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Houghton, Thomas John (1862–1933)

by Chris Cunneen

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Thomas John Houghton (1862?-1933), printer, politician and journalist, was born probably at Manchester, England. He arrived in New South Wales about 1866 and was orphaned a few years later. In July 1875 he was apprenticed as a printer for six years to J. D. Gray and James McNaughton of the Clarence and Richmond Examiner, Grafton. He then entered the Government Printing Office, Sydney, serving there for nine years on the Hansard staff. He established the office's dramatic and musical society and soon joined the New South Wales Typographical Association, becoming a collector and in 1888 its delegate to the Trades and Labor Council. On 31 December 1884 at Grafton he had married Catherine Susanna Kritsch with Anglican rites.

By September 1889 Houghton (pronounced Howton) was part-time secretary of the T.L.C. at £30 a year. That month he arranged 'a monster demonstration' in the Sydney Domain on behalf of the London dock strikers, ensuring maximum publicity and successful fund-raising by arranging speakers such as Cardinal Moran and John Norton. Next month he resigned because of the 'enormous increase in duties and failing health', but was persuaded to remain 'with assistance' and in December became the T.L.C.'s first full-time general secretary.

In August 1890 Houghton served on the Labor Defence Council which controlled the maritime strike in New South Wales. He and Frank Cotton were on the sub-committee which, in February 1891, drafted a scheme of government for what became the Labor Electoral League. He was an important progenitor of the Labor Party in New South Wales.

Houghton had been appointed in November 1890 to the royal commission on strikes, which reported in May 1891. In June he won the Legislative Assembly seat of Glebe and became secretary of the Labor caucus. The party decided not to choose a leader, but he was elected to a committee of advice of five. An eager protectionist, he moved in the House for a plebiscite on the fiscal issue, and losing touch with his power-base, sided with (Sir) Joseph Cook and other Labor parliamentarians in their battle with conference over solidarity. After a unity conference of 1894 he agreed to sign the T.L.C.'s pledge, but it was too late and, at J. C. Watson's insistence, the council's executive withdrew its support from Houghton. He lost as a Protectionist Labor candidate for Glebe in 1894, as an Independent in 1895 for Sydney-Pyrmont and as a free trader in 1898 for Robertson. In 1894-97 T. J. Houghton & Co., letterpress and lithographic printers, were proprietors of the Australian Workman. He had resigned as the Typographical Association delegate to the T.L.C. in September 1893. Houghton was active in the campaign for Federation, then went to Tasmania, returning in 1904 to Sydney.

His later career is obscure: he worked as a journalist from about 1907, and after 1912 was associated with Commerce and the Australian Manufacturers' Journal. In the 1920s he was a traveller and in 1930 a publicity agent. Survived by two sons and a daughter, he died at Artarmon on 30 August 1933 and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Nairn, Civilising Capitalism (Canb, 1973)
  • Worker (Sydney), 2 Sept 1923
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 2 Sept 1933.

Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Houghton, Thomas John (1862–1933)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/houghton-thomas-john-6740/text11643, accessed 27 September 2017.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012