Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hugh Langwell (1859–1933)

by John Atchison

This article was published:

Hugh Langwell (1859?-1933), politician and public servant, was born in Belfast, Ireland, son of Hugh Langwell, farmer, and his wife Matilda, née McCully. The family migrated to Victoria in 1861 and he was educated at Warrnambool. Moving north in 1880 Hughie worked as a station-hand, shearer, fencer and well-sinker on western stations in New South Wales and Queensland. About 1886 he settled at Bourke, New South Wales. After a win in Tattersall's sweep, he bought into a tobacco and hairdressing business, of which he soon became sole owner, later adding a licensed billiard saloon. On 28 October 1890 he married Sarah Jane Brooks at St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Bourke.

An original member of the second branch of the Amalgamated Shearers' Union of Australasia, formed at Bourke on 2 October 1886, Langwell was its representative in 1888 at the union's annual conference. In 1891 he participated in abortive negotiations with the pastoralists for a stay of proceedings on importing outside labour after local shearers had struck in response to pressure to register with the Pastoralists' Union of New South Wales. He played little further part in the A.S.U. although he was a member of the 1894 committee which drew up the Australian Workers' Union rules.

A short, stocky, jolly man, Langwell was an ardent protectionist who became president of the Bourke Labor Electoral League, which in 1891 selected him as candidate for Bourke in the Legislative Assembly. He won, but was not admitted to the Labor caucus because of the Bourke league's modifications of the official platform; but he voted with the party, and as it divided he joined the seventeen 'solids', the only protectionist to do so except McGowen. Labor candidate for Bourke in 1894, he was beaten decisively by a free trader, E. D. Millen.

Appointed to the Legislative Council on 12 June 1900, Langwell moved his family next year to Sydney. In 1902 he resigned upon appointment to the new Western Land Board by the See government. In 1912, as royal commissioner inquiring into the control of the Kentia palm seed industry on Lord Howe Island, he recommended preserving the islanders' rights while placing the industry on a secure footing. He later became a member of the Lord Howe Island Board of Control.

The only member of the Western Land Board with continuous service from its formation until 1931, Langwell became chief commissioner and chairman in 1922. The Western Lands (Amendment) Act (1930), allowing forty-year renewable leases, and its repeal in 1931 created a confusing work-load for the commissioners. In May 1931 a royal commission was appointed by the Lang government to inquire into the management, control and administration of the western division of New South Wales. The commissioner, E. A. Prior, found the board guilty of professional misbehaviour and incompetence, responsible for inaccurate and misleading advice to the minister and negligent in enforcement of the obligations of landholders. Despite their denials the three commissioners were dismissed by cabinet in December.

Langwell died, aged 73, at his home at Bondi, on 15 May 1933. After a service with Anglican rites he was cremated. His wife, four sons and three daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • W. G. Spence, Australia's Awakening (Syd, 1909)
  • Papers presented by members of the Bourke and District Historical Society … on the History of Bourke, 2, 4, 5, 6 (Bourke, NSW, 1968, 1974, 1975, 1977)
  • B. Nairn, Civilising Capitalism (Canb, 1973)
  • D. J. Murphy (ed), Labor in Politics (Brisb, 1975)
  • Report of Western Lands Board, Parliamentary Papers (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1902, 1915, 1919, 1923, 1927, 1931, 1932
  • Royal Commission into the Administration of the Western Division of New South Wales, Report, Parliamentary Papers (New South Wales), 1930-32, 1, p 151
  • Parliamentary Papers (Commonwealth), 1926-28, 4, p 1235
  • Parliamentary Debates (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1930-32, p 125
  • Bulletin, 7 Jan 1926
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 21 Aug 1926, 12 Nov, 29, 30 Dec 1931, 16 May 1933
  • private information.

Citation details

John Atchison, 'Langwell, Hugh (1859–1933)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 18 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Belfast, Antrim, Ireland


15 May, 1933 (aged ~ 74)
Bondi, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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