Labour Australia

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Browse Lists:

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

William Charles Gillespie (1833–1917)

by Peter Sheldon

This article was published:

This entry is from People Australia

William Charles Gillespie (1833-1917) labourer and trade union official

Birth: 15 July 1833 at Montrose, Angus, Scotland, sixth of nine children of Evans Gillespie (1796-1879), a linen hand loom weaver, born in Ireland, and Margaret, née Clark (1801-1845). Marriage: 16 December 1853 at Scots Church, Sydney, New South Wales, to Honora Canty (1832-1898). They had one daughter and four sons, who all predeceased him. Death: 16 August 1917 in Little Sisters of the Poor home, at Randwick; previous residence Erskineville. Religion: Presbyterian, converted to Catholicism in old age. Buried at Waverley Cemetery. 

  • In 1851 arrived in Sydney via Mauritius, having worked as seaman on Fanny Fisher. Took job on coastal boat running to Richmond River to load cedar.
  • Became builders’ labourer and early trade union organiser in Sydney. Founding member of United Laborers’ Protective Society (at times United Hodcarriers’ Society) in 1861.
  • Member of Eight Hour Committee for more than thirty years. Delegate to Eight-Hour Extension and Short Hours League at first meeting 1869. Organised first dinner of committee and a procession in the city followed by an excursion to Balmoral, in 1869.
  • First union delegate to NSW Trades and Labor Council. Was a land trustee of the Sydney Trades Hall and a member of the Trades Hall Association.
  • Important figure in United Laborers’ history as quasi-craft labourers’ union closely linked to building artisans’ unions.
  • Opposed to formation of Labor Party and aloof from that body during 1890s.
  • Cause of death: cardiac degeneration and rheumatism.

John Rickard, Class and Politics (Canberra 1976); United Laborers’ Protective Society minutes, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW; Australian Star, 7 October 1889; Co-operator Eight Hour Journal, 7 October 1912.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Peter Sheldon, 'Gillespie, William Charles (1833–1917)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 18 June 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


15 July, 1833
Montrose, Forfarshire, Scotland


16 August, 1917 (aged 84)
Randwick, 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.

Key Organisations