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Tudor, Francis Gwynne (Frank) (1866–1922)

by Janet McCalman

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

Francis Gwynne Tudor (1866-1922), by unknown photographer, 1908-09

Francis Gwynne Tudor (1866-1922), by unknown photographer, 1908-09

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23378033

Francis Gwynne (Frank) Tudor (1866-1922), hatter and politician, was born on 29 January 1866 at Williamstown, Melbourne, second surviving son of John Llewellyn Tudor, ballastman, and his wife Ellen Charlotte, née Burt, both Welsh born. The family moved to Richmond and Tudor was to be a Richmond man for the rest of his life. On leaving the Richmond Central State School, he worked in a sawmill and a boot factory before being drawn to the felt hat trade. It soon became both a passion and a passport to the wider world. After an apprenticeship at the Denton Hat Mills in Abbotsford, he went 'on tramp' around Victoria and then to England where he worked in London, Birmingham, Liverpool and at the famous Tress works at Manchester. On 2 January 1894 he married Alice Smale (d.1894) at the Congregational Chapel, Denton, Lancashire. Tudor dreamed of becoming the manager of the finest hat factory in the world; he succeeded in becoming vice-president of the London branch of the Felt Hatters' Union and assistant to the general secretary of the national organization. As district representative of the Felt Hatters' Union of Connecticut, United States of America, he witnessed the effectiveness of the 'union label'. After persuading the English union to adopt the same principle, he returned to Australia and to a job in the Denton Mills. Full of ideas for improving conditions in the trade, he quickly rose to the presidency of the Felt Hatters' Union and took a seat on the Victorian Trades Hall Council. By 1900 he was president.

'Everyone in Richmond knew Tudor', so the young president of the Trades Hall Council was the obvious choice as the Political Labor Council's candidate for the new Federal seat of Yarra. He won it in March 1901. Before long it was the safest Labor seat in the country. His high principles tempered by genuine liberalism, Tudor was very much in the mould of respectable artisan radicalism. A deeply kind man and a deacon of the Congregational Church, he deplored sectarianism and appalled extreme Protestants by supporting Home Rule for Ireland. He was a lifelong teetotaller and non-smoker, but would cheerfully attend the Liquor Trades' picnics. On 6 January 1897 he had married Fanny Jane Mead at Richmond. Despite the demands of a large family, his home was open to his constituents and their manifold vexations. A keen patron of local sport, whenever he was invited, he went. His street meetings (held by lamplight) to which people were summoned by an auctioneer's bell, remained part of Richmond's oral lore for over sixty years.

In parliament, he did well: immediately elected Labor whip and assistant party secretary, in 1904 he became secretary. In 1908 he was made minister for trade and customs and retained the portfolio (1908-09, 1910-13, 1914-16) into Hughes's first government. An efficient administrator, with an eye for detail, he made friends and earned respect on both sides of the House, and was considered to be the most moderate of the Victorian Labor members. Yet, he remained at heart a unionist, preferring to discuss conditions in the hat trade rather than parliamentary politics. R. A. Crouch assessed him as 'not a good or deep speaker, but a good friend and an indefatigable member for his constituents'. Tudor was not destined for greatness.

During World War I, as Hughes's government wrestled over the principle of conscription, Tudor prevaricated, waiting, he claimed, for cabinet's decision. His Richmond supporters, shocked by the tragedy of Pozières, had already made up their minds. By the second week of September 1916, the Richmond P.L.C. lost patience and announced a series of street meetings at which Mr Tudor would speak against conscription. Left without an alternative, Tudor resigned from cabinet. After Hughes broke away, Tudor was elected leader of the parliamentary Labor party in November 1916. Under him, the party lost the 1917 election, but had a slim victory in the conscription referendum. As leader of the Opposition he offended few and refused to be drawn into acrimony. Nonetheless, Labor was again defeated in 1919. Tudor's health began to fail in 1921 and he was increasingly incapacitated, but the party refused to allow him to resign.

Tudor died of heart disease on 10 January 1922 at his Richmond home and was buried in Melbourne cemetery after a state funeral at which Prime Minister Hughes was a pallbearer. Tudor's wife, three sons and three daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • J. McCalman, Struggletown (Melb, 1984)
  • G. Souter, Acts of Parliament (Melb, 1988)
  • Punch (Melbourne), 15 Mar 1917
  • Age (Melbourne), 11 Jan 1922
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 11 Jan 1922.

Citation details

Janet McCalman, 'Tudor, Francis Gwynne (Frank) (1866–1922)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/tudor-francis-gwynne-frank-8874/text15583, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 24 November 2014.

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

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