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Charles Stuart (Charlie) Fern (1884–1918)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published:

Charles Fern, n.d.

Charles Fern, n.d.

Charles Stuart (Charlie) Fern (1884-1918) miner, trade union official and parliamentarian

Birth: 21 October 1884 at Glebe, Sydney, New South Wales, son of James Joseph Fern (1836-1918), a gardener, born in Ireland, who moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, and Elizabeth, née McIvor (1843-1919), born in Grey Friars, Cowsgate, Edinburgh. Marriage: 17 November 1904 at New Unitarian Church, Pitt Street, Sydney, New South Wales, to native-born Ruby May Sormani (1885-1956). They had five daughters. Death: 18 April 1918 in his home ‘Cobar House’ at Lidcombe, NSW. Religion: Catholic. 

  • His parents arrived in New South Wales in the 1860s. Charles claimed his father, who worked as a gardener at Sydney Botanic Gardens from 1879 until his death, was the first president of the Trades and Labor Council when it opened in 1890.
  • Educated at Marist Brothers school, North Sydney, where he won a scholarship. At age of 18 he began work as a miner at Yerranderie, the silver field in the Burragorang valley, NSW. Spent several years mining at Wyalong. Contracted phthisis.
  • Active trade unionist, becoming secretary and organiser of the Yarranderie Amalgamated Miners’ Association (AMA) for seven years to 1911. Was the association’s representative on the wages board. Was the State president of the AMA and federal vice-president.
  • Was vice-president on the Political Labor League [Australian Labor Party] executive. Contested Labor pre-selection against George Burns for the seat of Illawarrra in the Federal House of Representatives in April 1910 and ran for the seat of Wollondilly in the State Legislative Assembly elections of October 1910.
  • Although he had never been in Cobar until three days before the poll, he was elected unopposed as the Labor member of the Legislative Assembly for Cobar in a by-election on 2 December 1911, replacing Donald MacDonell, He became the youngest member of the house.
  • Joined Universal Service League in 1915 and was active in recruiting. Enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 14 August 1915. Embarked from Sydney for service with the 16th Battalion.
  • Reached Europe in March 1916 and was among the first division that landed in France, and became acting sergeant. In May, suffering from shell shock, exposure and pneumonia, he was transferred to hospital at Leicester, England. Diagnosed with a recurrence of tuberculosis, he was invalided to Australia aboard the Euripides on 8 August 1916 and was discharged in Sydney, medically unfit, on 6 November 1916.
  • His health continued to deteriorate. On 3 March 1917 he was returned unopposed for Cobar.
  • Cause of death: phthisis. His parents, brothers, sisters, widow, and four daughters survived him. Sergeant Joseph Fern (1876-1932) of the Engineers, who was invalided from the front, and Private Edward Leslie (1870-1946) Fern in the Australian Army Service Corps in France were his brothers.

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Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Fern, Charles Stuart (Charlie) (1884–1918)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 July 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Charles Fern, n.d.

Charles Fern, n.d.

Life Summary [details]


21 October, 1884
Glebe, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


18 April, 1918 (aged 33)
Lidcombe, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death


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.

Military Service
Key Organisations
Political Activism