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Sylvia May Ewart (1893–1976)

This article was published:

This entry is from People Australia

Sylvia May Ewart (1893-1976) barmaid, and deported radical activist 

Birth: 31 August 1893 in Manchester, England, daughter of Scottish-born parents Benjamin Thompson Ewart (1868-1959), journeyman joiner, later builder, and Annie Grey, née Campbell (1868-1921). Marriage: 4 October 1917 in Long Bay gaol, Sydney, New South Wales, to John Richard ‘Jock’ Wilson, radical activist and political prisoner. They had two daughters. Death: 5 March 1976 at Coniston Nursing Home, Wollongong, NSW. 

  • The family lived in Wealdstone, Middlesex, in 1901 before moving to Australia.
  • During World War I Ewart worked as barmaid at the 'First and Last' pub at Circular Quay, Sydney, then at the ‘Arcadia’. Under tutelage of Lena Lynch became active in Sydney International Workers of the World (IWW) local. Dismissed by Arcadia publican after intervention by detective Howe.
  • One of the IWW's strongest female supporters and a member of its women's committee. Following a raid on her North Sydney residence by Howe she was convicted under the Unlawful Associations Act and sentenced to three months hard labour. Sentence was suspended and she was placed on good behaviour bond by magistrate who complained about the practice of imprisoning young women.
  • Married prisoner Jock Wilson in October 1917 in presence of fellow prisoner Lena Lynch. After presenting bride with £1 and a copy of C.J. Dennis’s The Sentimental Bloke, the prison governor showed Lynch around the prison so the newly-weds could be alone. The couple did not see each other again until both were deported to Britain in 1918.
  • With Jock, she joined the Communist Party of Great Britain. She was a member of the first British women’s delegation to the USSR in 1928. Disagreed with Third Period vilification of Labour Party activists as ‘social fascists'.
  • Subsequently returned to Australia with her husband. They lived in Western Australia, where her father resided, before retiring to NSW South Coast.
  • With Jock, she was active in the anti-Vietnam War movement. Both remained ardent socialists, but remained critical of Stalinism and did not join the Communist Party of Australia.
  • Prominent member of the Nebo Mine women’s auxiliary.
  • Cause of death: Hypostatic pneumonia, chronic airway disease, and senile degeneration.

Joy Damousi, Socialist Women in Australia, c.1890-c.1918, PhD thesis, ANU, 1987; Verity Burgmann, Revolutionary Industrial Unionism (Cambridge University Press, 1995).

Additional Resources

  • interview, Tribune (Sydney), 22 July 1970, p 7

Citation details

'Ewart, Sylvia May (1893–1976)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 20 June 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Wilson, Sylvia May

31 August, 1893
Manchester, Greater Manchester, England


5 March, 1976 (aged 82)
Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death


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.

Key Organisations
Political Activism