Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Thomas Ramsden Ashworth (1864–1935)

by P. L. Nicholls

This article was published:

Thomas Ramsden Ashworth (1864-1935), publicist, was born on 5 December 1864 at Richmond, Victoria, son of Thomas Ramsden Ashworth and his wife Mary Jane, née Leeson. His father, educated at Eton and Jesus College, Cambridge, had migrated to Australia, married in 1862 and 1869 graduated M.B. at the University of Melbourne. Dr Ashworth later practised at Bombala, New South Wales; on his death there in 1876 his wife returned to Melbourne with the five children.

At 13 Thomas ran away to sea. Four years later he was in Melbourne working as a carpenter and builder, and studying architecture. He practised as an architect for many years, was elected a fellow of the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects in 1916, and in the early 1920s was associated with H. D. Annear in designing the Church Street Bridge, Richmond. He had also set up as an estate agent in 1893, buying land at Middle Park and building a series of houses in a street named after him; he later built a block of nine flats in St Kilda Road.

Ashworth was a founder of several companies including the Union Can Co. and was for many years a director of Bussell, Robson Pty Ltd, clothiers. In 1910-17 he was chairman of the canister-makers' section of the Chamber of Manufactures. He was president in 1920-34 of the Victorian Employers' Federation and also held office in its Australian council. In 1927 he founded the Employers' Federation Insurance Co. Ltd and chaired its board of directors.

In 1897 Ashworth had failed to win the Legislative Assembly seat of Albert Park. He was president of the Victorian division of the Free Trade and Liberal Association in 1898-1902 and as its candidate stood unsuccessfully against (Sir) Isaac Isaacs for the Federal seat of Indi in 1901. Next year he stood as a ministerial candidate against Isaacs's brother in the State seat of Ovens. Campaigning on a platform of retrenchment, especially in relation to the public service, he won comfortably. In the Legislative Assembly he remained consistent to the principles which he had put forward in a book, written with his brother, entitled Proportional Representation Applied to Party Government … (Melbourne, 1900). In 1904 he was defeated for Hampden.

Ashworth's brief parliamentary career left a deep impression on him. Although he took pride in the fact that after 1920 the Employers' Federation had no formal ties with political parties, he was an active commentator on public affairs. As a publicist he demonstrated lucidity and wide reading—he owned a substantial reference library—and his abilities were recognized by his colleagues: he was a member of many delegations and committees. In 1919-22 he severely criticized W. M. Hughes, and did not spare his successor S. M. (Viscount) Bruce for lavish spending and reckless borrowing.

In 1927-29 Ashworth was a member of the royal commission on the Constitution and with two Labor politicians wrote a minority report advocating greater Commonwealth powers. Greatly impressed by the views of R. Windeyer on this subject, Ashworth campaigned for him when he stood as an independent in the Federal seat of Warringah in 1929. This action displeased some of his Employers' Federation colleagues, who considered he had become cranky and tried to force his resignation as president.

As the Depression deepened, the constitutional question became less important for Ashworth although the fundamental issue remained: 'the awards of industrial tribunals tended to obviate the necessity for honest and efficient labour'. Under his leadership the Federation mobilized public opinion against the Scullin ministry and Ashworth undoubtedly contributed to the anti-Labor atmosphere before the 1931 Federal election by his criticism of party politics, of timorous politicians and of the high wage-levels forced on industry by arbitration. The change of government did not alter the substance of his comments.

In the last years of his life Ashworth lived at Frankston where he had built a model poultry-breeding farm. In 1888 at St Silas' Church, South Melbourne, he had married Emily Ashweek, who died in 1922. Six years later he married Marguerita Adele Young at St James' Old Cathedral; both marriages were childless. Survived by his wife, he died of arteriosclerotic heart disease in hospital at Fitzroy on 23 August 1935 and was buried in the Melbourne general cemetery. He left an estate valued for probate at £27,087 and in his will requested that the University of Melbourne set up in his name a chair or lectureship or a biennial prize in sociology. His portrait by Streeton is held by the Victorian Employers' Federation.

Select Bibliography

  • Liberty and Progress, Feb, Oct 1920, Jan, Oct 1921
  • Employers' Monthly Review, Sept 1929
  • Industry and Trade, Oct, Dec 1929
  • Wangaratta Chronicle, 16, 20 Mar 1901, 16 Mar 1904
  • Ovens and Murray Advertiser, 25, 27 Sept, 4 Oct 1902
  • Camperdown Chronicle, 2 June 1904
  • Argus (Melbourne), 5, 27-29 Oct 1926, 6 Apr, 12 Aug, 17 Nov 1927, 12 Sept, 11 Oct, 21 Dec 1928, 24 Sept 1929, 24, 25 Sept 1930, 18, 22, 30 Sept 1931, 22 Apr, 17 June, 4 Oct, 24 Nov 1933, 24 Aug 1935
  • Labor Daily (Sydney), 9 Oct 1929
  • Age (Melbourne), 24 Aug 1935
  • council and executive minute-books, 1919-35 (Victorian Employers' Federation, Melbourne)
  • private information.

Citation details

P. L. Nicholls, 'Ashworth, Thomas Ramsden (1864–1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


5 December, 1864
Richmond, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


23 August, 1935 (aged 70)
Fitzroy, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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