Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Edden, Alfred (1850–1930)

by W. G. McMinn

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

Alfred Edden (1850-1930), coalminer and politician, was born on 24 December 1850 at Tamworth, Staffordshire, England, posthumous son of John Edden, labourer, and his wife Mary, née Thirlby. From 10 he worked in a colliery. On 20 February 1871 at Hucknall, Notthinghamshire, where he was working, he married Maria Brown; about 1879 they migrated to New South Wales and settled near Newcastle. By 1884 he was living at Adamstown and working in the nearby Waratah colliery. He became a Methodist lay-preacher and in 1887 was a founder of the Lay Methodist Church which rejected paid clergy. When Adamstown was incorporated in January 1886 he was elected alderman, later serving as mayor in 1889 and from February to July 1891.

Edden was president of the Waratah colliery lodge during the strike of 1888 when he was arrested in a confrontation with strike-breakers. In 1891 he became one of the first Labor members in the Legislative Assembly, representing Northumberland. A protectionist, he opposed the party solidarity pledge and won Kahibah as an independent Labor candidate in 1894, but next year he rejoined the party. In the assembly he took a particular interest in the welfare of coalminers. Though his own measures for an eight-hour day were defeated in the Upper House, he influenced the government's Coal Mines Regulation Act of 1896—in particular a clause which guaranteed proper ventilation.

With J. R. Dacey and W. A. Holman and others of the 'solid six', Edden helped to manoeuvre Labor into supporting (Sir) William Lyne's 1899 censure motion, thus ensuring its success. He expected more concessions from Lyne; he also welcomed the opportunity to regain the independence which he felt Labor had compromised by its support for (Sir) George Reid since 1894. W. M. Hughes described Alf Edden as a 'powerfully built man in his fifties, of medium height, grey-haired, red-faced, bubbling with energy and goodwill to all mankind'. Naturally eloquent, he spoke in a rich Staffordshire dialect.

Edden remained in State politics after Federation. He supported B. R. Wise's Industrial Arbitration Act (1901), served for some time on the Parliamentary Standing Committee for Public Works and, when Labor won office in October 1910, became secretary for mines. That year he became chairman of the Miners' Accident Relief Board and in 1913 carried an amending Coal Mines Regulation Act. However his expressed irritation with strikes which he considered unnecessary and unreasonable lost him support, even among the miners, and he was dropped from the cabinet after the election of December. He remained close to Holman and was expelled with him by the Political Labor League in November 1916 for supporting conscription. He won Kahibah in 1917 as a Nationalist, but in 1920, with the introduction of proportional representation, he decided not to seek re-election.

His wife had died on 1 June 1887; on 28 September that year he married a widow Mary Ann George, née Langley, at the Adamstown registry office. She died on 18 March 1929. Edden died at his daughter's home at Redfern, Sydney, on 27 July 1930, and was buried with Masonic rites in the Church of England section of Sandgate cemetery, Newcastle. He was survived by six of his nine children, two sons and a daughter of each marriage. His estate, valued for probate at £2156, was divided among them, his stepchildren and a grandchild.

Edden, though considered 'a forceful speaker' was well liked by his opponents, in parliament and in the party, among whom he enjoyed a reputation of being generous with his limited means.

Select Bibliography

  • W. F. Morrison, The Aldine Centennial History of New South Wales, vol 2 (Syd, 1888)
  • H. V. Evatt, Australian Labour Leader: The Story of W.A. Holman and the Labour Movement (Syd, 1940)
  • W. M. Hughes, Crusts and Crusades (Syd, 1947)
  • E. Ross, A History of the Miners' Federation of Australia (Syd, 1970)
  • B. Nairn, Civilising Capitalism (Canb, 1973)
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 2 July 1891
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Nov 1916, 30 Mar, 2 Apr 1917, 28 Jan 1930
  • Newcastle Morning Herald, 28, 29 Jan 1930.

Citation details

W. G. McMinn, 'Edden, Alfred (1850–1930)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/edden-alfred-6083/text10419, published in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 25 April 2014.

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

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