Wilson’s Blogmanac on Australian Radicals


1845-1945, Ragnar Redbeard, Trevor Blake / Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019
Pip Wilson of Bellingen, NSW, Australia, describes himself as “Just an Aussie bloke who is interested in things.” Mr. Wilson kindly published *Wilson’s Blogmanac* in Public Domain. It is from that source that the following fascinating and rare information on the man who would become Ragnar Redbeard, as well as his peers and publications, was found. Some duplicated information retained.

JA Andrews, forgotten Australian radical intellectual

1865 JA Andrews (John Arthur Andrews; Jack Andrews; d. 1903), Australian anarchist writer and pamphleteer, probably the most important of the group which came together in the Melbourne Anarchist Club. Henry Lawson knew him (c. 1892) when Andrews was 27 and campaigning in Sydney (for which he ended up in Parramatta Gaol).

Australian historian Bob James has researched and written on Andrews and tells us that during 1889 much of Andrews’s writing was published in Bob Winspear’s The Radical. He couldn’t afford a metal type printing press, but managed to publish The Anarchist (1891) and various tracts on a home-made contraption made from a tobacco tin, using a wooden font carved for the purpose. He was associated with Joe Schellenberg and the Smithfield communist anarchists while in Sydney from late-1890, helping to establish the Communist-Anarchist Group of Central Cumberland operations centre there. His writings were highly philosophical (he was probably the most intellectual of the anarchists, indeed of the labour movement at the time), but he was also a hard-working activist. Some of what we know about the Active Service Brigade was written by him in Tocsin in 1900. He spent time in prison for his activities, round 1894-5, for sedition and other crimes such as not having a correct imprint on his magazine. After his early death from tuberculosis he was compared to Tolstoi, Kropotkin, Thoreau and Verlaine, among others.

William Lane’s brother Ernie described him, in Dawn to Dusk, in these words: “… Clothed in an overcoat to cover his sometimes shirtless body and tattered clothes, Andrews would proceed to the Domain. Tying a large pole with a small black flag attached to an over- head tree he would deliver a two or three hours’ exposition of philosophic anarchy to the proverbial … two men and a dog … Andrews obviously spoke right over the heads of the crowd …”

Bertram Stevens said Andrews “was as gentle as a grub and looked like Christ”.

Sydney’s radical Active Service Brigade

1893 A cryptic ad in Sydney’s Saturday Daily Telegraph read:

“ACTIVE SERVICE BRIGADE (‘A’ Division) — Church Parade, St. Andrews Cathedral, SUNDAY MORNING, 11; to hear of ‘Him who has been murdered by the Law’. Countersign, ‘Silence’. By order (7).”

When some 30 members of the far-left Active Service Brigade ‘A’ Division marched the following day, Sunday, November 19, on the no doubt bemused congregation of St Andrew’s Cathedral, they were almost outnumbered by the plain clothes police officers watching them. Later 250 ASB members and sympathisers processed through the city, following a huge crucifix, to which was nailed an effigy of ‘a down trodden man’ in tattered rags, smeared with red paint.

One activist we may be sure was there that day would have been Arthur Desmond (c. 1859 – c. 1914), who used to sign himself “Number 7”. He was a prime mover of the Brigade, which had its office and Reading Rooms at 221½ Castlereagh Street, Sydney, up a lane that ran off the street, between WHT McNamara’s Book and News Depot, and Leigh House at 223, the home of the Australian Socialist League, another gathering place for 1890s Sydney radicals …

The ASB was urban unemployed workers organised by an Irish elocutionist, John Dwyer (1856 – 1934), and Desmond during the 1890s Depression. The Brigade ran a soup kitchen, housed the homeless and also disrupted Parliament and, as we have seen, Protestant church services. The Active Service Brigade’s aim was to “change the present competitive system into a co-operative and social system” …

What would our PM do with these famous Aussie seditionists?

John Haynes (April 26, 1850 – August 15, 1917), was an Australian parliamentarian for 29 years, 9 months and 11 days, and co-founder with JF Archibald, of The Bulletin, Australia’s most influential magazine.

In ‘The Bully’s” earlier years he once spent thirteen weeks in prison for libel (the public raised £3,000 and he was released). He was later editor of the Newsletter. In parliament and through the courts he pursued the corrupt NSW politicians William Patrick Crick and William Nicholas Willis, the latter all the way to South Africa.

In 1891, Haynes was ratepayer on two Sydney addresses that were the focus of radical and anarchist activity in Sydney Leigh House, Active Service Brigade HQ and McNamara’s Book Depot.

Jack Lang, Australian politician (December 21, 1876 – September 27, 1975), brother-in-law of the radical Australian poet Henry Lawson. Lang was an early member of the Australian Labor Party, and the Premier of New South Wales for two terms, from 1925 – 27, and again from 1930 – 32. Like William Morris Hughes (later Australian Prime Minister; see below), in his youth Lang worked on Arthur Desmond’s anarchist journal, Hard Cash.

Wlliam Morris Hughes, seventh Prime Minister of Australia (d. 1952); wartime leader (WW I) and Australia’s longest-serving federal parliamentarian (51 years, 7 months continuous service). In the early-1890s he was associated with the establishment of a paper called The New Order, which was the brainchild of the anarchist Active Service Brigade leader, Arthur Desmond. (William Holman and Jack Lang, both later Premiers of New South Wales, were also involved in Desmond’s anarchist newspapers in Sydney.)

What would John Howard and Philip Ruddock do with these famous Australians today?

Sydney Anarchy Trial of February, 1894

1894 Sydney Anarchy Trial of February, 1894: William McNamara and Sam Rosa (colleagues of Sydney anarchist Arthur Desmond) were convicted on charges of selling an edition of the anarchist journal Hard Cash “that contained a libel of the trustees of the Savings Bank of New South Wales”.

McNamara and Rosa managed bookshops that sold radical journals; their sole defence was ignorance of the law concerning the selling of libellous newspapers. Justice Foster sentenced McNamara to six months in Parramatta Gaol and Rosa to three months.

Two other men who worked on the anarchist journal, but were not charged, were writer Henry Lawson’s brother-in-law Jack Lang (who became Premier of the State of New South Wales) and William Morris Hughes, who became Prime Minister of Australia.

Sydney’s radical Active Service Brigade

1893 A cryptic ad in Sydney’s Saturday Daily Telegraph read:

“ACTIVE SERVICE BRIGADE (‘A’ Division) — Church Parade, St. Andrews Cathedral, SUNDAY MORNING, 11; to hear of ‘Him who has been murdered by the Law’. Countersign, ‘Silence’. By order (7).”

When some 30 members of the far-left Active Service Brigade ‘A’ Division marched the following day, Sunday, November 19, on the no doubt bemused congregation of St Andrew’s Cathedral, they were almost outnumbered by the plain clothes police officers watching them. Later 250 ASB members and sympathisers processed through the city, following a huge crucifix, to which was nailed an effigy of ‘a down trodden man’ in tattered rags, smeared with red paint.

One activist we may be sure was there that day would have been Arthur Desmond (c. 1859 – c. 1914), who used to sign himself “Number 7”. He was a prime mover of the Brigade, which had its office and Reading Rooms at 221½ Castlereagh Street, Sydney, up a lane that ran off the street, between WHT McNamara’s Book and News Depot, and Leigh House at 223, the home of the Australian Socialist League, another gathering place for 1890s Sydney radicals …

The ASB was urban unemployed workers organised by an Irish elocutionist, John Dwyer (1856 – 1934), and Desmond during the 1890s Depression. The Brigade ran a soup kitchen, housed the homeless and also disrupted Parliament and, as we have seen, Protestant church services. The Active Service Brigade’s aim was to “change the present competitive system into a co-operative and social system” …

Sydney Anarchism Trial

1894 Sydney Anarchy Trial of February, 1894: William McNamara (shown at right of cartoon above) and Sam Rosa (colleagues of Sydney anarchist Arthur Desmond) were convicted on charges of selling an edition of the anarchist journal Hard Cash “that contained a libel of the trustees of the Savings Bank of New South Wales”.

McNamara and Rosa managed bookshops that sold radical journals; their sole defence was ignorance of the law concerning the selling of libellous newspapers. Justice Foster sentenced McNamara to six months in Parramatta Gaol and Rosa to three months.

Two other men who worked on the anarchist journal, but were not charged, were writer Henry Lawson’s brother-in-law Jack Lang (who became Premier of the State of New South Wales) and William Morris Hughes, who became Prime Minister of Australia …

McNamara’s band of Aussie radicals

1857: Birth of WHT McNamara, radical orator and owner of McNamara’s Book and News Depot, Sydney, where many radicals of the day met, including the writer Henry Lawson, who married his step-daughter Bertha Bredt. His other daughter, Hilda, married the famous anarchist-turned-State Premier, Jack Lang.

McNamara learned journalism in Melbourne and was in Sydney by May, 1887. After a time in Sydney, he went back to Melbourne, married Bertha Bredt senior, a widow with two daughters (Bertha and Hilda), and on his return in 1892 became Sydney’s radical bookseller.

On May 4, 1887, McNamara and six others met as a socialist group and began taking members. They held debates on Sundays and out of these, and open-air meetings, grew the foundation of the Australian Socialist League (ASL), which met on Sunday evenings at 533½ George St, Sydney, with McNamara, George Black and Thomas Walker as leaders. The ASL reading rooms housed more than 220 foreign newspapers, many of them radical. Contemporary anarchist Jack Andrews preferred to call it the “Alleged Socialist League”.

McNamara’s first bookshop, McNamara’s Book and News Depot, founded in 1892, was at 238 Castlereagh St, next door to the Labour Bureau run by the American anarchist Larry Petrie, who bombed the Aramac. Heat from the police forced the move to 221, next door to Leigh House on one side, and on the other the Active Service Brigade, urban unemployed workers organised by John Dwyer (1856 – 1934) and Arthur Desmond during the 1890s Depression. The Brigade ran a soup kitchen, housed the homeless and also disrupted Parliament and Protestant church services …

Sources (chronological):
http://wilsonsalmanac.blogspot.com/2005/10/ja-andrews-forgotten-australian.html
http://wilsonsalmanac.blogspot.com/2005/11/sydneys-radical-active-service-brigade.html
http://wilsonsalmanac.blogspot.com/2006/05/what-would-our-pm-do-with-these-famous.html
http://wilsonsalmanac.blogspot.com/2006/02/sydney-anarchy-trial-of-february-1894.html
http://wilsonsalmanac.blogspot.com/2008/11/sydneys-radical-active-service-brigade.html
http://wilsonsalmanac.blogspot.com/2010/02/sydney-anarchism-trial.html
http://wilsonsalmanac.blogspot.com/2010/03/mcnamaras-band-of-aussie-radicals.html