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John George (Jack) Dwyer (1856–1934)

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Jack Dwyer, c.1895-96, with his son Henry (1891-1981), holding the Active Service Brigade flag in front of their barracks in Sydney,

Jack Dwyer, c.1895-96, with his son Henry (1891-1981), holding the Active Service Brigade flag in front of their barracks in Sydney,

photo is from Mark Hearn's PhD thesis, Hard Cash, John Dwyer and his Contemporaries, 1890-1914 (University of Sydney, 2000), p 408

John George (Jack) Dwyer (1856-1934) clerk, gaoled political agitator and publisher

Birth: 4 March 1856 at Whitechapel, London, England, only surviving child of Irish parents, Daniel Dwyer (1833-1859), a Catholic furniture maker of Irish heritage, and Ann, née Cook (1830-1878), an Anglican. Both parents signed their marriage registration document with a mark. His father was killed in a work accident in 1859. Marriage: 25 December 1879 at St Dunstan and All Saints parish Church, Stepney, to Anne Matilda (Annie) Bennett (1857-1954), a Methodist and temperance supporter. They had four children — a daughter and son born in London and two sons born in New South Wales. Death: 1 February 1934 in hospital at Liverpool, NSW. Religion: Catholic as a child, later Methodist, Theosophist and freethinker.

  • Dwyer worked as a clerk then a foreman on the London docks. Described himself as an “elocutionist”. Served five years in the 25th and later the 15th Rifle Corps of London. A temperance supporter, he became an office bearer in the Independent Order of Good Templars in London.
  • Dwyer arrived in New South Wales as a cook’s mate aboard the Port Denison in November 1888. His wife and two children followed, reaching Sydney aboard the Oroya in September 1889. They settled at Mittagong. He was secretary of the local school of arts, a member of the NSW branch of the Independent Order of Good Templars and a frequent contributor to the local newspaper, the Mittagong Express, as ‘Mark Time’. But he struggled to find work.
  • In 1891 he helped establish Mittagong Labor Electoral League [Labor Party], becoming secretary. In 1892 he launched the Berrima branch of the Australian Socialist League.
  • In 1893 Dwyer moved to Sydney and became involved in the Active Service Brigade (established the same year), providing support to distressed workers and their families. He was employed as manager of the ASB’s barracks (doss house) for the unemployed at premises where the weekly newspaper Justice was published; Dwyer was listed as one of the proprietors. He and the other four ASB publishers were sentenced in June 1894 to imprisonment with hard labour for libelling conservative politician T. M. Slattery. He served his time in country gaols.
  • On his release in December 1894, Dwyer helped Tom Batho produce the Socialist during Harry Holland's imprisonment in 1896 and gave assistance to Holland's family. In 1895 he had revived the Active Service Brigade and he stayed in touch with fellow ASB colleagues Arthur Desmond and John Andrews. Spoke at Victorian Socialist League rallies c.1900. For twenty years he and his wife secured a bare living by running boarding houses, moving about from time to time to dodge bailiffs.
  • For a time he was an active temperance advocate, sometimes in Sydney’s Domain, and became a member of the Australian Theosophical Society. In 1895 he joined a breakaway group and was president of the Isis Lodge of the Theosophical Society of Australasia. An autodidact, he was influenced by his readings of Charles Darwin, Thomas Huxley, Friedrich Nietzsche, Rosa Praed, H. Rider Haggard, Madame Blavatsky and Annie Besant.
  • He also remained an active member of the Stewards and Cooks Union, and of the Sydney District Council [later known as the Labor Council of NSW] and stayed connected with the Political Labor League — he was a delegate to its 1902 conference.
  • Dwyer was founding president and organiser of State Labourers' Union of NSW, 1900, for which he and Annie again operated accommodation for the unemployed. He was active in the Citizens' Committee on Unemployment (established 1904), Citizens' National Movement to Deal with the Unemployment Question (est. 1905), and the Northern Territory and North West Settlements Corporation Ltd. (est. 1904).
  • He worked casually, as a cook, a parcel sorter at the post office or a pick and shovel man, and regularly sought financial support from sympathetic strangers. He was also involved in the Social Democratic Federation (1907-09), Popular Rights Defence League (1909), the Industrial Workers of the World, NSW branch (briefly in 1911) and the Right to Work Movement in 1913-1914. The outbreak of World War I ended his public activism.
  • His eldest son Daniel John Dwyer (1881-1916), a Methodist home missionary and temperance advocate, died of tuberculosis at Waterfall Sanatorium; the youngest, Timm Stephen Dwyer (1896-1938), a railway shunter, enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in April 1916, served with the 33rd Battalion in France and was discharged in September 1919. From 1921 Jack and Annie Dwyer lived in western Sydney with Timm and his wife.
  • Cause of death: melanoma of the lip.

Sources
Verity Burgmann, In Our Time: Socialism and the Rise of Labor, 1885-1905, (Sydney, 1985); John Dwyer Papers, Mitchell Library, Sydney, MSS 2184; Mark Graeme Hearn, Hard Cash, John Dwyer and his Contemporaries, 1890-1914, PhD thesis, University of Sydney, 2000, https://ses.library.usyd.edu.au/handle/2123/847

Citation details

'Dwyer, John George (Jack) (1856–1934)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/dwyer-john-george-jack-33438/text41809, accessed 23 May 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Jack Dwyer, c.1895-96, with his son Henry (1891-1981), holding the Active Service Brigade flag in front of their barracks in Sydney,

Jack Dwyer, c.1895-96, with his son Henry (1891-1981), holding the Active Service Brigade flag in front of their barracks in Sydney,

photo is from Mark Hearn's PhD thesis, Hard Cash, John Dwyer and his Contemporaries, 1890-1914 (University of Sydney, 2000), p 408

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Mark Time
Birth

4 March, 1856
London, Middlesex, England

Death

1 February, 1934 (aged 77)
Liverpool, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (lip)

Cultural Heritage

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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.

Passenger Ship
Occupation
Key Organisations
Political Activism