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William (Billy) Kewley (1844–1906)

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William ‘Billy’ Kewley (1844-1906) shearer and gaoled trade union leader 

Born: 23 November 1844 at Douglas, Isle of Man, England, son of William Kewley, shoemaker later mason, and Margaret, née Cribbin, charwoman. Marriage: 16 November 1867 in Tambo Inn, Queensland, to Elizabeth Mary Hayes, born in Dublin, Ireland, who was was a servant. They had five daughters and four sons. Death: 23 November 1906 at Longreach, Queensland.  Religion: Methodist. 

  • Arrived Rockhampton, Queensland, 1861.
  • In November 1867 Kewley was a stockman at Tambo. He then became a shearer at Blackall. Later selected Maryvale Station in the Jericho district.
  • Founding secretary Queensland Shearers' Union, Blackall, 1887. A conscientious & efficient official, of dour temperament, he preferred negotiation & conciliation to conflict and was a socialist, committed to the peaceful resolution of conflict.
  • Secretary of Workingman's Parliamentary Representatives Association/People's Parliamentary Association (Blackall).
  • During 1890 opposed & condemned Amalgamated Shearers' Union incursions against QSU, protesting repeatedly to W.G. Spence. In November 1890 correctly forecast wage reduction campaign by pastoralists during 1891 season.
  • Arrested in May 1891 on perjury charge after court appearance on behalf of George Ellis during shearers' strike. Also charged with being accessory in burning of Lorne woolshed, but charges subsequently dropped. Released 8 September 1891.
  • On amalgamation of QSU & Queensland Labourers' Unions (1892) became secretary of Longreach branch of Australian Workers’ Union (Queensland), retaining position until death.
  • Sometime president of Australian Labour Federation.
  • Alderman Blackall Town Council. Member Longreach Hospital committee and the School of Arts. Took part in the opening of the Loyal Thompson Lodge of the Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows in 1892.
  • Cause of death stomach cancer.

H. J. Gibbney and Ann. J. Smith, A Biographical Register 1788-1939, vol 1, A-K, Canberra, 1987; John Merritt, The Making of the AWU (Melbourne, 1986); Stuart Svensen, The Shearers' War: the story of the 1891 shearers' strike (Brisbane, 1989); obituary & photo, Australian Worker, 29 November 1906, p.4

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Citation details

'Kewley, William (Billy) (1844–1906)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 22 May 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Billy Kewley, n.d.

Billy Kewley, n.d.

from Worker (Brisbane), 1 Dec 1906

Life Summary [details]


23 November, 1844
Douglas, Isle of Man, England


23 November, 1906 (aged 62)
Longreach, Queensland, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (stomach)

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.

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