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David Bennet (1830–1915)

by N. W. Saffin

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David Bennet (1830-1915), engineer and unionist, was born at Dundee, Scotland, where he was apprenticed to Kimmond, Hutton & Steel, mechanical engineers. He reached Melbourne early in 1856 and obtained employment at Langlands' foundry. By 1865 he was secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers and in 1898 he was still its delegate on the Trades Hall Council.

In 1866-71 and 1874-79 Bennet was president of the Eight Hours Committee and in 1880 its secretary. The Trades Hall was another of his enthusiasms: in May 1869 he was chairman pro tem of its committee until R. Beer succeeded him; on 16 July he became secretary of its permanent fund committee for three months; and in September was appointed one of the two trustees representing its council on the committee for the Friendly Societies’ Gardens on the north bank of the Yarra River at Richmond. Bennet strongly favoured increasing the political influence of the Trades Hall Council and, with William Murphy and Bromley, opposed the non-political attitude of Benjamin Douglass and his supporters. In 1872 Bennet resigned as a trustee, probably because of these differences in interpretation. After the consolidation of the crown title to the Trades Hall site finally granted by Francis Longmore on 7 October 1875, Bennet sought the appointment of several additional trustees to represent the trades. He was secretary to the council in August and September 1877 till succeeded by Murphy. On 24 September 1886 Bennet defeated Murphy for the position by 47 to 28 votes, the result being determined by three factors: members' disquiet over Trades Hall balance sheets, based more on methods of accounting than on any attribution of guilt or neglect to the secretary; rumours of Murphy's support by liquor interests and the Catholic Church; and condemnation by Trades Hall purists, Douglass, R. Miller, Launder, James Stephens and McBirna, for whom political activity was alien to the council's ethics. On 27 August 1887 Bennet forwarded the council's new rules to the attorney-general, and next year he was appointed paid secretary. However, the council meeting on 5 April 1893 condemned him and Murphy for applying for the secretaryship of the Employers' Union, declared their 'detestation of the action' and resolved never to trust the two men again. Nevertheless Bennet became vice-president of the Trades Hall Council in 1895.

His other activities within unionism included his attendance at the Intercolonial Trades Union Congress in 1884, when he spoke on the Masters and Servants Act and read a paper on immigration. Congress appointed him to their parliamentary committee in Victoria, and in August 1884 he opposed the courts of conciliation bill then before the Victorian parliament. In February 1885 and January 1886 he served on boards of conciliation dealing with the bootmakers' disputes, and in February 1885 helped the brassfounders to organize their union. He favoured colonial participation in the Sudan war, and advocated imperial federation. On 20 March 1891 he gave evidence to the royal commission on charitable institutions. In that year he became honorary secretary of the provisional committee of the Progressive Political League. He represented Victoria on the new Political Labor Council as an interstate congress delegate on 21 April 1905. Bennet was twice married and had six children. He died at Collingwood on 31 May 1915, aged 85. Representatives of the Trades Hall Council, Eight Hours Committee and Australian Society of Engineers were the pall-bearers.

In his prime Bennet was strongly anti-Chinese and critical of migration programmes; he supported the Working Men's College and shared a traditional working-class suspicion of the motives of religion. He was strongly protectionist. His literary interests were indicated by his gift to the Trades Hall Council of forty-two volumes of All the Year Round, several volumes of Temple Bar, and British Trades Union Congress pamphlets.

Select Bibliography

  • Age (Melbourne), 7 Feb, 6 June, 11 Sept 1885, 10 Aug 1894
  • Argus (Melbourne), 4 June 1915
  • Labor Call, 10 June 1915
  • Council minutes, 5 Apr 1893, 6 July 1894, 29 Oct 1897, 16 July 1898 (Trades Hall, Victoria).

Citation details

N. W. Saffin, 'Bennet, David (1830–1915)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 20 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Dundee, Forfarshire, Scotland


31 May, 1915 (aged ~ 85)
Collingwood, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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