Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Stewart, Archibald (1867–1925)

by Peter Love

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Archibald Stewart (1867-1925), trade unionist and political official, was born on 30 December 1867 at Sebastopol, Victoria, seventh surviving child of John Stewart, miner, and his wife Ann, née Erskine, both Scottish born. He grew up in Creswick where his father became caretaker of the botanical gardens. In his early working years Archibald took numerous jobs, from mining in the Creswick district to selling groceries at Ballarat. As an active member of several labour organizations, he faced an employers' blacklist which made it difficult for him to find permanent employment and to support Mary, née Edwards, whom he had married at Fitzroy with Victorian Free Church forms on 25 June 1891. Stewart was an early member of the Australian Workers' Union and, until 1910, its delegate on the Ballarat Trades and Labor Council.

Following a visit by Tom Mann in 1902, Stewart helped to establish the Ballarat branch of the Political Labor Council, serving as secretary in 1905-06. His considerable organizing skills were obvious to party officials during James Scullin's unsuccessful campaign against Alfred Deakin at the 1906 election. Stewart stood as Labor candidate for the Legislative Assembly seat of Ballarat East in 1908, but was defeated by the Liberal R. McGregor; in 1910 he was narrowly beaten for the Federal seat of Grampians by H. W. H. Irvine. Although he left Ballarat soon after the election, Stewart maintained close contact with the area, tackling Irvine again at the 1913 poll and joining the board of the Ballarat Evening Echo in 1914.

After moving to Melbourne, Stewart was elected senior vice-president of the Political Labor Council in 1910 and appointed full-time secretary in 1911, following the resignation of P. R. Heagney whose stewardship had been severely criticized. The pay was poor, but Stewart worked in a diligent and methodical way to consolidate the Labor Party organization in Victoria and, by 1914, was acknowledged as one of the 'powers behind the throne' of the Fisher government. His influence was recognized by his appointment as secretary of the newly established Australian Labor Party federal executive in 1915, a post he held until 1925.

Stewart's staunch adherence to Labor principles led him to play a leading role in organizing opposition to W. M. Hughes's conscriptionist policy in 1916-17. Drawing on the experience of more than twenty State and Federal conferences, he conducted some of the delicate negotiations that helped to keep the industrial and political wings of the labour movement together when they threatened to split over the issue of syndicalism and the socialist objective in 1919-21. A sturdy, kind-faced man, Stewart had a blunt and occasionally gruff manner; his integrity and generous nature made him popular in a movement not noted for brotherly love. He died of tuberculosis at his Sandringham home on 29 May 1925. The sorrow of his wife and three surviving sons was shared by the many mourners at the Coburg general cemetery where Scullin paid him the rarest tribute accorded a political activist: 'He was a man whose word was his bond'.

Select Bibliography

  • L. F. Crisp, The Australian Federal Labour Party 1901-1951 (Lond, 1955)
  • J. Robertson, J. H. Scullin (Perth, 1974)
  • D. J. Murphy (ed), Labor in Politics (Brisb, 1975)
  • P. Weller and B. Lloyd (eds), Federal Executive Minutes, 1919-1955 (Melb, 1978)
  • Australian Worker, 4 July 1923, 3 June 1925
  • Argus (Melbourne), 30 May 1925
  • Age (Melbourne), 30 May, 1 June 1925
  • Creswick Advertiser, 2 June 1925
  • Labor Call, 4 June 1925.

Citation details

Peter Love, 'Stewart, Archibald (1867–1925)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/stewart-archibald-8660/text15143, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 23 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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