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Joseph Winter (1853–1896)

by Bruce Scates

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Joseph Winter (1853-1896), journalist and politician, was born on 29 November 1853 at Prahran, Melbourne, son of George Winter, shoemaker, and his wife Eliza, née Hillman. George, a sociable and successful man, founded the local cricket club and established a boot repair shop in Bourke Street. His death in 1858 signalled a decline in the family's fortunes and they moved to cheaper premises at Richmond where Joseph attended a number of denominational schools. At 13, he was employed as a 'printer's devil' by a city firm. He gradually progressed in the printing trade, becoming an apprentice back-ruler for Sands & MacDougall and working as a journeyman, before opening a stationery and book store in 1889 in Swan Street, Richmond.

He spent his spare time in self-improvement. At the age of 8 he had read Macaulay's History of England; in his teens he joined the Australian Natives' Association and the Young Men's Mutual Improvement Society. Of middle height and medium build, bespectacled and moustached, with a 'full, grave face', Winter underwent a 'severe mental training', read widely, debated earnestly and became president of the South Melbourne branch of the A.N.A. Throughout the 1880s he was elected to a number of executive positions in the Bookbinders' and Paper Rulers' Society; as its delegate to the Intercolonial Trade Union Congress, Winter was among the first to advocate independent labour representation in parliament. Elected vice-president and president of the Trades Hall Council in the early 1890s, he chaired the Labor Convention which oversaw the creation of Progressive Political Leagues. Moving to South Melbourne, he was selected in March 1892 as Labor's candidate for that electorate in the Legislative Assembly. At this time he was editing the labour paper, Commonweal and Workers' Advocate: independent of both the Labor Party and the trade unions, it was a forum for radical and progressive opinion until it folded in 1893, a casualty of the depression. His brief journalistic career should not be confused with that of his namesake, editor of the Catholic Advocate.

Elected in April 1892 and returned with an increased majority in 1894, Winter proved an able exponent of the Liberal and Labor alliance which supported an increased protective tariff, industrial legislation and a medley of social reforms. Though he sometimes styled himself a radical, his politics were cautious and moderate. He believed that Labor's mission was to promote legislation for all classes and advocated Federation as fervently as he did industrial legislation. Despite his habit of wearing a bell-topper to the House, Winter never lost touch with his predominantly working-class electorate and argued tirelessly for relief work for the unemployed. He served on several parliamentary committees, including the royal commission on state banking which he chaired in 1894.

Winter died of heart disease on 2 May 1896 at South Melbourne and was buried in Boroondara cemetery. He was survived by his wife, Emma Florence, née Thomas, whom he had married at Richmond on 21 August 1884 with Wesleyan forms, and by their son and three daughters. His estate was sworn for probate at £30.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Studies, 4, no 16, May 1951, p 241, 21, no 83, Oct 1984, p 174
  • Table Talk, 11 Jan 1895
  • Age (Melbourne), 4 May 1896
  • Argus (Melbourne), 4 May 1896
  • Weekly Times (Melbourne), 9 May 1896
  • S. M. Ingham, Some Aspects of Victorian liberalism 1880-1900 (M.A. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1950)
  • M. G. Finlayson, Victorian Politics 1889-94 (M.A. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1964)
  • B. C. Scates, ‘Faddists and Extremists’: Radicalism and the Labour Movement in South-Eastern Australia, 1886-1898 (Ph.D. thesis, Monash University, 1987)
  • Australian Bookbinders and Paper Rulers Consolidated Trade Union, Minutes of Meetings, 1884-1896 (Printing and Kindred Industries Employees Union, Melbourne)
  • Trades Hall Council, Minutes of Meetings (State Library of Victoria).

Citation details

Bruce Scates, 'Winter, Joseph (1853–1896)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 20 May 2024.

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