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Forrester, Alexander (Alec) (1853–1932)

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Qld shearers strike leaders, 1893 [Forrester is second from right, top row]

Qld shearers strike leaders, 1893 [Forrester is second from right, top row]

State Library of Qld, 64845

Alexander ‘Alec’ Forrester  (also known as Alexander Lewis), (1853-1932) labourer and gaoled trade union leader 

Birth: 14 January 1853 in Geelong, Victoria, son of Henry Lewis, veterinary surgeon, and Isabella, née Chisholm. Marriage: 1876 at Menindie, in New South Wales, to Mary Ann Jones. They had five sons and two daughters. Death: 5 March 1932 at Dunwich Benevolent Asylum. Religion: Atheist (baptised as Catholic). 

  • Birth and Baptism name registered as Alexander Forrestal Lewis. Under that name worked as hotel barman in Wilcannia, NSW, and as bush worker in Queensland from 1883.
  • As Forrester in 1890 became organiser for Central District Council of Australian Labour Federation. In December that year helped Ned Murphy establish Maranoa branch of Queensland Shearers' Union (QSU).
  • In February 1891 he was directed by QSU's Barcaldine strike committee to take charge of the shearers’ strike in St. George district. Formed local branch of People's Parliamentary Association. Arrested on conspiracy charge 28 March 1891 and committed by police magistrate to Rockhampton Supreme Court.
  • In April-May 1891 he appeared, with others, before Judge George Harding. He was convicted and sentenced to three years hard labour on St. Helena Island, Moreton Bay. Prison records describe him as stout, 5 feet 7 ¼ inches (170 cm) tall and having a dark complexion, black hair and brown eyes. Photos show him with a bushy moustache.
  • When sent to Boggo Road Gaol for medical treatment in April 1892, he obtained and memorised William Lane's Workingman's Paradise and on return to St. Helena recited it to fellow prisoners, receiving seven days on bread & water for his trouble.
  • After his release (November 1893), and the birth of a son in Sydney the following year, Alec and his wife and children went to Lane's Cosme colony, Paraguay, in 1895. At Cosme, where he was known as Alec. F. Lewis, another son and daughter were born. He left for Argentina about 1905 and then visited London.
  • In about 1907 Lewis took up farming in Auckland province, New Zealand, where members of his family settled. The severity of the climate, however, led to his return to Brisbane, via a spell in New South Wales, in about 1922. After suffering a stroke and badly affected by rheumatism, he elected to enter Dunwich Benevolent Asylum in January 1932
  • His obituary described him as “well read, courageous, enthusiastic, and . . . a born organiser. Faithful to the end to the ideal of the Socialist State”.

Gavin Souter, A Peculiar People: the Australians in Paraguay, (Sydney, 1968); Stuart Svensen, The Shearers' War: the story of the 1891 shearers' strike (Brisbane, 1989).

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Citation details

'Forrester, Alexander (Alec) (1853–1932)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 7 February 2023.

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