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John Hepher (1850–1932)

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John Hepher (1850-1932) tailor, trade union official and parliamentarian 

Birth: 16 October 1850 at Swavesey, Cambridgeshire, England, son of William Hepher (1814-1892), master tailor, and Esther, née Wilderspin (1815-1892). Marriage: 5 December 1884 at Glebe, Sydney, New South Wales, to native-born Edith Penrose Robinson (1864-1953), his boarding-house manager’s adopted daughter. They had two daughters and five sons. Death: 3 August 1932 at Sacred Heart Hospital, Sydney. Usual residence was Coogee. Religion: buried with Anglican rites. 

  • In 1861 census, aged 10, he and his brother Fred, 15, were described as tailors living with the family at Swavesey. His father was a tailor “employing two boys”. John was later a tailor and union activist at Newcastle-on-Tyne in England.
  • Arrived in NSW aboard the S. Lusitania in September 1883. Employed as journeyman tailor until 1891 tailor's strike, then organised Co-operative Tailoring Co. Sydney. In the 1890s was a keen freetrader.
  • Vice-president and president of the Amalgamated Journeymen Tailors' Association (Sydney). In 1889 was elected union's delegate to NSW Trades and Labor Council (TLC). Member, then president, TLC executive committee. Vice-president of the TLC'S parliamentary committee.
  • Instrumental in organising unsuccessful Sydney tailors' strike from October 1891 to January 1892.
  • Foundation chair of Redfern Political Labor League (PLL). Strong supporter of Jim McGowen. Treasurer, Australian Socialist League 1894. Member NSW Labor drafting committee, helping to draft first Labor platform.
  • Delegate to Labor conferences. At 1898 PLL conference (Newcastle) moved that 'Socialistic plank' be modified from a platform item to a declaration of principle. Member NSW Labor central executive from 1899 to 1910; treasurer 1895. President and trustee of Eight Hour committee.
  • Was one of the twelve men, including three other trade union officials [Nicholas James Buzacott, a wheelwright, John Estell, a miner, and James Wilson, a confectioner] nominated to the Legislative Council of NSW on the advice of premier G. H. Reid on 11 April 1899. Held the seat until his death when he was the “father of the house” (its oldest member). In indifferent health during his last two years and an infrequent attender. On one occasion, however, he was carried in to the chamber to vote for a bill of the Lang government.
  • Foundation president, Federated Clothing Trades' Union 1907; still described as a tailor at his death.
  • Cause of death: senility.

N. B. Nairn, Civilising Capitalism: the Labor movement in New South Wales 1870-1900, (Canberra, 1973); C. N. Connolly (ed.), Biographical Register of the New South Wales Parliament 1856-1901 (ANU Press, Canberra, 1983); Heather Radi, Peter Spearritt & Elizabeth Hinton (eds), Biographical Register of the NSW Parliament 1901-1970 (Canberra, 1979); Verity Burgmann, In Our Time: Socialism and the Rise of Labor, 1885-1905, (Sydney, 1985); Bradon Ellem, In women’s hands? A history of clothing trades unionism in Australia (Sydney, 1989).

Additional Resources

  • photo, Sydney Mail, 22 April 1899, p 924

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

'Hepher, John (1850–1932)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 May 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

John Hepher, 1899

John Hepher, 1899

Sydney Mail, 22 April 1899, p 924

Life Summary [details]


16 October, 1850
Swavesey, Cambridgeshire, England


3 August, 1932 (aged 81)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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