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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Estell, John (1861–1928)

by Ellen McEwen

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

John Estell (1861-1928), by unknown photographer

John Estell (1861-1928), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 16227

John Estell (1861-1928), coalminer and politician, was born on 20 June 1861 at Minmi, near Newcastle, New South Wales, third surviving son of English parents Robert Estell, coalminer and later railway sub-contractor and publican, and his wife Rebecca, née Thompson. Frequent moves by his family meant Estell was educated at Rydal, Wallerawang and Bathurst public schools. At 17 he began work as an engine-cleaner for the railways, but by 1882 he had returned to Minmi, where he was an engine-driver at the colliery. He was working as a miner when he married Alleshia (Alicia) Jane Kirk at the Minmi Primitive Methodist Church on 10 September 1885.

On marrying Estell moved to near-by Plattsburg. Working at the Wallsend colliery, he earned enough to build his own home, joined the co-operative society and became a Freemason. These were hallmarks of respectability. He was an alderman on the Plattsburg Municipal Council in 1887-1900 and mayor in 1891, 1897 and 1899, president of Wallsend and Plattsburg Fire Brigade, patron and president of Plattsburg Mechanics' Institute and a member of the committee of management of the Wallsend Mining District Hospital. A 'lover of good sport of all kinds', he played cricket for several clubs and was a member of the Wallsend Jockey Club. He sported a luxuriant moustache.

President of the Wallsend and Plattsburg Labor and Protection League in 1891, in 1894 Estell joined the Labor Electoral League, which required that the fiscal question of protection versus free trade should be sunk; but he lost the parliamentary pre-selection ballot to David Watkins. He was secretary of the Wallsend miners' lodge from 1894 and president of the Colliery Employees' Federation in 1897-99. In 1899 he was nominated to the Legislative Council on the advice of (Sir) George Reid's ministry, and continued to work in the mines for eight months until he secured a post as assistant superintendent with Citizens' Life Assurance Co.

In June 1901 Estell resigned from the council and in July was elected to the Legislative Assembly for Wallsend; he represented Waratah in 1904-13, Wallsend again in 1913-20 and Newcastle in 1920-22. Although he was an infrequent speaker in parliament, when he did speak he was blunt and direct. What was important for his constituents and his party was his capacity for hard work on their behalf: he was party whip in 1904-14, minister for labour and industry from 1914 and also secretary for mines from March 1915 in William Holman's government. Estell, an anti-conscriptionist, resigned his portfolios on 31 October 1916. In 1920-22 he was secretary for public works and minister for railways in the Storey and Dooley ministries. On 13 February 1922 he resigned his seat and next day was re-nominated to the Legislative Council.

Estell died at his home at Hamilton on 18 October 1928 and was buried in the Methodist section of Wallsend cemetery. He was survived by his wife, three daughters and four of his five sons. Two of his sons served with the Australian Imperial Force.

Select Bibliography

  • J. P. Osborne, Nine Crowded Years (Syd, 1921)
  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 1928, p 1124
  • Town and Country Journal, 28 Apr 1908
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19 Oct 1928.

Citation details

Ellen McEwen, 'Estell, John (1861–1928)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 31 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

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