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Kneebone, Henry (1876–1933)

by Neal Blewett

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

Henry Kneebone (1876-1933), by unknown photographer, 1920s

Henry Kneebone (1876-1933), by unknown photographer, 1920s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23385990

Henry Kneebone (1876-1933), printer, journalist and politician, was born on 17 March 1876 at Wallaroo, South Australia, son of Cornish miner and engine driver, Henry Kneebone, and his wife Elizabeth Ann, née Tonkin. Elizabeth had taught her husband to read and write and inspired in her son a love of literature. He was educated at Kadina Public School and when 12 began work in the Wallaroo copper-mines. A year later he was apprenticed as a compositor with the Kadina and Wallaroo Times, gaining journalistic and typographical skills. Lured in 1894 to the Murchison goldfields, Western Australia, he failed as a prospector but found work on the Coolgardie Miner. He became its printer and publisher in 1899 and managing editor in 1906.

In socially militant Coolgardie Kneebone's beliefs and vigorous journalistic and debating styles matured. He was a foundation member of the local branch of the Typographical Society of Australia and joined the Western Australian Workers' Association. He was also active in the Labor Party and sat on the Coolgardie Council in 1906-09. On 4 November 1903 with Methodist forms he had married Henrietta Whitta, a dressmaker from Bendigo, Victoria.

In 1910 Kneebone returned to Adelaide to the Labor paper, the Daily Herald; next year he became editor. In 1912 the Federal Labor government appointed him press officer to the new High Commission in London. Kneebone helped to popularize Australia, a series of his pamphlets was translated into German, French and Italian, and he founded a London branch of the Australian Natives' Association. In 1914 and 1915 he represented Australia at the British War Press Bureau and was the founder and first secretary of the Anzac Buffet, which provided free meals and entertainment to Australian soldiers in Britain.

Kneebone returned to Adelaide in 1916 to a Labor Party riven by the conscription crisis. He replaced E. H. Coombe as editor of the Daily Herald. Initially the paper maintained a neutral, impartial stance on conscription but, after control by the Labor Party was confirmed in 1917, it became strongly anti-conscriptionist. In the following years Kneebone used the Herald to give a new sense of reconciliation, direction and vigour to the party. But commercially it never recovered from the crisis and its survival till 1924 may have been secured through funds from liquor interests.

Kneebone rose quickly in the party. From 1920 till his death he was on the State executive; he was party president in 1922 and 1930 and regularly attended federal conferences and federal executive meetings in the 1920s and early 1930s. He was also the delegate of the State branch of the Printing Industry Employees' Union of Australia to the United Trades and Labor Council and a delegate to the Australasian Council of Trade Unions. In 1924 he won the House of Assembly seat of East Torrens but resigned next year to contest unsuccessfully the Federal seat of Boothby. He then returned to journalism as industrial roundsman for the conservative daily, the Advertiser.

As president of the State Labor Party in 1930 he deprecated the Hill government's 'policy of taxation, dismissals and deflation', but strove to contain the fissiparous forces spilling over from the Federal sphere which were ultimately to wreck the State party. In April 1931 he was appointed to a casual Senate vacancy and announced that he would vote against every measure introduced under the Premiers' Plan; but he lost his seat in the conservative landslide in December.

Next year, although unwell with diabetes, Kneebone threw his energies into creating the weekly newspaper, the Labor Advocate, and his work as vice-president of the A.C.T.U. He was also a member of the Advisory Council on Education and the Board of Industry. On 30 November 1933 he collapsed on his way home from work and died of heart disease on 22 December. He was buried in Mitcham general cemetery, survived by his wife, three daughters and two sons, both of whom worked on newspapers.

Kneebone had been a prolific polemicist, a lively populist orator and a hard-working Labor official. Burly in figure, genial and generous in spirit, with the passion of the largely self-taught for education, Kneebone represented the best of that Nonconformist strand which so enriched the early South Australian Labor Party.

Select Bibliography

  • Labor's Thirty Years' Record in South Australia . . . 1893-1923 (Adel, 1923)
  • Printing Trades Journal (Sydney), 13 Feb 1934
  • University Studies in History, 1963-64, p 47
  • Labour History, May 1975, no 28
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 23 Dec 1933
  • Labor Advocate, 5 Jan 1934
  • D. Hopgood, A Psephological Examination of the South Australian Labor Party from World War One to the Depression (Ph.D. thesis, University of Adelaide, 1974).

Citation details

Neal Blewett, 'Kneebone, Henry (1876–1933)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kneebone-henry-6982/text12133, published in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 22 July 2014.

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

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