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William Calman Grahame (1863–1945)

by L. E. Fredman

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

William Calman Grahame (1863-1945), politician, was born on 3 February 1863 at West Maitland, New South Wales, eldest surviving son of Scottish parents, William Graham(e), farmer, and his wife Isabella, née Calman. His father, a Protectionist, represented Newcastle in the Legislative Assembly in 1889-94. Grahame had little formal education while working on his father's farm, and was later apprenticed in the family jewellery business at Newcastle; he was a good athlete, with an impressive physique. Describing himself as a bookmaker living at Maitland, he married Leona Angelina Blanch at Wallsend on 27 February 1884; she died childless on 21 April next year. Grahame had returned to Newcastle and was a watchmaker when he married with Wesleyan Methodist rites Emily Smith on 27 October 1886.

Encouraged by his father to enter public life, Grahame was a member of Wickham Municipal Council in 1900-07. In the 1907 Legislative Assembly elections he ran for Labor, emphasizing that he was a total abstainer and with impeccable turf connexions (he was also a past president of Tattersall's Club); he defeated the formidable J. L. Fegan for Wickham. In 1912, as a member of the select committee on the Newcastle iron and steel works bill, he favoured the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd's proposal despite strong party opposition.

After assisting the secretary for lands from March 1915, Grahame became minister for agriculture in June under W. A. Holman and was beset by administrative problems with the war-time wheat pool. He opposed conscription in 1916-17 but was loyal to Holman and expelled from the Labor Party. As minister he was at the centre of three scandals which were to undermine the government. The John Brown coal contract that Grahame negotiated with the Victorian government was the subject of a censure motion in January 1918 when it was alleged that he had secured special favours for Brown, who was his racing associate, very unpopular in Labor ranks. Soon after cabinet split over the omission of safeguard clauses in a wheat-silo contract with H. Teasdale Smith. Meanwhile the minister and his department were trying to cope with a big surplus from the deteriorating wheat crop, and he jumped at the chance to sell a large amount to a speculator George Georgeson without tender or approval from State or Federal wheat boards.

The resignation of G. Beeby from cabinet in July 1919 led to the appointment as royal commissioner of Mr Justice R. D. Pring who, in his second report, attacked the incompetence of the State Wheat Office. Georgeson failed to give evidence because of illness, and late in 1920 Pring returned his commission leaving in suspense imputations against Grahame's honesty. Meanwhile Grahame, pressed to resign in January, had met constant noise and innuendo when he stood as an Independent for Newcastle in March; he was defeated. He also lost at Hawkesbury in 1927.

Grahame was deeply hurt by the circumstances that ended his parliamentary career. After the death of his wife in 1921, he moved to the Brisbane Water district where his sons were orchardists. On 23 October 1925 at Hazelbrook, with Catholic rites, he married a 30-year-old widow Myra Lascelles White, née Campbell. He established a garage, and timber businesses, and was a member of Erina Shire Council in 1933-36. He was mayor of Gosford in 1936-40; Grahame Park alongside Brisbane Water was named after him. He died at Gosford on 15 September 1945 and was buried in the Methodist section of Point Clare cemetery. He was survived by four daughters and one of his three sons of his second marriage, and by his third wife and their two sons.

Select Bibliography

  • H. V. Evatt, Australian Labour Leader: The Story of W.A. Holman and the Labour Movement (Syd, 1940)
  • J. T. Lang, I Remember (Syd, 1956)
  • C. Swancott, The Brisbane Water Story (Gosford, NSW, 1953)
  • Parliamentary Papers (New South Wales), 1919, 1, p 179, 1920, 2, p 219
  • Newcastle Morning Herald, 20 Aug 1907, 6 Mar 1917, 21 Feb 1920, 17 Sept 1945
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 13 Mar 1915
  • private information.

Citation details

L. E. Fredman, 'Grahame, William Calman (1863–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 14 June 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


3 February, 1863
Maitland, New South Wales, Australia


15 September, 1945 (aged 82)
Gosford, New South Wales, Australia

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