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John Marcus Baddeley (1881–1953)

by Frank Farrell

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

John Marcus Baddeley (1881-1953), by Sam Hood, 1935

John Marcus Baddeley (1881-1953), by Sam Hood, 1935

State Library of New South Wales, Home and Away - 12053

John Marcus Baddeley (1881-1953), trade unionist and Labor politician, was born on 20 November 1881 at Burslem, Staffordshire, England, son of George Billinge Baddeley, innkeeper, and his wife Mary Elizabeth, née Bailey. He was brought to Australia as a small child by his parents who settled at Newcastle, where his father found work as a coalminer. He left Merewether Public School at 11 to work at odd jobs round the Glebe colliery near Merewether and at 16 followed his father to the coal-face. On 22 February 1902 he married Harriet, daughter of John Churchill, a local miner.

In 1908 Baddeley moved to Cessnock, working at the Neath then at the Aberdare Extended collieries. He was soon well known as a cricketer and first-grade footballer and local trade union and civic leader. He became secretary of the Aberdare Extended miners' lodge and then northern district president of the Colliery Employees' Federation in 1914-22. In 1914 he also served on the Cessnock Shire Council, and was first vice-chairman of the Cessnock District Hospital Board and a member of the board of Cessnock Co-operative Store. In 1915 he became first president of the Australasian Coal and Shale Employees' Federation (the Miners' Federation) which had finally succeeded in linking Australian coalminers into a single union. In 1920 he was appointed by the Commonwealth government to the Coal Industry Special Tribunal.

As a militant socialist trade union leader, Baddeley worked closely with A. C. Willis and other left-wing unionists to strengthen and revitalize the labour movement by amalgamation and closer organization. Difficult conditions in the coal-mining industry ensured that the Miners' Federation remained at the centre of radical trade unionism throughout World War I and into the 1920s. At the All-Australian Trade Union Congress in Melbourne in 1921, Baddeley successfully moved the report on industrial organization which sought to create 'one big union' of the working class. Though this rigid and doctrinaire scheme proved impractical, the 'one big union' movement did help to prepare the ground for the founding of the Australasian Council of Trade Unions in 1927. In 1919 Baddeley had supported moves to form the breakaway Industrial Socialist Labor Party but, along with many other supporters of this party, he rejoined the Australian Labor Party when it adopted the socialist objective put forward by trade unionists in 1921.

Baddeley was elected to the Legislative Assembly in 1922 as a member for Newcastle and in 1925-49 represented Cessnock. He served as secretary for mines and minister for labour and industry in J. T. Lang's Labor government in 1925-27. With Willis, he drafted a series of Acts implementing diverse union policies, including measures designed specifically to benefit coalminers. In 1926-27 he toured Britain, Europe and the United States of America to study mining methods. He regained his former portfolios in the Lang ministry of 1930-32, and in 1931 introduced a bill to nationalize the coal industry; it lapsed with the dismissal of Lang in 1932 and large-scale reorganization of the coal industry was delayed until the 1940s. As deputy leader of the party he supported Lang in the faction struggles which racked the New South Wales Labor Party in the 1930s. Nevertheless he finally abandoned 'the Big Fella' under pressure from unionists, and supported moves which led to Lang's replacement as leader by (Sir) William McKell in 1939.

With the return of a Labor government under McKell in 1941 Baddeley became deputy premier, colonial secretary and secretary for mines; in 1944-47 he was also minister for national emergency services. He continued in the same portfolios in James McGirr's ministry in 1947-49 and in 1948-49 was also minister for labour and industry and social welfare. He was second only to McKell in adapting State government policies to the national war effort and guiding New South Wales through the social and economic dislocation accompanying the return to peace. Baddeley was acting premier from August to December 1948 when he suffered a heart attack in Parliament House. He resigned on 8 September 1949 to become director of State coal-mines and chairman of the State Mines Control Authority until 1953. A keen gardener and student of natural history, he was the moving force behind the Fauna Protection Act of 1948. He died of cerebro-vascular disease at St Luke's Hospital, Darlinghurst, on 1 July 1953 and was cremated with Anglican rites. He was survived by his wife, two sons and three daughters; his estate was valued for probate at £4869.

Throughout his career Baddeley excelled mainly as an administrator, combining formidable organizing ability with sincere concern for the welfare of the working class. As a socialist propagandist he lacked the theoretical competence of Willis; as a politician he was overshadowed by leaders of the stature of Lang, McKell and McGirr. Despite his socialist principles he won repute as a conservative on many social and moral questions, especially while colonial secretary in the 1940s. He was also strongly criticized for obstructing the introduction of mechanized and labour-saving techniques in the mining industry. Yet he had few peers as an arbitrator in major industrial disputes, as a co-ordinator of labour and management throughout the difficult years of World War II, and as a faithful representative of the miners who elected him to parliament.

Select Bibliography

  • J. T. Lang, I Remember (Syd, 1956)
  • R. Gollan, The Coalminers of New South Wales (Melb, 1963)
  • I. Turner, Industrial Labour and Politics (Canb, 1965)
  • E. Ross, A History of the Miners' Federation of Australia (Syd, 1970)
  • H. Radi and P. Spearritt (eds), Jack Lang (Syd, 1977)
  • Newcastle Morning Herald, 18 Feb, 6, 8, Apr 1922, 7 Sept 1949, 2 July 1953, Sydney Morning Herald, 16 May 1945, 11 Sept 1949, 2 July 1953
  • Sun (Sydney), 3 July 1953
  • I. E. Young, The Impact of J. T. Lang on the New South Wales Labor Party, 1929-1943 (M.A. thesis, University of New South Wales, 1963).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Frank Farrell, 'Baddeley, John Marcus (1881–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 14 June 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

John Marcus Baddeley (1881-1953), by Sam Hood, 1935

John Marcus Baddeley (1881-1953), by Sam Hood, 1935

State Library of New South Wales, Home and Away - 12053

Life Summary [details]


20 November, 1881
Burslem, Staffordshire, England


1 July, 1953 (aged 71)
Darlinghurst, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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