Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Turner (1837–1916)

by Suzanne Edgar

This article was published:

William Turner (1837-1916), miner, politician and florist, was born at Wickham, Durham, England, son of William Turner, bootmaker, and his wife Ann, née White. In 1857 Turner migrated to the Victorian goldfields; later he became a temperance lecturer and Methodist preacher in Ballarat and at Scarsdale where he lived. On 15 February 1861 at Fitzroy, Melbourne, he married Margaret Elliott. In the Legislative Assembly elections of February 1871 he stood as an anti-ministerial liberal for the seat of North Grenville, defeating the Speaker Sir Francis Murphy but missing election by thirteen votes. About 1873 he moved to Wallsend near Newcastle, New South Wales, and worked as a mine foreman and as a reporter on the Miner's Advocate and Northumberland Recorder (Newcastle Morning Herald and Miner's Advocate from 1876).

Turner promoted the incorporation of Wallsend, which was achieved in 1874, supported the local literary institute and was prominent in Rev. James Greenwood's Public School League. A founding member of the New South Wales Political Reform League and secretary of Lambton branch, he was selected by Wallsend branch in July 1877 to stand for election as 'a working man to represent working men'. His platform included opposition to assisted immigration and support for electoral and land law reform, land taxation, payment of members, abolition of the property qualification and plural voting, fiscal protection and free, compulsory and secular education. Guaranteed £300 a year, made up of 1s. 6d. a quarter from each member of the league's branches, he was returned for Northumberland at the by-election on 20 July. Four hundred well-wishers cheered as he left for Sydney.

Initially diffident in parliament, Turner was received cordially and soon adapted to the situation. He joined J. S. Farnell's 'third party' of seven who held the balance of power and whose policy was similar to the league's. The group arranged for Farnell to move a vote of no confidence and (Sir) John Robertson's government fell on 12 October. In the ensuing elections Turner was again endorsed for Northumberland by the league, despite being discarded by his influential press supporters for his part in the fall of Robertson; he was narrowly defeated. He blamed plural voting, money spent on drink, and cajolery by his opponent. On 4 December he petitioned against the return of Thomas Hungerford but withdrew.

In November 1880 Turner stood again for Northumberland with a similar platform, including advocacy of arbitration. He was returned with Ninian Melville, the other workers' candidate, and became an acknowledged debater and assiduous local member. By November 1881 both were in financial difficulties and a committee was belatedly formed to raise funds for their support; it failed and Turner was forced to resign on 20 December. He denied that the miners had reneged on their financial support which had not been mooted at the 1880 election.

Turner was a school attendance and payments officer with salary of £200 from 10 March 1882 until 1887; he later took up land at Belmore where he was a horticulturist and florist until he retired in 1903. While living there he contested the seat of Hunter. Aged 81, he died of uraemia at Hurstville on 24 April 1916, survived by his wife, two daughters and three sons. He was buried in the Anglican section of the Sutherland cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1877-78, 1, 60
  • Age (Melbourne), 14 Jan, 6, 13, 15, 16 Feb 1871
  • Newcastle Morning Herald, 6, 12, 13, 16, 19, 24, 25, 27, 28, 30 July, 15, 18, 20, 22, 25, 27, 30 Oct, 7 Dec 1877, 17, 24, 27 Nov, 25 Dec 1880, 25 Oct, 3 Nov, 24 Dec 1881, 13 Jan 1882, 26 Apr 1916
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 20, 25 July 1877, 25 Apr 1916.

Citation details

Suzanne Edgar, 'Turner, William (1837–1916)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 24 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Wickham, Durham, England


24 April, 1916 (aged ~ 79)
Hurstville, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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