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William Thomas (Billy) Cahill (1866–1957)

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William Thomas (Billy) Cahill (1866-1957) bricklayer and trade union official 

Birth: 12 March 1866 at Adelaide, South Australia, son of Irish-born parents William Cahill (1840-1887), smelter, from Tipperary, and Catherine, née Whelan (1842-1900), from Ballymore, Westmeath. Marriage: 26 June 1892 at Newcastle, New South Wales, to native-born Jessie Annie McDonald (1872-1938). They had one daughter and one son. Death: 21 July 1957 at Mortdale, NSW. Religion: Anglican. 

  • Foundation member of Newcastle (NSW) branch, Operative Bricklayers' Society (OBS) 1885. To Sydney 1895. Later worked at Cobar.
  • To Johannesburg, South Africa, 1903, where elected president of local bricklayers' union. Represented union on Witwatersrand Trades and Labour Council. Pioneered 8-Hour Day demonstration. Helped secure franchise for Uitlanders in Transvaal. Led several strikes against wage reduction. Served term as steward of Johannesburg Trades Hall & Workingmen's Club.
  • Left South Africa after mine owners introduced “60,000 Chinese labourers”.
  • To New York (United States of America). Union steward on 25-storey building.
  • Returned to Sydney in 1907. To Grafton (NSW). Instrumental in formation of Grafton branch of bricklayers’ union. In 1909 was elected OBS president & delegate to NSW Trades and Labor Council (TLC) until 1916. Chaired NSW TLC for period.
  • Helped form Labor Leagues in Clarence electorate. In 1910 stood unsuccessfully as Labor candidate at State election. Elected member of Labor's first ‘industrial ticket’. Member and president of Surry Hills Political Labor League. Endorsed candidate for a few Labor preselections in 1915-1916.
  • Though he had publicly opposed conscription, he left the NSW PLL executive in December 1916 over its failure to support voluntary recruiting, was defeated in ballot for presidency of Bricklayers’ union and expelled from the Surry Hills PLL. His son William Thomas Cahill (1895-1964) a bricklayer, had enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 21 August 1915, served overseas in the 4th Pioneer Battalion and was discharged in Sydney on 12 July 1919.
  • William senior went to England during World War I as ‘war worker’. Represented NSW on workers' committee formed aboard ship. Also elected NSW representative at each centre in England. After Armistice he led opposition to orders denying war workers freedom of movement and helped secure rail warrants for unrestricted travel throughout Britain prior to repatriation. Represented NSW workers on homeward journey to Australia.
  • After war he worked as foreman bricklayer in Sydney. Remained active member of OBS/Building Workers' Industrial Union.
  • Cause of death: exhaustion, senility and prostatism.

Building Worker,
July 1953 and August 1957.

Additional Resources

Citation details

'Cahill, William Thomas (Billy) (1866–1957)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 May 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


12 March, 1866
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


21 July, 1957 (aged 91)
Mortdale, Sydney, New South Wales, 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.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Key Organisations
Political Activism