James McGowen

James McGowen

James McGowen Premier.png
18th Premier of New South Wales
In office
21 October 1910 – 29 June 1913
Monarch George V
Governor Lord Chelmsford
Sir Gerald Strickland
Preceded by Charles Wade
Succeeded by William Holman
Member of the New South Wales Parliament
for Redfern
In office
17 June 1891 – 21 February 1917
Preceded by William Stephen
Succeeded by William McKell
Member of the New South Wales Legislative Council
In office
17 July 1917 – 7 April 1922
Personal details
Born (1855-08-16)16 August 1855
"Western Bride", At sea.
Died 7 April 1922(1922-04-07) (aged 66)
Petersham, New South Wales, Australia

James Sinclair Taylor McGowen (16 August 1855 – 7 April 1922) was an Australian politician and the first Labor Premier of New South Wales from 21 October 1910 to 30 June 1913.

Early life and family

McGowen was the son of James McGowen, a boilermaker, and his wife Eliza Ditchfield, immigrants from Lancashire and was born at sea, on the "Western Bride", on the way to Melbourne. His father worked building in bridges, initially in Victoria, and later in New South Wales. After limited schooling he was apprenticed as a boiler maker in 1870. He became a member of the United Society of Boilermakers and Iron Shipbuilders of New South Wales on its establishment in 1873,[1][2] he became secretary in 1874. He entered the railways department and in 1888 was elected president of the executive of Trades Hall committee. He worked hard and successfully to raise funds to build the Trades Hall at Sydney.[3]

McGowen married Emily Towner in 1878 in Redfern, Sydney.[2]

Political career

In 1891, the New South Wales Trades and Labour Council established the Labor Electoral League, which developed into Labor Party, and McGowen stood for election to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly seat of Redfern and was one of 35 Labor candidates to win and the most experienced unionist. He held the seat continuously to 1917.

The first Labor parliamentarians in New South Wales were almost as fractious as their fellow parliamentarians from the other parties. McGowen was one of three legislators to sign the "pledge" to abide by party discipline. Thanks to his increasing skill as a parliamentarian, his effective public speaking, and his relative seniority, he became Labor's parliamentary leader in 1894. George Reid's Free Trade Government was dependent on Labor's support. With their support, Reid reduced tariffs, introduced income tax, and eliminated the property qualification for membership of the Legislative Council. McGowan led Labor in its opposition to the Federation Bill produced by the Australasian Constitutional Convention. The party opposed the proposed Constitution on the grounds it was undemocratic. McGowen strongly favoured retaining appeals to the Privy Council from the High Court, but stressed this was his personal view. Labor reconciled itself to the Constitution once it had been approved in referenda across Australia in 1899. McGowen stood for the Federal seat of South Sydney in 1901, but was narrowly defeated.[2]

In December 1907, McGowan and the Labor Party—whose policy preference was nationalisation of the iron and steel industry[4]—moved a last minute amendment that, when carried, led indirectly to the collapse of William Sandford Limited, owners of the Eskbank Ironworks at Lithgow.[5][6]


McGowen's honesty and judiciousness were reassuring the public and were a major factor in Labor's 1910 election win. While he was Premier from to 1913, he was not an effective director of the parliamentary party, which he left to his deputy, William Holman.[2] As well as Premier, he was also Colonial Treasurer during most of 1911 and Colonial Secretary from December 1911, both important portfolios. In 1913, while Holman was in England, he attempted to settle a gas workers' strike by threatening to replace them with non-union labour. He alienated the party and Holman deposed him as leader on his return in June 1913.[2] McGowen became Minister for Labour and Industry until January 1914.[1]

In regards to social reform, the new state Labor government carried out an active policy of subsidising hospitals and dispensaries in order to bring about the realisation of universal health care system. However, opposition by doctors to state control forced the government to concentrate on financing new and existing institutions, such as nursing services for remote bush districts, while Friendly Societies were subsidised and membership encouraged. As a result of the state Labour government's efforts, improved low-cost medical services were made widely available throughout New South Wales.[7] In addition, public works were expanded, and important educational reforms were enacted, together with reforms in electoral law, income tax, arbitration, and housing for workers.[7]

Three of his sons served in World War I, including one killed at Gallipoli in 1915 and he was a strong supporter of Australia's involvement in the war. The 1916 Labor conference decided to oppose conscription. McGowen disagreed and was expelled along with most of the parliamentary party.

At the 1917 election he was defeated by the official Labor candidate William McKell, but, now Nationalist, Premier Holman appointed him to the then unelected Legislative Council in July 1917.

He died of heart disease in Petersham and was survived by his wife, five of their seven sons, and two daughters.[2] His largely attended funeral was held at St. Paul's Church, Redfern, New South Wales on 8 April 1922, and he was then buried at Rookwood Cemetery.[8]


  • Policy speech 1910.[9]


  1. ^ a b "Mr James Sinclair Taylor McGowen (1855–1922)". Former Members of the Parliament of New South Wales. Retrieved 30 April 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Nairn, Bede. "McGowen, James Sinclair Taylor (1855–1922)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Melbourne University Press. ISSN 1833-7538. Retrieved 17 July 2020 – via National Centre of Biography, Australian National University.
  3. ^ Serle, Percival (1949). "McGowen, James Sinclair Taylor (1855-1922)". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson. Retrieved 17 July 2020.
  4. ^ "MR. M'GOWEN HAS A COMPROMISE". Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954). 9 December 1907. p. 7. Retrieved 5 May 2020.
  5. ^ "DISCUSSION IN PARLIAMENT". Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954). 6 December 1907. p. 7. Retrieved 2 May 2020.
  6. ^ "AN ALL-NIGHT SITTING". Australian Star (Sydney, NSW : 1887 - 1909). 5 December 1907. p. 1. Retrieved 2 May 2020.
  7. ^ a b Foundations of the Welfare State by Pat Thane
  8. ^ "Family Notices: Funeral McGowen". The Sydney Morning Herald. 8 April 1922. p. 11. Retrieved 17 July 2020 – via Trove.
  9. ^ "Labor Premier's first policy speech". The Barrier Miner. 16 November 1910. p. 8. Retrieved 30 June 2011 – via Trove.


New South Wales Legislative Assembly
Preceded by
William Stephen
Member for Redfern
With: Schey/none, Sharp/none, Hoyle/none
Succeeded by
William McKell
Political offices
Preceded by
Joseph Carruthers
Leader of the Opposition of New South Wales
Succeeded by
Charles Wade
Preceded by
Charles Wade
Premier of New South Wales
Succeeded by
William Holman
Preceded by
Thomas Waddell
Colonial Treasurer of New South Wales
Succeeded by
John Dacey
Preceded by
Fred Flowers
Colonial Secretary
Succeeded by
William Holman
Preceded by
Ambrose Carmichael
Minister for Labour and Industry
Succeeded by
John Estell
Party political offices
Preceded by
Joseph Cook
Leader of the Australian Labor Party in New South Wales
Succeeded by
William Holman

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