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Albert Hinchcliffe (1860–1935)

by Rodney Sullivan

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Albert Hinchcliffe (1860–1935), printer and trade union and Labor administrator, was born on 14 February 1860 at Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire, England, son of Ezra Hinchcliffe, cotton warehouse worker, and his wife Alice, née Garside. When his father died in 1866 after migration to Brisbane in 1864, Albert and his mother settled at Toowoomba. He received a brief, intermittent education at the Toowoomba State School and worked on Clifton station before he was 8.

Employed at a Stanthorpe tin mine, he is said to have refused to share a room with a 'Chinaman' and left. A butcher for six months, he was apprenticed in 1872 to a compositor on the Darling Downs Gazette where, despite his industrial agitation, he became foreman. After following his trade in England in 1881–82, he married Mary Ann Beer at Toowoomba on 31 July 1883; they had one son. He then settled in Brisbane as a printer on the Courier and moved after 1885 to the Telegraph. He was a teetotaller and became a Christian Scientist.

Hinchcliffe helped to reconstitute the Queensland Typographical Association in 1884 and became secretary. When the union affiliated with the Brisbane Trades and Labor Council in 1886, he became its delegate. By 1899 his union was the most inclusive printers' organization in Australia, admitting all workers in the trade. In 1887 he became secretary of the T.L.C., using it to campaign for a federation of all trade unions and for the direct parliamentary representation of the labour movement.

Hinchcliffe believed that reason and goodwill could create an equitable Australian society, though non-Europeans would have to be excluded. When in the 1888 general election he stood for the Brisbane seat of Toombul with T.L.C. endorsement, he was immediately dismissed by the Telegraph. Earlier in 1888 he had acted as secretary to the Fifth Intercolonial Trade Union Congress in Brisbane which delegated to the T.L.C. the task of planning a federation of labour. After steering the typographical association through a disastrous strike in 1889 over non-union labour, and enhancing his own reputation, he became more enthusiastic about the scheme. Appointed full-time paid secretary of his union, he engineered the dissolution of the Brisbane T.L.C. and its replacement on 12 June 1889 by the Australian Labor Federation which dominated the Queensland labour movement for the next twenty-three years with Hinchcliffe as secretary from early 1890. When he became secretary in August 1889 of the widely supported London Dock Strike Fund Committee, the reputation of the A.L.F. grew. Following the creation in December 1889 of the monthly newspaper, the Worker, Hinchcliffe became treasurer on an elected board of trustees and subsequently manager, a position carrying both salary and influence. The paper appeared first at the eight-hour procession in March 1890.

Hinchcliffe, with the help of W. G. Spence, won the legendary Jondaryan victory in May: wool shorn on the station by 'scab' labour was declared 'black' by maritime workers and the squatters conceded the closed shop. The euphoria of Jondaryan was followed, as the economy deteriorated, by the sharp reversals of the maritime and pastoral strikes. While Utopians such as William Lane and Gilbert Casey built visions of general strikes and a socialist paradise, Hinchcliffe counselled caution, a realistic appraisal of the opposition, tighter organization and a renewed emphasis on parliament. The survival of central Labor organization in Queensland during the bleak 1890s owed much to him.

When a convention of August 1892 established the Labor Party in Queensland, Hinchcliffe became secretary of its executive council and in July 1895 of its successor, the central political executive; he held office until 1910. His role as a pivot between political and industrial Labor was obvious in his parliamentary notes for the Worker; his technical skill and business acumen helped the paper to survive the hard times of the 1890s. Typically, he reversed the original ban on advertising in the paper and sold space to ensure survival. By the end of the century the Worker was both the voice of Labor and a profitable commercial printery. Determined to keep the party straight, he used the Worker to denounce parliamentary 'wobblers', particularly Thomas Glassey who tended to ignore the A.L.F. Hinchcliffe himself failed as a candidate in 1893 and again in 1900 when he opposed the defecting Glassey at Bundaberg. Appointed by the Morgan-Kidston coalition, he was a member of the Legislative Council in 1904–22 but spoke rarely. When the party was gravely weakened after Kidston's 1907 defection, he sharpened his attacks on 'practical politicians' who saw the party as a seat-capturing machine.

Hinchcliffe could work well with men of diverse backgrounds and outlooks. He represented the Q.T.A. on a royal commission of 1894 into the Government Printing Office, and was secretary in 1911-12 of a Commonwealth royal commission into the sugar industry. A councillor of the Brisbane Technical College, he served in 1916–17 on the Senate of the University of Queensland.

The failure of the 1912 strike and the preference of the powerful Amalgamated Workers' Association for amalgamation rather than federation of unions signalled the end of Hinchcliffe's cherished dreams for the A.L.F. and virtually closed his Queensland career. His wife died in 1911 and on 3 March 1913 he married in Sydney Frances May Hickman, who wrote for the Sydney Worker under the pseudonym 'May Day'. They had one son. After visiting England in 1915 Hinchcliffe settled in Sydney in 1917 as business manager of the Australian Worker, edited by his friend H. E. Boote. Hinchcliffe retired in 1925 and died in Sydney on 4 January 1935. He was cremated with Christian Science forms.

Select Bibliography

  • D. J. Murphy et al (eds), Prelude to Power (Brisb, 1970)
  • D. J. Murphy (ed), Labor in Politics (Brisb, 1975)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 1906, p 1890, 1915, p 28
  • Boomerang (Brisb), 10 Apr 1888
  • Queenslander, 19 Mar 1898
  • Worker (Brisbane), 30 Mar 1907, 7 Nov 1912, 12 Mar 1925
  • Daily Standard (Brisbane), 13 Mar 1925
  • R. J. Sullivan, Early Labour in Queensland with Special Reference to Albert Hinchcliffe (M.A. qual thesis, University of Queensland, 1969), and The A.L.F. in Queensland 1889–1914 (M.A. thesis, University of Queensland, 1973).

Citation details

Rodney Sullivan, 'Hinchcliffe, Albert (1860–1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 23 July 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


14 February, 1860
Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire, England


4 January, 1935 (aged 74)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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