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Sir John Newland (1864–1932)

by G. Grainger

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

John Newland (1864-1932), by Swiss Studios, 1910s

John Newland (1864-1932), by Swiss Studios, 1910s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23418499

Sir John Newland (1864-1932), railwayman and politician, was born on 4 August 1864 near Cawdor, Nairn, Scotland, son of Andrew Newlands, agricultural labourer, and his wife Ann, née Stunar. He was educated at a school at Croy and then worked at miscellaneous, mostly labouring, jobs. In 1883 he migrated to New South Wales and on 27 February 1884 married Theresa Glassey in Adelaide, where they sought temporary accommodation provided by the colonial government for destitute immigrants. That year Newland, who chose to use this version of his surname, joined the South Australian Railways as a lamp-cleaner and worked successively as porter, shunter, ticket collector, signalman and guard. He was the sleeping-car conductor on the Broken Hill-Terowie line for fourteen years.

In 1887 he joined the Amalgamated Railway and Tramway Service Association and was its chairman for several years during the 1890s. In June 1899 he became a member of the Terowie District Council but, after being chairman in 1903-04, was compelled to resign in 1905 following the government's decision that railworkers were ineligible to serve on local government bodies. In May 1904–November 1906 he was the elected employees' representative on the Railways Appeal Board. In November 1906 when Newland was elected to the South Australian House of Assembly for Burra Burra he was the first Labor candidate to win a non-metropolitan, non-mining seat. He took a special interest in railway matters, supporting workers against injustices and often bringing cases of individual grievance before the assembly. During his years in State parliament he retained a direct interest in the industrial organization of the service, as secretary of the South Australian Railway Officers' Association. Newland was an earnest, restrained speaker and generally his legislative interests did not range widely, but he was a dogged worker for his constituents. Re-elected in 1910, he was deputy Speaker and chairman of committees in 1911-12, but lost his seat, which had always been marginal, in February 1912.

After a short experience as land broker and speculator, Newland was a senator for South Australia from May 1913 until his death. In 1914-15 he was an executive-member of the parliamentary Labor Party. He was one of the first Federal Labor members to accept conscription (but only if the system of voluntary recruiting failed). During 1916, as the number of volunteers slackened, he supported conscription and when the issue reached flashpoint followed W. M. Hughes out of the party room in November, later joining the Liberals to form the National Party. Like others expelled from the Labor Party in 1916 Newland was convinced that a radical leftist element was responsible for the party's misguided hostility to conscription. He had occasionally bridled against the notion of caucus control, and had once 'emphatically protested' that 'members of the Labor Party were just as free as any others'. This streak of independence perhaps facilitated the parting.

Newland was adamant that 'there is no service which a man should regard as being higher than that of serving his country when it is in danger'; an early volunteer himself, he had been rejected on the grounds of his age. Two of his three sons enlisted; Donald Newlands became a captain in the 10th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, and was awarded the Military Cross. In 1916-18 as chairman of his State Recruiting Committee Newland travelled widely, organizing local committees, addressing public meetings and conducting rallies. 'A big, robust man with a powerful voice and a dignified delivery', he could be an imposing platform speaker. In June 1917 he also became president of the South Australian Win-the-War League. In 1920 he was appointed C.B.E.

Newland was a member of the Parliamentary standing committee on public works in 1917-23 and in 1922, as chairman of its sub-committee investigating the construction of a North-South railway, he travelled over 11,000 miles (17,703 km) by car, steamer, horseback and buggy examining possible routes. After his term as chairman of committees in 1923-26, he was president of the Senate from July 1926 to August 1929, when he resigned. Newlands (who in May 1926 reassumed by deed-poll his original surname) was appointed K.C.M.G. in May 1927.

After 1928 his deteriorating health forced numerous periods of convalescence. Newlands died on 20 May 1932 at Glenelg, and was buried in St Jude's cemetery, North Brighton, after a state funeral. His wife, three sons and a daughter survived him. A portrait by Charles Wheeler is in Parliament House, Canberra.

Select Bibliography

  • L. L. Robson, The First A.I.F. (Melb, 1970)
  • Register (Adelaide), 7 Nov 1906, 11 June 1917
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 9 May 1927, 21 May 1932
  • Bulletin, 25 May 1932
  • South Australian State Recruiting Committee minutes (State Records of South Australia).

Citation details

G. Grainger, 'Newland, Sir John (1864–1932)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 20 July 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

John Newland (1864-1932), by Swiss Studios, 1910s

John Newland (1864-1932), by Swiss Studios, 1910s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23418499

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Newlands, John

4 August, 1864
Cawdor, Nairn, Scotland


20 May, 1932 (aged 67)
Glenelg, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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.