 1907-14 and ministerial whip in 1910-13 and 1917-22. In the latter term, it was as a Nationalist senator, having followed W. M. Hughes out of the Australian Labor Party in the conscription split of 1916. This stand reflected the overwhelming vote for conscription in his own State and on the goldfields. In 1916 he visited England in connexion with the Imperial Parliamentary Association. He lost his Senate seat in 1922.

De Largie toured Europe and Britain again in 1928, looking into the coal trade. In retirement he retained an interest in conciliation and arbitration matters and helped set up the Association of Members of the First Federal Parliament. He lived at St Kilda, Melbourne, before moving to Sydney in 1940; his last visit to Western Australia had been in 1937. On 8 January 1946, following the death of his first wife, he married Elizabeth Jeannie Marie Renoua Renouard at Darlinghurst, New South Wales. She and the four children of his earlier marriage survived him when he died at Randwick on 9 May 1947. He was buried in Rookwood cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • J. S. Battye (ed), Cyclopedia of Western Australia, vol 1 (Adel, 1912)
  • Kondinin: Then and Now (Perth, 1959?)
  • D. J. Murphy (ed), Labor in Politics (Brisb, 1975)
  • Westralian Worker, 11, 25 Jan, 8 Feb, 6 Dec 1901
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12 May 1947
  • West Australian, 13 May 1947
  • H. J. Gibbney, Working Class Organization in West Australia from 1880 to 1902 (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Western Australia, 1949)
  • An Economic History of Western Australia …, and interview with Tom Bath, 1953, Somerville papers, also biograhical note RM 305 (State Library of Western Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Howard J. Smith, 'de Largie, Hugh (1859–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/de-largie-hugh-5945/text10137, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 30 March 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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