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Robert Bruce Buchanan (1830–1919)

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Robert Bruce Buchanan  (1830-1919) carpenter, builder and political activist 

Birth: 1 March 1830 in Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scotland, the son of, 'a studious and patriotic Scot’, Robert Buchanan, book seller, and Mary, née Wood. Marriage: 6 June 1852 in St Cuthbert’s, Edinburgh, to Jane Brown (1930-1898), a milliner. They had three daughters and seven sons. Death: 27 July 1919 in Ararat, Victoria. 

  • ‘Grand old man of Labor movement’ in Ararat, Victoria, during nineteenth century. Carpenter by trade, influenced by Chartist ideas and their suppression in Scotland.
  • A cabinet-maker in Edinburgh at his marriage. Departed Liverpool on 9 July 1852 and arrived in Melbourne on October 1852 with his young wife aboard the James Carson, intent on becoming a gold digger.
  • In 1857 moved to Ararat, where he resided for next sixty years. As employee (carpenter) and later employer (builder-contractor) believed in fair wages and working-class self- improvement. Political ideals meant that his business suffered from boycotts. Retired from building trade about 1896.
  • Was active in Ararat Mechanics’ Institute from its establishment in 1859, donating Labor newspapers to its library.
  • Prominent in Castlemaine in 1866 agitation for eight-hour day. Carried the ‘torch of Labour’ in Ararat. Twice secretary of Political Labor League branch there. Opposed Federation and Australian Constitution due to lack of guarantees of democratic freedoms. In 1906 a representative to PLL State conference, while detesting the sham of ‘Liberalism’.
  • Anti-conscriptionist during World War I. Advocated greater democracy within labour movement and political system as a whole by use of referenda to overcome careerism and inertia.
  • Cause of death senile debility.

Additional Resources

  • brief profile, Worker (Wagga, NSW), 5 July 1906, p 2
  • profile, Labor Call (Melbourne), 20 June 1912, p 5
  • profile, Labor Call (Melbourne), 25 July 1918, p 11
  • death notice, Ballarat Star (Vic), 30 July 1919, p 6

Citation details

'Buchanan, Robert Bruce (1830–1919)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 13 April 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


1 March, 1830
Edinburgh, Mid-Lothian, Scotland


27 July, 1919 (aged 89)
Ararat, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

general debility

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Passenger Ship
Key Organisations
Political Activism