Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Yewen, Alfred Gregory (1867–1923)

by Edmund Campion

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

Alfred Gregory Yewen (1867-1923), journalist, was born on 16 May 1867 at Croydon, Surrey, England, fourth son of Charles Yewen, a canteen-keeper and former army bandmaster, and his wife Sarah Margaret, née Roberts. Gregory worked as a stonemason and gained his real education from the nascent socialist movement. In 1884 he helped William Morris to form the Socialist League, London. Morris presented him with the 1887 English translation of Karl Marx's Capital which he read thoroughly and kept all his life.

His lungs affected by his work, in 1888 Yewen migrated to Queensland, bringing an introduction from Morris to William Lane. Moving to Sydney, he became active in the Australian Socialist League with W. H. T. McNamara. Yewen's A Refutation of the Single Tax Theory (1890) was a historical critique of Henry George whom he derided for apparent ignorance of Marx. Returning north in 1891, Yewen worked on Gresley Lukin's Boomerang and joined Lane's Worker. When he left in September 1893, the Worker eulogized him as 'sternly uncompromising' and 'a most caustic and severe critic'.

Back in Sydney, Yewen threw in his lot with W. M. Hughes. Between April and September 1894 they collaborated on the New Order, which Yewen edited. 'He ruled with a rod of iron', Hughes recalled. 'He was never known to smile. He never went out. He had no recreations and only one shirt'. Yewen's paper was a weekly, eight-page political scattergun and featured a collection of paragraphs alongside topical verse by W. A. Holman. Anti-Semitic, racist and republican, it pilloried Lane as the dictator of 'New Australia'.

Labor failed to win the 1894 election, although Hughes gained a seat. Soon, however, Yewen detected the new member backsliding on socialism and was so sickened that he abandoned politics. Thereafter, when they met in the street, Yewen would shout, 'Hughes, you rat!' Hughes retaliated by writing of him: 'I lived to see him sleek and opulent, arrayed in the favourite livery of capitalism—bell-topper and frock-coat and stiff collar'.

Sometime sub-editor on the Stock and Station Journal, in 1899 Yewen took a reporter's job on the Sydney Morning Herald where for fourteen years he covered the fat stock sales at Homebush. He wrote a weekly article on wool for the Herald and was the major contributor to Dalgety's Review. In 1900 he published Yewen's Directory of the Landholders of New South Wales. With Francis Gellatly, in 1901 he founded the periodical, A.A.A., All About Australians.

At North Sydney on 8 November 1900 Yewen married with Presbyterian forms Margaret Alice Scott, a former secretary of Sir Henry Parkes; Holman was a witness. On a wide headland at Newport, north of Sydney, Yewen built with his own hands a stone house, Bungania. Unceiled roofs, open fires and split levels, complemented by coastal views, cows and an orchard, gave it an odd charm. Spending weekends there, Lane's brother Ernest noticed that Yewen never spoke about socialism. Survived by his wife and two sons, Yewen died at his home on 11 June 1923 of tuberculosis and was buried in the Anglican section of Manly cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • E. H. Lane, Dawn to Dusk (Brisb, 1939)
  • W. M. Hughes, Crusts and Crusades (Syd, 1947)
  • B. James, Anarchism and State Violence in Sydney and Melbourne, 1886-1896, (Newcastle, 1986)
  • Australian Standard, 7 Sept 1889
  • Australian Journalists' Association, Copy, 1 Dec 1913
  • Worker (Brisbane), 2 Sept 1893
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 13 June 1923
  • Yewen papers (Narrabeen Community Learning Centre).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Edmund Campion, 'Yewen, Alfred Gregory (1867–1923)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/yewen-alfred-gregory-9211/text16273, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 25 November 2017.

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

View the front pages for Volume 12

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