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William Searby (Billy) Mabbott (1857–1920)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published:

This entry is from People Australia

First Australian Labour Federation Executive (Qld), 1890 [Mabbot is second from left, top row]

First Australian Labour Federation Executive (Qld), 1890 [Mabbot is second from left, top row]

from Worker (Brisbane) 27 February 1940, p 12

Mabbott, William Searby ‘Billy’ (1857-1920) wharf labourer, trade unionist, activist in South African Labour Party.

Birth: 24 October 1857 in Wolverhampton West, Staffordshire, England, son of William Mabbott, druggist, and Elizabeth, née Searby. Marriage: 24 May 1884 with Presbyterian forms, in South Brisbane, Queensland, to Lizzie Maud Carrick, born in Roscommon, Ireland. Death: 1920 in Eshowe, Zululand, South Africa. 

  • In 1871 worked in merchant’s warehouse in Birmingham, Warwickshire. It is not known when he arrived in Queensland.
  • From 1886 Mabbott was elected paid secretary of the newly formed Federated Wharf Labourers’ Union in Brisbane and prominent delegate to the Trades and Labour Council (TLC). Active in anti-Chinese agitation, in 1888 he was a delegate to the Intercolonial Trade Union Congress meeting in Brisbane and attended a conference in Adelaide called to discuss a scheme for an intercolonial maritime federation. He was appointed secretary of the organising committee. He was prominent in the colonial general election campaign in May 1888, and on occasion was acting secretary of the TLC.
  • In 1890 he was a member of the first executive of the Australian Labour Federation [formerly the TLC], and in February 1890 was a member of the founding board of trustees of the Brisbane Worker, which then appointed William Lane as first editor. A speech he made at a political rally in September 1890 led to his being sued for criminal libel by Frederick T. Brentnall, owner of the Brisbane Telegraph, under a new Defamation act. Mabbott won the case with costs.
  • During the maritime strike of 1890 and the shearers’ strike of 1891 Mabbott was one of Queensland’s leading trade unionists.
  • A friend and colleague of William Lane’s, Mabbott was active in Lane’s New Australia plans from the start. He travelled Queensland promoting the scheme in 1891, and travelled to Paraguay in the second voyage of the Royal Tar, leaving Adelaide with his wife on 31 December 1893.
  • In August 1897 his wife left the colony with John Amor and went to Asuncion; Mabbott “went after them with a revolver, but returned to Cosme saying he was glad he had not been able to find them”. Billy left also and settled in South Africa.
  • Was in Pretoria by 1902, helping to construct the Palace of Justice. In 1911 was secretary of the Pretoria District Council of the South African Labour Party. Later “went to Zululand, where he engaged in sugar growing, dying there of malaria. His remains were interred at Eschowie, the capital, but the grave has no stone to indicate who lies beneath”.

Gavin Souter, A Peculiar People: the Australians in Paraguay, (Sydney, 1968); Worker (Brisbane), 11 March 1911, p 11, 23 March 1927, p 13. 

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Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Mabbott, William Searby (Billy) (1857–1920)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 6 December 2023.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

First Australian Labour Federation Executive (Qld), 1890 [Mabbot is second from left, top row]

First Australian Labour Federation Executive (Qld), 1890 [Mabbot is second from left, top row]

from Worker (Brisbane) 27 February 1940, p 12

Life Summary [details]


24 October, 1857
Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, England


1920 (aged ~ 62)
Eshowe, Zululand, South Africa

Cause of Death


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