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Blackwell, Hugh Octavius (c. 1847–1937)

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Qld shearers strike leaders, 1893 [Blackwell is seated at the right end of middle row]

Qld shearers strike leaders, 1893 [Blackwell is seated at the right end of middle row]

State Library of Qld, 64845

Blackwell, Hugh Octavius (c.1847-1937) carpenter, gaoled union leader 

Birth: possibly on the Isle of Wight, England or on 9 July 1847 at Bombay, India, son of Thomas Blackwell, “mercantile line” and Annie, née Scott. Unmarried. Death: 6 January 1937 in the Benevolent Asylum, Dunwich, Queensland. Religion: freethinker, nominally Anglican. 

  • His gaol documents, Dunwich admission records, and death certificate state he was born at Ryde in the Isle of Wight, England. His parents may have come from there, or he might have been brought up there. However, no registration of his birth in England has been found so far.
  • Arrived in Victoria about 1862 and in Queensland aboard the Geelong in 1871.
  • Was elected secretary of the Queensland Labourers' Union, Clermont, in December 1890, defeating William Bennett by one vote after first vote tied.
  • Addressed strike meeting in February 1891 at Barcaldine during Queensland shearers' strike. In union correspondence wrote of an imminent 'Australian Revolution'.
  • Sporting a bushy moustache, in appearance Blackwell was 'more like an accountant or a school master than a dangerous revolutionary'.
  • In March 1891 at Barcaldine Blackwell was arrested on a charge of conspiracy. He was tried with others at Rockhampton before Judge George Harding in May, convicted and sentenced to three years hard labour.  
  • Prison records describe him as aged 43, 5 feet 9 inches (175 cm) tall, of stout build, with brown hair, brown eyes and a dark complexion. He could read and write and gave his religion as “freethinker”. Fellow prisoner at Helena Island Julian Stuart later reported that he excelled at Chess.
  • Discharged from gaol on 17 November 1893, Blackwell sailed with other released prisoners Henry Smith-Barry and Alec Forrester in December 1893 for William Lane's New Australia settlement, Paraguay.
  • Had returned to Queensland by 1908 and after some four years working as a carpenter in the St George region, on 15 July 1915, with “no money, property or relations”, was admitted to Dunwich Benevolent Asylum, where he remained for the rest of his life.

Resources
Stuart Svensen, The Shearers' War: the story of the 1891 shearers' strike (Brisbane, 1989)

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

'Blackwell, Hugh Octavius (c. 1847–1937)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/blackwell-hugh-octavius-32296/text39969, accessed 5 December 2022.

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