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William Charles Angwin (1863–1944)

by J. R. Robertson

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

William Charles Angwin (1863-1944), carpenter and politician, was born on 8 May 1863 at St Just in Penwith, Cornwall, England, son of Benjamin Angwin, tinminer, and his wife Mary, née Taylor, who died when William was a baby. His father remarried. Educated at a Methodist school and apprenticed to a carpenter, he left Cornwall in 1882 to work as a builder in Cumberland where he joined social reform movements and worked for the temperance cause. In 1884 he married Sarah Ann, daughter of Jacob Sumpton of Hensingham, Cumberland.

Angwin migrated to Victoria in 1886 and in 1892 moved to Western Australia where he worked for Sandover & Co. in Fremantle until 1904. Active in temperance, unionism and local government he helped form the East Fremantle Municipal Council in 1897, was a member until 1927 and mayor in 1902-04. He also worked on the Fremantle Municipal Tramway and Electric Lighting Board in 1910-26 and management board of the Fremantle Public Hospital.

Defeated in 1901 for the Legislative Assembly seat of East Fremantle, he won it in June 1904. In August, when H. Daglish became the first Labor premier, he selected Angwin for the seventh and last place in his cabinet, as honorary minister. The ministry fell in August 1905 and was crushed at the October elections. Angwin was narrowly beaten by J. J. Holmes, his opponent of 1901 and 1904, but successfully petitioned and won easily on 13 November 1906 when Holmes withdrew. He held the seat, later called North-East Fremantle, till 1927, concentrating particularly on developmental politics, liquor laws, and health and other social issues.

After Labor's landslide win in October 1911 Angwin, as honorary minister in John Scaddan's cabinet, managed immigration and launched many non-controversial projects. In 1914 his diligence earned him the only vacant portfolio, that of works and industries. He was worried by teething problems of the recently established State enterprises. His most difficult task was to justify the letting of a dubious contract, without tenders, to S. V. Nevanas & Co. Ltd for a State meatworks at Wyndham. When Nevanas abandoned the contract Angwin was prominent in defending the erring ministers, Scaddan and W. D. Johnson. The government almost fell on the issue in November 1915, but survived until the following July.

Angwin joined some colleagues in vigorous advocacy of conscription during the 1916 referendum campaign. When the pressure of events in the eastern States forced the State Labor Party to split in April 1917, he remained with the official rump but continually sought reconciliation. By April 1918 he was third in the party's parliamentary hierarchy and had added wheat legislation to his former interests. After the 1924 election he became deputy premier to P. Collier. As minister for lands, immigration and industries his main concern was with land settlement, particularly the group settlements in the south-west established by Sir James Mitchell's government to develop dairying. He tried to cut expenses, re-negotiated the agreement with the British and Australian governments and set up a royal commission which reported in 1925; but he was as anxious as Mitchell to reduce the State's dependence on imported dairy products and made no big change in the scheme.

Angwin resigned in April 1927 to become agent-general in London for six years. In 1933 he was appointed C.M.G. In 1935 and 1938 he chaired two royal commissions on wheat and in 1936 presided over the Rural Relief Trust. He died at his Fremantle home on 9 June 1944 leaving an estate valued for probate at nearly £16,000. He was survived by a son and a daughter; Benjamin Angwin, M.C., another son, had died in 1919 aged 33.

A moderate, pragmatic man, keen to develop his State's resources and institutions, Angwin opposed entry into the Federation, was critical of the way it harmed his State, and was lukewarm about the Fisher government's attempts to increase Federal powers. In November 1918 he praised the soldiers, men of 'the old bulldog breed', who upheld the honour of Australia and of the British flag. Thomas Bath believed that 'he had ordinary abilities but got places because of his tremendous diligence and application'.

Select Bibliography

  • J. S. Battye (ed), Cyclopedia of Western Australia, vol 1 (Adel, 1912)
  • Morning Herald (Perth), 29 June 1904
  • West Australian, 29 June, 10, 11 Aug 1904, 13, 14 Nov 1906, 21, 23 Nov 1914, 10 June 1944
  • J. R. Robertson, The Scaddan Government and the Conscription Crisis 1911-1917 (M.A. thesis, University of Western Australia, 1958).

Citation details

J. R. Robertson, 'Angwin, William Charles (1863–1944)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 20 July 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


8 May, 1863
St Just in Penwith, Cornwall, England


9 June, 1944 (aged 81)
Fremantle, Western Australia, Australia

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