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Andrew Dawson (1863–1910)

by D. J. Murphy

This article was published:

Andrew Dawson (1863-1910), by Swiss Studios, c1901

Andrew Dawson (1863-1910), by Swiss Studios, c1901

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23616089

Andrew Dawson (1863-1910), miner, editor and politician, was born on 16 July 1863 at Rockhampton, Queensland, son of Anderson Dawson, mariner, and his wife Jane, née Smith. He adopted his father's name 'Anderson' before he entered politics. Shortly after his birth, Dawson's parents died and he was placed in a Brisbane orphanage until he was 9. He was then taken by an uncle to Gympie where he attended school until he was 12. He worked at Charters Towers at various occupations including newspaper-running, bullock-driving and mining, becoming head amalgamator of one of the principal gold batteries when only 19. In 1886 he went to the Kimberley in Western Australia, but failure brought him back to Charters Towers where, on 21 December 1887 according to Presbyterian forms, he married a widow, Caroline Ryan, née Quin.

This was the period of the growth of unionism in Queensland, and Dawson became president of the local Miners' Union. He was Charters Towers chairman of the 1891 strike committee, vice-president of the Queensland Provincial Council of the Australian Labour Federation and helped form the Charters Towers Republican Association. In 1892 he was a member of the Dalrymple Divisional Board. He wrote articles for the Northern Miner and, next year, became the first editor of the Charters Towers Eagle which he owned until 1900 with John Dunsford.

In 1893 Dawson and Dunsford were elected to the Legislative Assembly as Labor members for Charters Towers. They were both returned with increasing majorities in 1896 and 1899, when Dawson replaced Thomas Glassey as leader. In parliament Dawson spoke mainly on matters affecting mining and railways; he also objected to Queensland's sending a military contingent to South Africa without parliamentary approval. Outside parliament he became a particular friend of the Liberal barrister T. J. Byrnes, who suggested that he should read for the Bar. Although he began legal studies, ill health (a pulmonary condition contracted as a miner) prevented his continuing. According to C. A. Bernays Byrnes's death in September 1898 affected Dawson more than any other parliamentarian.

Dawson's friendships generally extended beyond the Labor members and he believed that an alliance with the Liberals would assist Labor into office. Glassey and William Kidston supported this idea. When the government of (Sir) James Dickson resigned on 25 November 1899, Dawson was asked to form a ministry. He expected support from those Liberals and ministerialists who had voted against Dickson, and when this did not eventuate formed a minority Labor government on 1 December 1899—the famous 'first Labor government in the world'. After the ministerialists elected Robert Philp as leader in place of Dickson, Dawson's government was defeated and resigned on 5 December. The ministry formally ended on 7 December. He had not expected his government to last long but had hoped to demonstrate Labor's desire and willingness to take office.

Continuing ill health forced Dawson to retire as parliamentary leader in August 1900. However, a staunch supporter of Federation, he stood for the Senate in 1901, heading the Queensland poll. He was chairman of the first meeting of the Federal parliamentary Labor Party which elected J. C. Watson as leader. As minister for defence in the Watson government of 1904 he displayed a marked antipathy towards Sir Edward Hutton. Dawson's support for Liberal-Labor alliances and his unwillingness to pay a £50 election levy placed on Queensland Labor senators caused him to lose favour with the extra-parliamentary leaders of the party in Queensland. In the selection of Senate candidates by the central political executive in 1906, he finished fourth and was thus not able to stand for Labor. Reservations expressed in Labor circles, however, resulted in a second meeting when he was placed third on the ticket. Dawson withdrew and then changed his mind, but he was too late. Splitting the Labor vote he ran as an independent, finished last and caused the defeat of Senator W. G. Higgs and the two other Labor candidates.

Dawson retired from politics and died of alcoholism on 20 July 1910 at Brisbane, survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters. He was buried in Toowong cemetery. His contribution to the growth of the Labor Party in Queensland had been significant. He was a reformer, not an ideologue; his later estrangement from the party reflected his unwillingness to oppose judicious alliances with the Liberals. For almost fifty years, however, his name as the 'first Labour premier in the world' was taught to Queensland school children.

Select Bibliography

  • Alcazar Press, Queensland, 1900 (Brisb, nd)
  • C. A. Bernays, Queensland Politics During Sixty Years (Brisb, 1919)
  • D. J. Murphy et al (eds), Prelude to Power (Brisb, 1970)
  • Labour History, May 1971, no 20, p 1
  • Worker (Brisbane), 2 Mar 1901, 28 July 1910
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 9 May 1901
  • Punch (Melbourne), 7 July 1940
  • Kalgoorlie Miner, 27 Aug 1904
  • Brisbane Courier, 21 Nov 1906
  • Northern Miner, 21 July 1910.

Citation details

D. J. Murphy, 'Dawson, Andrew (1863–1910)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 17 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

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