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Alfred John Sullivan (1855–1949)

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This entry is from People Australia

Sullivan, Alfred John (1855-1949) shearer, building worker, trade union organiser, mathematician 

Birth: 22 October 1855 in Sandridge, Melbourne, Victoria, son of Dennis Sullivan (1827-1901), a police detective born in Surrey, England, and Ellen Elizabeth, née Sullivan, born in Lambeth, London, England. Marriage: 3 December 1893 at Fitzroy, Victoria, to Ada Trippett (1872-1963). They had two daughters and two sons. Death: 16 June 1949 in Alfred Hospital, Hawthorn, Victoria. 

  • Was a farmhand in Victoria, from 1872 to 1874. Worked in the shearing shed then spent two years “shearing on the board” at Longerenong station, near Horsham. Was navvying on the St Arnaud and Dunolly rail line in 1878. Later a shearer at Longford, Tasmania.
  • An indefatigable publicist for shearer unionism, whilst shearing in Tasmania and New South Wales in 1883-85 he contributed correspondence to the Australasian, Australian Town and Country Journal and other newspapers on shearers' grievances, particularly high ration charges and poor accommodation, and stressed the need for unions.
  • In October 1885 he spoke at a meeting at Wagga Wagga, NSW, supporting the formation of shearers' union. In February 1886 he helped form union at Longford, Tasmania. Advocated an intercolonial shearers' union and did much to assist the birth of the Amalgamated Shearers' Union (1887), of which he became an organiser. In the 1890s he worked as a builders’ labourer in Melbourne.
  • For seventeen years was a miner around Rutherglen, Victoria, and was president of the Chiltern and Rutherglen branch of the Amalgamated Miners’ Association for many years.
  • was a lecturer on writers such as Charles Dickens, Adam Lindsay Gordon and Barcroft Boake.
  • He was as well a self-taught mathematician, and “often lectured at colleges and demonstrated his prowess. Multiplication of four and five figures by a like number needed only a matter or seconds before the answer would be given mentally”.
  • Recipient of many congratulations on longevity in 1941-1949.
  • His brother Charles William Sullivan (1857-1914), held the No.1 Australian Workers Union ticket.
  • In later years Alfred Sullivan worked as a watchman.
  • Cause of death uraemia, prostatic enlargement and pyelonephritis.

T. J. O'Sullivan papers, MLMSS A2886, State Library of NSW; John Merritt, The Making of the AWU (Melbourne, 1986); Labor Call (Melbourne), 5 January 1911, p 4, 30 October 1941, p 2 (photo and biography); Merrifield card index; memoirs in Hummer, volume 4, no 4; Worker (Brisbane), 16 December 1941, p 7, 3 October 1955, p 4; Humphrey McQueen, We built this country: builders’ labourers and their unions, 1787 to the future (Port Adelaide, 2011), p 55.

Additional Resources

  • profile, Labor Call (Melbourne), 30 October 1941, p 2
  • remiscences, Worker (Brisbane), 16 December 1941, p 7

Citation details

'Sullivan, Alfred John (1855–1949)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 20 July 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


22 October, 1855
Sandridge, Victoria, Australia


16 June, 1949 (aged 93)
Hawthorn, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

kidney disease

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