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James Butler (1874–1945)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published:

This entry is from People Australia

James Butler (1874-1945) coal lumper, gaoled trade union leader and bookmaker

Birth: 4 April 1874 in Gulgong, New South Wales, son of John Butler, English-born miner, and his wife Johanna, née Dooney, late O’Brien. Marriage: in 1900 in Sydney, New South Wales, to Jessie Elizabeth Nolan. They had three daughters and one son. Death: 1 November 1945 at Maroubra, New South Wales. Religion: Catholic. 

  • Was one of sixteen Sydney Coal Lumpers’ Union members boycotted on the Sydney wharfs from about 1905.
  • By the time of the coal lumpers’ strike of July 1907 was a delegate for the union and was active in following negotiations
  • By April 1909 was elected president of the Coal Lumpers Union
  • On 27 January 1910, under the repressive Industrial Disputes Amendment Act 1909, he, Peter Bowling, Daniel Hutton and William O’Connor were convicted in Sydney of taking part in a meeting at Bulli assembled for the purpose of aiding in the continuance of a strike. Sentenced to 8 months hard labour by acting judge F. E. Rogers, Hutton, O’Connor and Butler were granted early release after four months. He walked out of Maitland prison on 17 May 1910. Returning to Sydney he and O’Connor were carried shoulder-high in a heroes’ reception.
  • Butler had a high public profile in the following months. In June 1910 he visited Peter Bowling in Goulburn gaol. The election of Labor government in October led to a new coal lumpers agreement, although dissatisfaction among coalies continued. In 1911 he was replaced as Coal Lumpers’ Union president by John Findlay.
  • Butler was a bookmaker by 1912 and later a commission agent.
  • Died of auricular fibrillation and bronchiectasis.

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Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Butler, James (1874–1945)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 13 June 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


4 April, 1874
Gulgong, New South Wales, Australia


1 November, 1945 (aged 71)
Maroubra, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

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