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Bessant, Bernard Bob (1893–1941)

IWW men, 1920 [Bessant is seated in front row, far left]

IWW men, 1920 [Bessant is seated in front row, far left]

photo from Mary Glynn, the girl in the second row from bottom, per Verity Burgmann

Bernard Bob Bessant [also known as Bernard Besant], (1893-1941) fitter and turner, gaoled trade unionist and Communist 

Birth: 8 May 1893 in Southampton, England, eldest child of John Thomas Bessant, hotel porter, boilermaker on railways, later greengrocer, and Mary Grace, née Treglown. Marriage: 10 February 1922 in Registrar General’s Office, Sydney, New South Wales, to fellow Communist activist Jean Mackay. Death: 1 October 1941 in Newcastle, NSW. Religion: nominal Catholic, none indicated on death certificate. 

  • Was apprenticed as a fitter and turner in the railways in Willesden in 1911.
  • Arrived in Melbourne with parents and siblings aboard the Demosthenes in August 1912.
  • Went to Sydney about June 1916. A member of the Industrial Workers of the World and was arrested at the IWW offices there on 23 September 1916 and charged with vagrancy. His remark to arresting detectives, that they would find more cotton waste elsewhere in Sydney than in the IWW printing room, was wrongly construed to indicate wider knowledge of alleged arson plans. On 25 September he was charged with treason. He was found guilty of conspiracy to commit arson and seditious conspiracy and on 2 December 1916 sentenced to ten years gaol with hard labour by Justice Robert Pring.
  • After Justice Norman Ewing’s report concluded that his conviction was ‘not just and right’, he was released from Maitland goal on 3 August 1920.
  • Active in Militant Minority Movement during 1920s and a member of the AEU [Amalgamated Engineering Union]. His wife Jean was also politically active.
  • In 1932 comrade Bessant stood as a Communist candidate for the seat of Bulimba in Queensland Legislative Assembly.
  • He later moved to Newcastle, NSW.
  • Cause of death: coronary occlusion.

Sources
Verity Burgmann, Revolutionary Industrial Unionism: The Industrial Workers of the World in Australia (Melbourne, 1995).; Frank Cain, The wobblies at war: a history of the IWW and the Great War in Australia (Melbourne, 1993); information from P. Sheldon

Additional Resources

Citation details

'Bessant, Bernard Bob (1893–1941)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/bessant-bernard-bob-32635/text40507, accessed 3 July 2022.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

IWW men, 1920 [Bessant is seated in front row, far left]

IWW men, 1920 [Bessant is seated in front row, far left]

photo from Mary Glynn, the girl in the second row from bottom, per Verity Burgmann