Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Mauger, Samuel (1857–1936)

by John Lack

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Samuel Mauger (1857-1936), by Elliott & Fry, 1910s

Samuel Mauger (1857-1936), by Elliott & Fry, 1910s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23358024

Samuel Mauger (1857-1936), social reformer, was born on 12 November 1857 at Geelong, Victoria, son of Samuel Mauger, carpenter and his wife Caroline, née Liz, both from Guernsey, Channel Islands. Young Samuel was educated at the Geelong National school, but left to be a hatter's errand boy when his father was struck down by rheumatic fever. In 1874, carrying character references, a Bible and A Young Man's Guide to Immortality Through Life, he sought work in Melbourne and was apprenticed to a hatter in 1876.

Mauger (pronounced Major) developed as an organizer and public speaker as superintendent of a Rechabite tent and as a Bible-class teacher at St Mark's Church of England, Fitzroy. There he met Hannah Rice whom he married on 13 May 1880. He was later Sunday school superintendent at St Paul's Congregational Church, North Fitzroy.

Mauger organized and became superintendent of volunteer fire brigades, convening a conference in 1883 to form an association. As its president he helped to draft the basis of the 1891 Fire Brigades Act. A government representative on the Metropolitan Fire Brigades Board in 1891-1936 and four times president, he contributed much to securing for firemen weekly and annual leave, promotion by merit and a superannuation scheme. He was sometime president and Trades Hall Council delegate of the Hatters' Union, and took a close interest in the clothing trades, assisting in the organization of the Tailoresses' Union. These enthusiasms did not wane when he went into business as a hatter at Fitzroy in 1889.

In 1892 Mauger was an unsuccessful Progressive Political League candidate for Fitzroy, but Labor's pledge later proved an insuperable barrier to his joining the party. Successively, he became secretary of the Protection, Liberal and Federation League from 1893, of the Protectionist Association which the league created in 1894, and of the National Anti-Sweating League of Victoria from 1895. No one did more to create and sustain Victoria's anti-sweating movement. During 1893 he led the P.L.F.L. in demanding amendment of the Factories and Shops Act, urged the case in a deputation to Premier Patterson, was the principal speaker at the Wesley Church public conference, and became secretary to the Methodist Central Mission's investigative committee. Mauger accompanied Rev. Charles Strong on his inspections of homes where sweating was rife, and gave evidence to the Factories Act Inquiry Board of 1893-94.

In 1895 he arranged the inaugural meeting of the Anti-Sweating League and became secretary. The league's committee met above Mauger's hat shop at 66 Bourke Street. With H. H. Champion he drafted the Factories and Shops Act (1896) and campaigned for an extension of the wages-boards system beyond the original six sweated trades and for adoption of minimum wage principles by municipalities and statutory authorities. The term, New Protection, was coined at his shop in 1899, and popularized by Mauger at interstate protectionist conferences in 1900-01: 'unless protection went further than the Customs House, and protected the wages, the homes, and the lives of the people, it was not worth the name'.

In 1899 (at his fourth attempt) Mauger was elected as a Liberal at a by-election for Footscray and became secretary to Sir George Turner's Opposition. He was returned unopposed for Footscray in 1900, and for the Federal seat of Melbourne Ports in 1901. In parliament he advocated high protection and immigration restriction, for which he argued in A White Man's World (Melbourne, 1901). He secured minimum wage rates and maximum hours clauses in Federal government contracts, and weekly leave for government employees. Victorian Legislative Council resistance to expansion of the wages-boards system confirmed Mauger as a radical and independent Protectionist. With J. Hume Cook he led the citizens' committee of 1903-04 to aid railway engine drivers dismissed by Premier Irvine and attempted to gain their reinstatement. Supporting Federal Labor's attempts to extend the conciliation and arbitration bill to State employees, he joined the radical Liberal alliance with Labor in 1904, but in 1905 declined Deakin's offer of the position of Liberal whip.

He was a member of the committee of management of Strong's Social Improvement Society in 1897, chairman from 1905, and chairman of the Young People's Guild from 1899. Despite this close association with the Australian Church and an abiding loyalty to Strong, Mauger's evangelicalism remained firm. By the early 1900s he was emphasizing individual salvation and the strengthening of the family as much as state socialism as the keys to social regeneration. President of the Melbourne Total Abstinence Society and of the Victorian Alliance, and a leading Rechabite, Mauger argued in parliament for 'dry' military canteens, and for prohibition in Papua. He took a prominent part in W. H. Judkins's 1905-06 crusade against liquor and gambling in Victoria, and despite John Wren's campaign against him won the new seat of Maribyrnong. As postmaster-general (1907-08) in the Deakin ministry, after being honorary minister in 1906-07, he closed the mail and telephone services to purveyors of indecent literature, 'quack' medicines and lottery tickets, and to tote operators.

Mauger backed the campaign by the implement-maker H. V. McKay for protection against cheap, American stripper-harvesters, but the excise tariff device to ensure fair and reasonable wages in the industry failed. Previously Mauger had argued for a constitutional amendment to provide for uniform Commonwealth industrial laws, but in 1909 he joined the Fusion which opposed such a course. The result, as Mauger put it, was a 'knockout' by his Labor opponent J. E. Fenton in 1910. Living on a handsome testimonial from admirers, he lectured to enthusiastic temperance audiences in Britain in 1911 where appalling poverty, drinking and industrial violence confirmed his principles. He wrote to Deakin of Labor hostility to Liberals, 'The more you do for them “the hotter they go for you”', but upon his return he found that Labor distrust was weaker than conservative and freetrader loathing of him as a dangerous radical. Mauger unsuccessfully contested the Senate in 1913 and 1914.

He was involved in the Victorian six o'clock closing movement in 1911, and was secretary of the successful 1916 campaign. His interest in prisons and prisoner rehabilitation found expression in membership of the Howard League and the Criminology Society, and in chairmanship (1912-36) of the Victorian Indeterminate Sentences Board. In 1914-15 he was chairman of the Melbourne unemployment relief committee. As well, the Child Welfare Association, the Gordon Institute, the Workers' Educational Association of Victoria, the Young Men's Christian Association and the United Friendly Societies claimed his time. During the 1920s he chaired several wages boards and in 1931 was vice-president of a revived Anti-Sweating League.

Increasing deafness, family illness and business reverses did not hamper his public duties. Mauger died on 26 June 1936 at Elsternwick and was buried in Melbourne general cemetery, with a fireman guard of honour, after a service conducted by Strong. His wife and six children survived him.

The Age remarked that 'scarcely a movement of any importance in Victoria to improve the average human lot and to secure a greater measure of social justice did not gain in coherence and strength from his influence'. Labor Call said that Mauger represented 'the finest type that Liberalism could produce'. Memorials were raised at Eastern Hill and Footscray, and in the Australian Church.

Select Bibliography

  • C. R. Badger, The Rev. Charles Strong and the Australian Church (Melb, 1971)
  • J. Rickard, Class and Politics (Canb, 1976)
  • Rechabite and Temperance News, 1 Aug 1936
  • Punch (Melbourne), 10 Mar 1910
  • Age (Melbourne), 27, 29, 30 June 1936
  • Argus (Melbourne), 27, 29, 30 June 1936
  • F. H. Cutler, A History of the Anti-Sweating Movement in Victoria, 1873-1896 (M.A. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1956)
  • E. M. Wilson, The Campaign for National Righteousness. The Methodist Church and Moral Reform in Victoria 1900-1916 (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Melbourne, 1957)
  • M. R. Parnaby, The Socially Reforming Churchman: a Study of the Social Thought and Activity of Charles Strong in Melbourne 1890-1900 (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Melbourne, 1975)
  • Alfred Deakin papers (National Library of Australia)
  • James Hume-Cook papers (National Library of Australia)
  • Groom papers (National Library of Australia)
  • Australian Industries Protection League records (National Library of Australia)
  • Samuel Mauger papers (National Library of Australia)
  • Charles Strong papers (National Library of Australia)
  • S. Merrifield collection (State Library of Victoria).

Citation details

John Lack, 'Mauger, Samuel (1857–1936)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mauger-samuel-7529/text13135, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 20 April 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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