Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Seymour, Charles (1853–1924)

by Joy Guyatt

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Charles Seymour (1853-1924), seaman, journalist and militant unionist, was born on 21 January 1853 in Dublin, son of Patrick Seymour, storekeeper, and his wife Margaret, née McArdle. He went to sea as a young man, was twice shipwrecked and lived for some time in the United States and in South America. In 1878, probably while he was working as a fireman in the Australian coastal service, he took a leading part in a strike organized by the Seamen's Union of Australasia against a proposal by the Australasian Steam Navigation Co. to employ Chinese coolies instead of Australian seamen. He took out the first ticket in the Queensland branch of the Federated Seamen's Union of Australasia in 1880. Next year he worked for six months as a bookkeeper at Charleville.

When in 1885 an autonomous branch of the F.S.U.A. was formed in the port of Brisbane, Seymour became its treasurer and soon its secretary—the first paid union secretary in Queensland. In 1887 he was a member of the Brisbane Trades and Labor Council and, as a delegate from the F.S.U.A., attended the Intercolonial Trade Union congresses in 1888 and 1889. In 1889 he took out a ticket with the Amalgamated Workers' Union and in 1890 served on the maritime strike committee.

Seymour was active in the formation of the Queensland provincial council of the Australian Labor Federation in June 1889 and was provisional secretary for a year. He was treasurer of the A.L.F. in 1889-99 and wrote the first manifesto of the Queensland Labor Party in 1892. He attended Labor-in-politics conventions in 1892 and 1898, was assistant secretary of the central political executive briefly in 1892 and a member in 1895-96 and 1901-05. In 1901, because of sectarianism, he failed to win Fortitude Valley for Labor in a by-election.

As a delegate from the maritime unions, Seymour helped William Lane and others to establish the Queensland Worker in December 1889 and sell copies of its first issue in March 1890 along the eight-hour procession. Elected secretary of the Worker's board of trustees that year, from 1915 until his death he was chairman of the board. He had contributed early articles and was sub-editor from 1893, apart from one short break during which he worked for the Adelaide Steamship Co., until he succeeded H. E. Boote as editor in 1911. With the A.L.F. in decline, Seymour resigned in July 1915 to become a journalist, then an inspector, with the State Insurance Office.

According to Matt Reid only he, Seymour and Lane were Marxists in the early Queensland labour movement. Boote thought Seymour's later socialism 'largely sentimental', 'infused with Fabianism'. Seymour believed that the industrial movement was a more important means to the achievement of an equitable society than parliament and that the institutions of socialism would inevitably succeed those of capitalism. One of his early contributions to education in socialist theory was What is Socialism?, the first of a series of Leaflets for the People published by the Queensland Social Democratic Federation. He strongly supported Federation of the Australian colonies, establishment of state enterprises, federation of unions and the eight-hour working day. His brotherhood of man did not include the Chinese.

Seymour was a teetotaller, seeing drink as an evil which contributed to the oppression of the working class. Gilbert Casey described him as 'tall, thin, melancholy-looking, dark-haired, sallow-complexioned, earnest, deadly serious and cautious to the extent of never failing to see the dangers and weaknesses of the Labor Movement'. Survived by his wife, Kate, née Halloran, whom he had married on 29 September 1883 at St Stephen's Cathedral, Brisbane, and by a son and five daughters, Seymour died at his home at Eagle Junction on 12 March 1924. He was buried in Toowong cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • D. J. Murphy (ed), Labor in Politics (Brisb, 1975)
  • D. J. Murphy et al (eds) Prelude to Power (Brisb, 1970)
  • Daily Standard (Brisbane), 13 Mar 1924
  • Worker (Brisbane), 20 Mar 1924
  • S. A. Rayner, The Evolution of the Queensland Labor Party to 1907 (M.A. thesis, University of Queensland, 1947)
  • J. B. Dalton, The Queensland Labour Movement, 1899-1915 (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Queensland, 1962)
  • R. J. Sullivan, The A.L.F. in Queensland, 1889-1914 (M.A. thesis, University of Queensland, 1973).

Citation details

Joy Guyatt, 'Seymour, Charles (1853–1924)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/seymour-charles-8391/text14733, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 18 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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