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John Richard Talbot (1835–1905)

by Bede Nairn

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

John Richard Talbot (1835-1905), trade unionist, was born at Cork, Ireland, son of Richard Talbot, naval lieutenant, and his wife Julia, née Bradley. Apprenticed to an ironmoulder at 13, in 1858 he married Catherine Finnigan in London. He was brought to Sydney in 1860 by (Sir) Peter Russell 'to supervise certain work requiring high-class mechanical knowledge and skill'. Active in Labour affairs in the 1860s, he was a founder of the Friendly Trade Society of Ironmoulders of New South Wales in October 1872 and became its delegate on the Trades and Labor Council of New South Wales. In 1888 he told the select committee on the trades conciliation bill that his trade union had 107 members.

Although a skilled artisan belonging to a craft union, Talbot followed F. B. Dixon and majority opinion on the Trades and Labor Council in accepting unskilled workers as an integral part of the Labor movement. He emerged in the 1880s as one of the outstanding leaders of the council, giving expression to a strong strand of belief that trade unions had a separate identity which would be threatened by links with other political and social groups. By 1884 he was vice-president of the council and consolidated its bias towards fiscal protectionism; in that year he represented his union and was elected vice-president at the second Intercolonial Trades Union Congress in Melbourne. In November he was a member of a deputation to the Sydney Morning Herald seeking 'a place in their columns for the claims of labour as well as capital'. Next year he persuaded the council to 'erase from [its] books' the Free Trade Association's request for two Labor delegates to attend its inaugural conference.

In 1888 he became president of the council. He had contributed much to its high community status with his emphasis on the primacy of trade unionism in Labor action; he believed that 'No trades-unionist is in love with strikes … [but] if the customs of their trade are attempted to be invaded, it is as sacred a thing to fight for them as to fight for their hearths and homes'. In 1890 he assisted materially the attempts of the Mercantile Marine Officers' Association to improve their conditions and pay; when the maritime strike broke out that year he became a member of the New South Wales Labor Defence Committee and later sat on the royal commission that inquired into the strike. He was not wholly sympathetic to the council's plans for political action and when the parliamentary Labor Party was formed he objected to its 1892 conference 'dictating to the Council'.

Talbot had been a foundation trustee of the Trades Hall in 1883 and played a major role in the acquisition of a site for its building which was completed in 1895. In 1893 he became president of the Ironmoulders' Society and of the Iron Trades Conference of New South Wales. After a long illness he died of nephritis on 5 October 1905 at Surry Hills and was buried in the Catholic section of Rookwood cemetery; at his request his funeral cortège passed the Trades Hall. Predeceased by his three sons and one daughter, he was survived by his wife.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Frost, Official Souvenir for the 8 Hour Demonstration (Syd, 1900)
  • B. Nairn, Civilising Capitalism (Canb, 1973)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1890, 8, 63
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 6 Oct 1905
  • Trades and Labor Council minutes, 1881-94 (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Bede Nairn, 'Talbot, John Richard (1835–1905)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 20 July 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


Cork, Cork, Ireland


5 October, 1905 (aged ~ 70)
Darlinghurst, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

kidney disease

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