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Crawford Vaughan (1874–1947)

by G. Grainger

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Crawford Vaughan, by Lewis-Smith, c.1910

Crawford Vaughan, by Lewis-Smith, c.1910

State Library of South Australia, b20497507

Crawford Vaughan (1874-1947), premier and journalist, and John Howard Vaughan (1879-1955), lawyer and politician, were brothers. Crawford was born on 14 July 1874 in Adelaide, eldest son of Alfred Vaughan, civil servant, and his wife Louisa, née Williams; Crawford's grandfathers had been Chartists. From Norwood and Marryatville public schools, he attended Prince Alfred College in 1888-89. Beginning his working life as a clerk, he ventured briefly to the Western Australian goldfields, returned to Adelaide where he was employed by the Crown Lands Department and in the late 1890s practised freelance journalism.

Secretary (1899-1904) of the Single Tax League of South Australia, Vaughan was also a committee-member of the Effective Voting League. In 1898 he campaigned unsuccessfully for the Anti-Commonwealth Bill League. A clever writer, in 1899-1904 Vaughan edited Quiz, a radical newspaper, and opposed the British cause in the South African War. Running as an Independent, he was defeated for the House of Representatives (1901), the House of Assembly seat of Torrens (1902) and the Senate (1903). A Unitarian, on 8 June 1906 at Norwood he married Evelyn Maria Goode (d.1927), a novelist and member of the Women's Non-Party Political Association.

Joining the United Labor Party in 1904, Vaughan won Torrens at the State election next year. Earnest and quietly-spoken, he rose within Labor's hierarchy: honorary secretary (1905-06), vice-president (1907-08) and president (1908-09) of the party, he was parliamentary whip in April-June 1909. His sister Dorothy was simultaneously making her way in the U.L.P. On 3 June 1910 Vaughan became treasurer and commissioner of crown lands and immigration in John Verran's ministry. A polished parliamentarian, Vaughan developed into an effective administrator: the conservative Register considered him 'one of the intellectual forces of the House of Assembly'. In 1910 he secured legislation which gave the government power to purchase compulsorily large estates for closer settlement. Verran's government was defeated in 1912; when he resigned in July 1913, caucus elected Vaughan to the parliamentary leadership unopposed.

He built support for Labor, particularly in rural areas; his moderation and white-collar background endeared him to many among Adelaide's middle classes. Vaughan helped Labor to overcome the Liberal Union's electoral redistribution of 1913 and to win a majority of six in the 1915 election at which he was returned for the seat of Sturt.

Unusually young, at 40, for a premier, he held as well the portfolios of treasurer and minister of education, and dominated the government. Most of his ministers had little experience of trade unions who scathingly called the cabinet the 'black-coated brigade'. The inclusion of the premier's brother Howard and his brother-in-law Clarence Goode made the ministry appear clannish. For all that, it substantially improved the education system by restructuring the department's senior bureaucracy, by extending the years of compulsory school attendance and by providing better facilities for the intellectually and physically disabled. Moreover, the government enabled women to serve in the police force and as justices of the peace, while it also improved workers' access to the arbitration system and diminished the court's punitive powers against trade unions. Legislation introduced in 1915-16 established war service land and housing schemes, in addition to a wheat pool. Although often frustrated by a hostile Upper House, the government's legislative achievements were generally impressive. In 1915, however, it passed a law designed to close Lutheran primary schools, thus discriminating against South Australians of German origin. Lack of fiscal restraint was the administration's major weakness: the budget deficit almost trebled.

Beyond parliament, Crawford Vaughan's moderate reformism proved unacceptable to impatient radicals in the U.L.P. With the Australian Workers' Union, they demanded more far-reaching legislation throughout 1915-16. For reasons of temperament and with an eye to electoral reality, the premier refused. Strained relations between Vaughan and the A.W.U.'s secretary F. W. Lundie were exacerbated in 1916: the premier announced his approval of the introduction of conscription for compulsory military service overseas; in September he convened the National Referendum Council to promote the 'Yes' campaign in the plebiscite. To Lundie and the U.L.P.'s anti-conscription industrial wing, Vaughan's stand was confirmation that he should not represent working-class Labor voters. In February 1917, after prolonged inter-factional abuse and Lundie's uncompromising lobbying, Vaughan and other Labor parliamentarians who had favoured conscription (most of caucus) were declared by a U.L.P. conference to be disloyal to the party. Regarding the decision as 'intolerable and vindictive', Vaughan and his allies formed the National Labor Party, later styling themselves the National Party. Apart from losing some of its best parliamentary talent, Labor's expulsion of Vaughan and his followers virtually signalled the end of middle-class influence within the party for decades.

Vaughan's government lost its majority as a result of the split. Convinced that public opinion backed him, he clung to the premiership: he argued that, if the National Party held its ground, the Liberal Union would eventually be compelled to participate in a National-dominated coalition. Even when the Liberals defeated the government on an adjournment motion in July 1917, Vaughan remained optimistic. Despite his private attempts to persuade their financial backers to force Liberal politicians into line and his spurious public claims that they may have been influenced by 'German' interests, the Liberals held firm. After much dispute, they offered Vaughan and the Nationalists a minority role in a coalition cabinet: concerned that the public had tired of inter-party squabbling, in August the Nationalists accepted.

Incensed by his colleagues' betrayal, Vaughan declared that they 'were like a lot of panic-stricken sheep, quite willing to be driven either to the shearing shed or the slaughter-house'. He refused a post in A. H. Peake's coalition cabinet. Feeling 'a bit nervy', in November Vaughan accepted an invitation from the government of the United States of America to lecture to industrialists in that country on their duty to support the war effort. While abroad, he unsuccessfully tried to retain Sturt at the 1918 election by standing as an Independent Nationalist and allowing his wife to campaign on his behalf. His approaches to interstate Nationalist Party contacts to pre-select him for a seat in the House of Representatives also failed. Vaughan remained in America throughout 1918, at first attached to Lord Reading's British War Mission to the United States and later as an honorary representative of the Australian government. He spoke in twenty-one States and met President Wilson. Next year Vaughan was a delegate of the English-Speaking Union at the Paris peace conference; he then lectured in Britain. In 1920 he delivered the Lowell lectures at Boston, on Australian industrial legislation.

From 1920 Vaughan lived mainly in Sydney where he dabbled in business as managing director (1921-24) of the British-Australian Cotton-Growing Association; in the early 1930s he became involved in several unremunerative gold-mining ventures. He had unsuccessfully contested the New South Wales Legislative Assembly seat of Ryde as a member of the Progressive Party in 1925 and Hartley as a Nationalist in 1927. Involved in several conservative lobby groups, in 1929 he was campaign director of the New South Wales Prohibition Alliance; in 1936-38 he was honorary secretary of the British-American Co-operation Movement for world peace; and he was briefly secretary of the Professional Business Men's Association of New South Wales. On 29 May 1934 Vaughan married Millicent Fanny Preston Stanley at St John's Church, Toorak, Melbourne. In 1933-35 he was chief leader-writer for the Adelaide News. He also wrote radio plays and books, publishing Golden Wattle Time (Sydney, 1942), a fictional account of Adam Lindsay Gordon's life, and The Last of Captain Bligh (London, 1950). Survived by his wife and by a daughter of his first marriage, Vaughan died at Elizabeth Bay, Sydney, on 15 December 1947. After a state funeral in Adelaide, he was buried with Anglican rites in Centennial Park cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £860.

His brother Howard was born on 14 November 1879 at Norwood. He attended the local public school and Prince Alfred College (1894-96), won the 1898 Roby Fletcher scholarship for logic and psychology, and graduated at the University of Adelaide (LL.B., 1900). Admitted to the Bar in 1901, Howard formed a partnership with R. P. A. von Bertouch. He also joined the Effective Voting League. Having drafted South Australia's first bill for proportional electoral representation in 1902, he saw it annually rejected by parliament on eight occasions. Between 1906 and 1910 he thrice unsuccessfully contested the House of Representatives seat of Wakefield for Labor before winning the South Australian Legislative Council seat of Central in 1912. He was vice-president (1911-13) of the South Australian Tramway Employees' Association and president (1913-14) of the State branch of the U.L.P. A Unitarian, on 11 August 1909 Howard married Helèna Maud Fry (d.1954) at St Matthew's Church, Adelaide: they were to remain childless.

On 3 April 1915 he became attorney-general in his brother's ministry. Although able and gifted with 'an engaging personality', he produced little progressive legislation. His support for conscription brought about his banishment from the U.L.P. in 1917. In July Howard Vaughan enlisted in the 10th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force; on active service in France, he was commissioned in November 1918 and returned to Australia next year. He unsuccessfully contested the House of Assembly seat of Sturt as a Progressive Country Party candidate in 1921.

In Adelaide he resumed his legal practice with K. H. Kirkman as a partner in the 1920s and K. L. Litchfield in 1936-41. Vaughan sat on the Burnside District Council (1921-29) and was chairman (1921-42) of the local branch of the Australian League of Nations Union. Appointed C.B.E. in 1932, he was State consul for Czechoslovakia in 1929-37 and was awarded that country's Order of the White Lion in 1937. Howard Vaughan died in Adelaide on 21 August 1955 and was buried in Centennial Park cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • F. S. Wallis, Labour's Thirty Years Record in South Australia (Adel, 1923)
  • Lone Hand, 1 July 1915
  • University Studies in History, vol 4, no 2, 1963-64
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 24 July 1913, 17 Apr 1945, 16 Dec 1947, 24 Aug 1955
  • Register (Adelaide), 29 Mar, 2 Apr 1915
  • S. Weeks, The Relationship Between the Australian Workers' Union and the South Australian Labor Party, 1908-1918 (B.A. Hons thesis, Flinders University, 1981)
  • G. Grainger, The Liberal Union-National Party Coalition Government in South Australia 1917-1920 (M.A. thesis, Flinders University, 1983)
  • Australian League of Nations Union, South Australian branch, Official Reports (State Library of South Australia)
  • CP 360/11 (National Archives of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

G. Grainger, 'Vaughan, Crawford (1874–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 14 June 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

Crawford Vaughan, by Lewis-Smith, c.1910

Crawford Vaughan, by Lewis-Smith, c.1910

State Library of South Australia, b20497507

Life Summary [details]


14 July, 1874
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


15 December, 1947 (aged 73)
Elizabeth Bay, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

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.