125th anniversary – 1891 Shearers’ Strike

January 2016 marks the 125th anniversary of the start of one of Australia’s most famous (or infamous) industrial disputes, the 1891 Shearers’ Strike. On January 5, 1891 the strike began at Logan Downs Station in Central Queensland, when the station manager asked shearers sign a contract which would reduce working conditions and entitlements as well as the influence of the union.

Bladeshearing, Aramac ca 1890. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 18977

Bladeshearing, Aramac ca 1890. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 18977

Union camp in Barcaldine during the 1891 Shearers' Strike. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 2027

Union camp in Barcaldine during the 1891 Shearers’ Strike. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 2027

The strike spread across other stations in Central Queensland towns such as Clermont, Barcaldine, Emerald, Springsure, Hughenden and Capella. Pastoralists attempted to introduce strikebreakers (non-union affilated shearers) who worked for a lower rate. Tensions ran high with police and troopers called in to protect the non-union workers as well as the property of the pastoralists. Striking shearers formed armed camps outside of towns.

Hughenden Strike Camp, Queensland 1891. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 171876

Hughenden Strike Camp, Queensland 1891. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 171876

After several months the strike was ultimately unsuccessful for the shearers, with many falling on hard times due to a lack of money. Thirteen of the strike ringleaders were arrested and sentenced to three years hard labour at St Helena Island prison. The strike however would eventually lead to the formation of the Australian Labor Party. You can find more detail about the 1891 Shearers’ Strike in Shearers On Strike by R.C.Sharman (1963 – Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland).

Unionist prisoners sentenced for causes arising out of the Shearers Strike 1891. Back row : (Left to Right) : H.C. Smith-Barry; W. Fathergill; A Forrester, J.A.Stuart Second from back row (L. to R.): G. Taylor; P. F. Griffin; E. H. Murphy; H. O. Blackwell Third from back row (L. to R.): A. J. Brown; R. Prince, W. P, Bennett; D. Murphy Front row: William Hamilton. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 64845

Unionist prisoners sentenced for causes arising out of the Shearers’ Strike 1891. Back row : (Left to Right) : H.C. Smith-Barry; W. Fathergill; A Forrester, J.A.Stuart. Second from back row (L. to R.): G. Taylor; P. F. Griffin; E. H. Murphy; H. O. Blackwell. Third from back row (L. to R.): A. J. Brown; R. Prince, W. P, Bennett; D. Murphy. Front row: William Hamilton. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 64845

State Library of Queensland holds a number of materials recording this significant historical event which can be found through our One Search catalogue including a number of photographs from the period which have been digitised. A sample of these photographs are below.

Shearers strike at Charleville May 1891. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Image API-013-01-0004

Shearers’ strike at Charleville May 1891. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Image API-013-01-0004

Townsville foot infantry in Hughenden during the Shearers Strike 1891. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 16099

Townsville foot infantry in Hughenden during the Shearers’ Strike 1891. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 16099

Townsville Mounted Infantry soldiers escorting a wagon train of blackleg workers to Hughenden Station during the 1891 Shearers' strike. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 171630

Townsville Mounted Infantry soldiers escorting a wagon train of blackleg workers to Hughenden Station during the 1891 Shearers’ strike. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 171630

Soldiers on horseback riding west through the Hughenden district 1891. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Image 7750-0001-0004

Soldiers on horseback riding west through the Hughenden district 1891. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Image 7750-0001-0004

Striking shearers on the move through the Hughenden district 1891. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Image 7750-0001-0002

Striking shearers’ on the move through the Hughenden district 1891. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Image 7750-0001-0002

Strikers Library at Barcaldine during the 1891 Shearers Strike. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 45647

Strikers Library at Barcaldine during the 1891 Shearers’ Strike. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 45647

Camp Police portrait at Barcaldine during the Shearers Strikes of 1891. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 45656

Camp Police portrait at Barcaldine during the Shearers’ Strikes of 1891. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 45656

Myles Sinnamon – Project Coordinator, State Library of Queensland