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Holland, Henry Edmund (Harry) (1868–1933)

by Patrick O'Farrell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Henry Edmund (Harry) Holland (1868-1933), Labor leader, was born on 10 June 1868 at Ginninderra, New South Wales, younger son of native-born parents Edward Holland, farmer, and his wife Mary, née Chaplin. He received elementary schooling until he was 10, then worked on a farm until he was apprenticed at 14 as a compositor to the Queanbeyan Times. After he had served his time, in 1887 Holland left Queanbeyan to find work in Sydney. On 6 October 1888 at the Palmer Street manse he married Annie McLachlan, whom he had met at a Salvation Army meeting. In 1890 he became unemployed, and after two years of privation he left the Salvation Army and joined the Australian Socialist League in Sydney in 1892.

Henceforth Holland actively espoused a radical and militant socialism as a journalist and public speaker, becoming increasingly critical of the new Labor Party, which he regarded as insufficiently revolutionary: he finally broke with it in 1898. He found erratic work on the Australian Workman in 1893 and in October next year he and a friend Tom Batho launched the Socialist as a voice for the left-wing militants and unemployed. In 1896, after a conviction for libel in which he was unable to pay the fine, Holland was gaoled for three months. At the end of that year he transferred his newspaper to Newcastle, calling it Socialist Journal of the Northern People, and in 1898 he secured its amalgamation, under his editorship, with a Sydney paper, as the People and Collectivist. In 1900 this paper moved to Sydney, still under Holland, as the People.

Standing for the Socialist Labor Party in 1901, Holland was defeated for the Senate and for the State seat of Lang. That year he also organized the Tailoresses' Union of New South Wales, leading them into a bitter strike in November. But in 1902 he withdrew from organized socialism to edit the Grenfell Vedette owned by his friend W. A. Holman. He soon tired of Grenfell and in 1905 returned to Queanbeyan to edit the unsuccessful Queanbeyan Leader. In February 1907 he left for Sydney to launch a new militant socialist publication, the International Socialist Review for Australasia. This coincided with a vigorous resurgence within the socialist movement and an increase in industrial disturbances. Holland again entered a State election campaign in 1907 and was defeated for Darling Harbour. In 1909 he became involved in the Broken Hill strike and was convicted of sedition, serving five months of a two-year sentence. As a Revolutionary Socialist, he was defeated for West Sydney in the 1910 Federal elections by W. M. Hughes. General physical breakdown and a knee injury forced him into hospital in 1911.

Next year Holland was asked to make a lecture tour of New Zealand. He arrived during the Waihi gold-quartz miners' dispute, in which a striker was killed; he collaborated in writing the history of these events. He accepted the editorship, in Wellington, of the Maoriland Worker, the New Zealand labour weekly, and became involved in the massive 1913 strike agitation. Imprisoned for seditious language, Holland served three months of a twelve-month sentence. Defeated as a Socialist Democratic Party candidate in 1914, he was prominent in the formation of the New Zealand Labour Party in 1916 and in 1918 was elected to the House of Representatives for Grey. Next year he became chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, a position he held until his death in 1933, despite occasional criticism and challenges. The growth in Labour's support made him leader of the Opposition in 1925 but Labour did not gain power until the election of 1935.

Holland was a socialist of extraordinary and selfless dedication and character. Self-educated and sensitive, he was a voracious reader and prolific writer: in addition to his constant journalism and public speaking, he wrote thirty-six pamphlets, mainly on labour issues, but also on subjects such as Samoa, China, Ireland and Mussolini and a volume of sentimental verse, Red Roses on the Highways (Sydney, 1924). His commitment to doctrinaire socialism was passionate and total, though it mellowed somewhat under the pressure of political practicalities. He worked incessantly and this, combined with deep conviction and a forceful personality, made him a formidable political advocate and adversary. Both rigid and humane, Holland contained powerful contradictions. While his colleagues sometimes regarded his socialism as an electoral liability, his unceasing drive and sheer force of will did much to take the New Zealand Labour Party from obscurity to the verge of office.

While attending the funeral of a Maori 'king', Holland died suddenly of a heart attack on 8 October 1933 at Huntly, New Zealand, and was buried in Wellington cemetery: the New Zealand Labour Party erected a memorial over his grave. After leaving the Salvation Army he had no religious denomination, but he held strong moral views. He was survived by five sons and two daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • P. J. O'Farrell, Harry Holland, Militant Socialist (Canb, 1964), and for bibliography
  • Holland papers (Australian National University Archives and National Library of Australia).

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Citation details

Patrick O'Farrell, 'Holland, Henry Edmund (Harry) (1868–1933)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/holland-henry-edmund-harry-6708/text11579, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 24 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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