Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Daniel Cameron Dalgleish (1827–1870)

by Audrey Ferguson

This article was published:

Daniel Cameron Dalgleish (1827-1870), engineer and politician, was born at Alloa, Scotland, son of Adam Dalgleish, an excise supervisor. On leaving school he was apprenticed to an engineering firm in Edinburgh and later worked in London. He became a member of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers which was formed in January 1851. Next January Manchester and London employers combined to lock out their engineers when the A.S.E.'s threat to ban systematic overtime was carried out. The dispute ended in defeat for the union, and the employers refused to reinstate any engineers who did not sign a document renouncing membership or support of any trade union. Dalgleish was among the small number who refused to sign and who decided to migrate. A group of Christian Socialists, who had assisted the men by subscriptions and letters in the lockout, supported the migration project, and one of them, Augustus Vansittart, advanced about £1000 to pay the passages of twenty-seven engineers and their families in the Frances Walker, sailing for Sydney. The loan was later repaid in full.

The first overseas branch of the A.S.E. (now the Amalgamated Engineering Union) in Australia was formed at sea by these men on 8 October 1852 and Dalgleish was on the first committee. In Sydney he found work in his trade and later set up his own engineering shop. In November 1860 Dalgleish advertised in the Empire that he would contest West Sydney in the Legislative Assembly election as a representative of Labor. On the hustings he claimed to favour free selection, an elective Upper House, universal and purely secular education, no state aid to religion, courts of conciliation in industrial matters and payment of members of parliament. He denied that he was either a protectionist or a free trader.

Dalgleish won West Sydney in December and held the seat until parliament dissolved in 1864. He was conscientious in attendance, served on select committees and was prolific with petitions; he took a special interest in bills dealing with relations between employers and employees, and technical engineering problems. As a speaker he was long winded and dwelt on detail; to David Buchanan he was 'a most imperturbable and unalloyed nuisance in the House. A man who will speak upwards of thirty times in one night'. Some time after his election Dalgleish was presented with a purse of 165 sovereigns. 'Called as you were from the ranks of labor to represent your own class in the people's House of Parliament', the accompanying testimonial stated, 'and being chosen in this Electorate for making the experiment of the representative of Labour from its own ranks . . . We have felt it our bounden duty to assist you to our utmost to carry out this experiment to a successful issue'.

In the 1864-65 elections Dalgleish described himself as an independent free trader but he was criticized for his support of various tariff measures. He successively lost West Sydney, Goldfields South and the Glebe, where his campaign led to his charging Thomas Holt with electoral impersonation and to a Supreme Court action in which he was discredited; Holt declined to collect the £500 damages and costs he won. In February 1866 Dalgleish was appointed engineer-surveyor to the Steam Navigation Board, and inspector in October. On 18 February 1870 he died in Sydney Infirmary from head injuries received a week earlier when he was thrown from a horse. He left a widow, Emma, and several children. He was buried with Masonic honours. Members of the iron trades joined the funeral procession and his friend Rev. John Dunmore Lang delivered the funeral oration.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. Raven, Christian Socialism, 1848-1854 (London, 1920)
  • Amalgamated Engineering Union, Souvenir, 25th Anniversary (Syd, 1946)
  • J. B. Jefferys, The Story of the Engineers, 1800-1945 (Lond, 1946)
  • Town and Country Journal, 26 Feb 1870, manuscript catalogue under D. C. Dalgleish (State Library of New South Wales)
  • CO 201/542.

Citation details

Audrey Ferguson, 'Dalgleish, Daniel Cameron (1827–1870)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 18 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Alloa, Clackmannanshire, Scotland


18 February, 1870 (aged ~ 43)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.