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William Jeffrey (1813–1865)

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This entry is from People Australia

William Jeffrey, also known as William Jaffray (1813-1865) cabinetmaker, trade-union leader 

Birth: 29 November 1813 at Stirling, Stirlingshire, Scotland, son of John Jaffray (Jeffrey), weaver, burgess and spirit dealer, and Agnes, née Wilson. Marriage: 14 November 1837 at St Ninians, Stirling, Scotland to Catherine Mitchell. They had three sons and three daughters. Death: 1 March 1865 in general hospital, Hobart. Religion: Congregationalist. 

  • Migrated to South Australia aboard the Lloyds on 1 December 1838.
  • After arriving in Hobart on 23 June 1843 in the barque Rajah, Jeffrey was leader of working-class political agitation against the "probation" system of convict wage labour, introduced to Tasmania in 1843, and the system of convict transportation.
  • Member, along with A. M. Nichol and others, of committee appointed to petition Governor against probation system in August 1844. In September 1844 appointed to second committee (Committee of Free Operatives/later Free Mechanics Committee) to gather information on working class distress in Hobart and to raise public subscriptions for relief of distress.
  • In May 1845, took prominent part, as Committee delegate, in public meeting calling for abolition of transportation. In April 1847 appointed, along with Nichol, Samuel Buller and other mechanics, to provisional committee/Free Working Class Committee to organise public meeting of operatives to protest against transportation and to draft petition. At preliminary meetings, urged co-ordination of working-class agitation with that of other anti-transportation elements and was appointed working class delegate to committee of 'influential gentlemen' planning mass public protest meeting. At operatives meeting (26 April) he was appointed, with John Williams, working class delegate to a mass public protest meeting, and with Williams, Buller and others, to committee (Free Working Class/later Free Labour Committee) responsible for co-ordinating operatives petition to British Crown and parliament.
  • In May-June 1847 meetings of operatives and masters organised by this Committee and chaired by Jeffrey, formed the 'Hobart Town Trades Union' and 'House of Call' (known also as the Free Trades Union and Free Labour Union). Jeffrey made representations on the union's behalf to Governor re labour matters, especially use of convict labour by government contractors;. In October 1847 he addressed union-sponsored meeting on transportation issue. In February 1848 he was awarded a medal for exertions on the union's behalf. In June 1848, he figured centrally in the union's organisation of protest meetings and a 1200-plus signature petition from the working mechanics of Hobart to the Governor urging and end to transportation.
  • At anti-transportation meetings held during 1850 Jeffrey, with Williams, urged the adoption of a stringent pledge not to employ prisoners, and, with Williams, he was elected to the Anti-Transportation League Committee to draft a pledge. But Jeffrey also strove to prevent divisive split between free emigrant workers and emancipists, and advocated establishment by the Trades Union of a registry office for both free workers and ticket-of-leave holders.
  • In 1851, as secretary of the Trades Union, successfully marshalled Union support for return of anti-transportationist candidate to newly-created Tasmanian Legislative Assembly.
  • Also involved in organised working-class agitation in 1855-6. 
  • Cause of death: pulmonary phthisis.

Michael Roe, Quest for Authority in Eastern Australia, 1835-1851, (Parkville) 1965; Michael Quinlan, Hope amidst hard times: working class organisation in Tasmania 1830-1850. (University of New South Wales, Kensington) 1986; Quinlan, M. & Gardner, M. (1990), ‘Researching Australian Industrial Relations in the Nineteenth Century’, in Patmore, G. (ed.), History and Industrial Relations, Australian Centre for Industrial Relations Research and Teaching. Monograph No.1, pp.60-98; Quinlan, M. (2018), The Origins of Worker Mobilisation. Australia 1788-1850, Routledge, NY and London, esp pp.270-75.

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Citation details

'Jeffrey, William (1813–1865)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 June 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Jaffray, William

29 November, 1813
Stirling, Stirlingshire, Scotland


1 March, 1865 (aged 51)
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Cause of Death


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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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