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Browne, William Henry (1846–1904)

by D. J. Murphy

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

William Henry Browne (1846-1904), miner and politician, was born on 13 September 1846 at Pimlico, London, son of William Henry Browne, stone-sawyer, and his wife Eliza, née Barton. He went to sea when 11, served for nine years in the merchant navy, and possibly also in the Royal Navy, and in 1866 became a goldminer at Araluen, New South Wales. He followed this occupation in the eastern colonies for the next twenty years. In Queensland he worked at Gympie, Herberton and Croydon, where he lost an eye in an accident.

Browne helped to form a miners' union at Croydon and was successively its president and secretary. In August 1890 he contested a Legislative Assembly by-election for the two-member electorate of Burke, but John Hoolan defeated him by twenty-four votes. Still secretary of the miners' union, Browne organized financial support for the shearers during the 1891 pastoral strike. In 1892 Burke was divided into two single-member electorates: at the election next year he won the new seat, Croydon. Though not a forceful orator, he spoke often in the House. In September 1894 he and six other Labor members were suspended and removed by the serjeant-at-arms when they refused to obey the chairman's call to order during debate on the peace preservation bill. After the defeat of Andrew Fisher at the 1896 election, 'Billy' Browne became secretary of the Parliamentary Labor Party but was forced to vacate the position in 1898 because of acute asthma associated with miner's phthisis. When Anderson Dawson formed a Labor ministry in 1899, Browne was included as secretary for mines and for public instruction; the brevity of the government's term allowed him no time to prepare any legislation.

'A speck among politicians because of his spare and feeble frame', Browne had a very big heart and a broad mind. He was elected leader in August 1900 on the resignation of Dawson, and was also president of the party's central political executive. In the formation in September 1903 of the (Sir) Arthur Morgan-Browne Liberal-Labor coalition, which ousted the thirteen-year-old 'continuous government', Browne was overshadowed by William Kidston; but the trust in which he was held by executive and party members was the decisive factor in bringing the Labor Party over. A moderate in his political views, who hoped to harmonize relations between capital and labour, Browne saw advantages to the party in holding office as part of the coalition, but reserved the right to withdraw if it attempted to pass legislation unfavourable to the labour movement.

He became deputy premier and secretary for mines and for public works in the new government on 17 September 1903, but died of pneumonia and angina pectoris on 12 April 1904. The state funeral procession was led from the Church of England cathedral to Toowong cemetery by naval personnel. He was unmarried and his estate, sworn for probate at £411, was administered by a sister in Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • C. A. Bernays, Queensland Politics During Sixty Years (Brisb, 1919)
  • D. J. Murphy et al (eds), Prelude to Power (Brisb, 1970)
  • D. J. Murphy (ed), Labor in Politics (Brisb, 1975)
  • Brisbane Courier, 13 Apr 1904
  • Town and Country Journal, 13 Apr 1904
  • Croydon Mining News, 16 Apr 1904.

Citation details

D. J. Murphy, 'Browne, William Henry (1846–1904)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/browne-william-henry-5395/text9137, accessed 27 September 2017.

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