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Webster, Ellen (1877–1965)

by Bede Nairn

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

Ellen Webster (1877-1965), grazier and politician, was born on 14 October 1877 at Reedy Creek, near Inverell, New South Wales, sixth child of Phillip Callachor, hawker, and his wife Mary, née Fitzgerald, both from Ireland. Phillip prospered on the land and Ellen was educated at home, Emerald Vale, Yetman. Residing in Sydney with her aunt, Margaret Ann Fletcher, she retained her country connexions and claimed to have begun medicine at the University of Sydney. Politically aware, through her family's links with the Progressive (Country) Party, she joined the Labor Party after she met William Maule Mcdowell Webster (1885-1958). They married on 26 July 1921 in the vestry of St Patrick's Catholic Church, Sydney, and went to live at Forbes.

William was born on 3 January 1885 at Forbes, son of Edward Webster, grazier, and his wife Ellen, née Crooks. A stock and station agent, in 1928 he took over the Arcot estate near Forbes. By then he was president (1927-28) of the New South Wales branch of the Australian Labor Party. Ellen matched his enthusiasm; she was a delegate to country conferences and a member of the party executive in 1927-29. Both were keen followers of the leader J. T. Lang who in 1931 appointed William a member of the Closer Settlement Advisory Board on which he served until 1939. In November 1930 Ellen had been among eighty Laborites whom Lang nominated to Governor Sir Philip Game for appointment to the Legislative Council; though legal proceedings forestalled any action, Ellen was one of the first two women appointed to the council in November 1931.

Tall, firmly built, with glasses and bountiful hair, Ellen Webster had an expressive and amiable face. She was cheerful, a great raconteur and name-dropper; her friendliness could easily turn into benevolence, and she contributed much to Church and charities. She became a conscientious and energetic parliamentarian, adhering to Lang's party during the intense internecine strife that succeeded the expulsion of Lang and his followers from the A.L.P. in March 1931. After Lang's dismissal in May 1932, and his electoral defeat next month, she remained loyal to him. Yet, despite her protests, she was placed in an unwinnable position on Lang's party ticket for election to the reconstituted Legislative Council in December 1933: 'Well, I've been dumped', she said, 'but I can still raise a smile'. She remained active in the Labor Party and did not follow Lang when he defected in 1943. Expelled in the great party split over the industrial groups in the mid-1950s, she joined the Democratic Labor Party in 1957.

The Websters had a home at Randwick, Sydney, as well as at Forbes. William was the Australian member of the British Phosphate Commission in 1946-52. When he died on 20 April 1958, Ellen took over the management of Arcot. In ill health in the 1960s, she lived at Randwick with her nephew John Callachor Fletcher. He was her main beneficiary when she died, childless, on 20 October 1965 at Darlinghurst and was buried in Randwick cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Nairn, The ‘Big Fella’ (Melb, 1986)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Apr 1928, 28 July 1933, 8 Aug 1934
  • Labor Daily, 18 May 1932
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 16 Dec 1933
  • Sun (Sydney), 17 Jan 1957
  • private information.

Citation details

Bede Nairn, 'Webster, Ellen (1877–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/webster-ellen-9032/text15907, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 3 September 2014.

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

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