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Turley, Joseph Henry Lewis (1859–1929)

by Brian F. Stevenson

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

Joseph Henry Lewis Turley (1859-1929), by T. Humphrey & Co., 1908

Joseph Henry Lewis Turley (1859-1929), by T. Humphrey & Co., 1908

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23366556

Joseph Henry Lewis Turley (1859-1929), politician, was born on 24 April 1859 at Burton St Michael, Gloucester, England, son of Charles Turley, master shoemaker, and his wife Agnes, née Oliver. Educated at Brixham, Devonshire, Harry went to sea as a youth. After arriving in Brisbane in 1879, he became a wharf labourer and union activist. On 15 May 1886 in Brisbane he married Mary Smith with Presbyterian forms.

Secretary and later president of the Wharf Labourer's Union, Turley was a member of an intercolonial defence committee organized by W. G. Spence that took over the conduct of the 1890 maritime strike. During the 1891 shearers' strike Turley was a union delegate to negotiating conferences in Sydney. In May 1893 he won the Queensland Legislative Assembly seat of Brisbane South for Labor. Next year he assisted E. H. Lane to reform the Socialist League in Brisbane. In September he was one of the Labor parliamentarians who were sensationally suspended during the acrimonious debate on the peace preservation ('coercion') bill which was designed to counter the pastoral workers' strike.

Turley lost Brisbane South in March 1899. Recognized as one of Labor's 'strongest and most hard-headed men', he regained the seat at a by-election in July and served as home secretary from 1 to 7 December in the short-lived Dawson Labor ministry. Defeated for Carnarvon in March 1902, and unsuccessful in contesting Maryborough later that year, he 'got out his old dungarees, searched out his dog-hook, and marched stolidly down to the wharves to look for work'. Committed to 'the abolition of coloured aliens', he had unsuccessfully contested the Federal seat of Oxley in 1901, but was returned to the Federal parliament as a senator in 1903.

President of the Senate in 1910-13, he caused a minor but symbolic furore in 1910 when he rejected the accoutrements of his office for ordinary dress in what was seen as 'a disdainful gesture against the trappings and traditions of the Old World'. Turley was a humble man who had once fought and chastised his supporters for trying to carry him in triumph after an election victory. His inner strength was mirrored in his physique: 'massy shoulders, bossed with muscle', a great neck, powerful hands and a 'strong, heavily jawed face, with still, quiet, steady eyes'. A Congregationalist, a Freemason and a man of few words, he confined himself in debate mainly to industrial affairs of which he had personal knowledge.

Turley remained with the Labor Party through the 1916 split over conscription, a stand that cost him his Senate seat in 1917. He failed to regain it in 1919 and 1925. In 1919 he had been appointed shipping master in the Queensland Harbours and Rivers department; when the post was abolished in 1921 he became a storeman in the Commonwealth Mercantile Marine office. He died suddenly in a Brisbane street on 5 June 1929 and was buried in South Brisbane cemetery. His wife, a son and three daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • E. H. Lane, Dawn to Dusk (Brisb, 1939)
  • D. J. Murphy et al (eds), Prelude to Power (Brisb, 1970)
  • Punch (Melbourne), 4 Aug 1910
  • Daily Standard (Brisbane), 6 June 1929
  • Worker (Brisbane), 15 Jan 1910, 12 June 1929.

Citation details

Brian F. Stevenson, 'Turley, Joseph Henry Lewis (1859–1929)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/turley-joseph-henry-lewis-8879/text15593, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 21 September 2014.

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

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