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Lane, Ernest Henry (1868–1954)

by Joy Guyatt

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

Ernest Henry Lane (1868-1954), journalist, was born on 26 December 1868 at Bristol, England, son of James Lane, nurseryman and florist, described by his son as 'an active Tory politician', and his wife Caroline, née Hall. A small, aesthetic-looking youth, he probably based his image of himself as a rebel on the poetry of Shelley. Major influences on his development were his elder brother William, accounts of the Paris Commune of 1871 and the trial of Chicago anarchists in 1886. Migrating to Brisbane in 1884, he worked briefly on a dairy farm at German Station (Nundah) before sailing to San Francisco. He returned to Australia in 1890 and worked for two years in a grocery store in Sydney, mixing privately with the socialists E. J. Brady, J. D. Fitzgerald, S. A. Rosa and A. G. Yewen and the Scottish anarchist Larry Petrie. Too poor to join the first contingent for New Australia, Paraguay, in 1893, he worked his way back to Brisbane where he met Mabel Gray whom he married on 8 January 1895; they had two daughters and two sons.

Employed in a store at West End and subsequently at Five Ways, Woolloongabba, Lane became a propagandist for socialism. With John Bond and Harry Turley, he reformed the Socialist League, distributing pamphlets and arranging street-corner meetings. In 1899, with Albert Hinchcliffe, Charles Seymour and Francis Kenna, he formed the Social Democratic Vanguard and became its secretary. He was repeatedly sacked because of his political work and ultimately blacklisted among employers.

In 1903 Lane with his wife and three children went to Cosme, the breakaway colony from New Australia in Paraguay, but left it in 1904 in disgust at its drift from communistic principles. Before returning to Australia he spent two years at the Puerto La Plata meatworks. Back in Brisbane he worked at Foggitt Jones', bought a house at Highgate Hill and began his involvement with the Amalgamated Workers' Association and, after 1913, with the Australian Workers' Union. He held office in the Brisbane branch of the A.W.A. and was a conference delegate in 1912 and 1913. He moved the motion which led to the Brisbane general strike of 1912. As a delegate of the Queensland branch of the A.W.U., he went to the annual conventions in Sydney in 1918, 1920 and 1923 and to national trade union congresses in Melbourne in 1919, 1921 and 1922. Vice-president of the A.W.U. in 1916, he secured some support for the purchase of socialist literature and was able to distribute among members hundreds of volumes imported from Kerr's Publishing House in New York. When he tried to extend eligibility for membership of the A.W.A. to coloured workers, he was soundly defeated partly perhaps because of articles written by William Lane expressing the strong racist attitudes of many workers.

An A.W.U. delegate on the Queensland central executive of the Australian Labor Party in 1916-23, Lane attended the Labor-in-Politics Convention in 1918 and the federal conference in 1921 as a proxy delegate for Tasmania. He contributed to a manifesto designed to consolidate the political and industrial wings during difficulties in 1919 but resigned from the A.L.P. in 1926 when required to sign an anti-communist pledge. In Dawn to Dusk (1939) he expressed his lifelong dedication to communist ideals and his disappointment with the defection of many old colleagues; however, he had never joined the party.

In 1915 Lane had been appointed industrial editor of the Labor-controlled Daily Standard and wrote sometimes controversial articles under the nom-de-plume 'Jack Cade'. Some of these were published by R. S. Ross in The One Big Union and reconstruction in the light of the war (1918). Active in the fight against conscription in 1916-17, Lane believed that reform could be achieved only by the industrial section of the labour movement, not by politicians who had ceased to be workers. He became unpopular again by urging the cause of members of the Industrial Workers of the World whom he believed to have been wrongly convicted of sedition, arson and conspiracy. His dismissal from the Daily Standard in 1931, ostensibly as a financial retrenchment, was strongly criticized at the annual meeting of shareholders but the decision was not reversed. Engaged by the Daily Mail, merged later with the Courier Mail, to report union affairs, he was dismissed in 1937. Spiritually tired and disillusioned though physically active, he spent some time at Currumbin where he enjoyed surfing.

Lane died at Annerley on 18 June 1954 and was cremated. A funeral notice asked mourners to send red flowers. The service was attended by many old political friends and the valedictory address was given by the secretary of the Queensland Trades and Labor Council. Gentle and kindly, Lane was a revolutionary activist in a reformist labour movement. His influence was limited by his refusal to join the power structures established by his more pragmatic colleagues.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Souter, A Peculiar People (Syd, 1968)
  • D. J. Murphy et al (eds), Prelude to Power (Brisb, 1970)
  • Advocate (Brisbane), 15 May 1931
  • Queensland Guardian, 23, 30 June 1954
  • BP 4/1, 66/4/2165 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Joy Guyatt, 'Lane, Ernest Henry (1868–1954)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lane-ernest-henry-7022/text12213, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 25 November 2017.

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

View the front pages for Volume 9

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