People Australia

  • searches all National Centre of Biography websites
  • searches all National Centre of Biography websites
  • searches all National Centre of Biography websites

Browse Lists:

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

John Benjamin King (1870–1954)

This article was published:

John Benjamin King (1870-1954) engineer, trade union leader, gaoled IWW member and Communist organiser 

Birth: 26 July 1870 at Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Death: 14 October 1954 in hospital at Innisfail, Queensland. Religion: Atheist. 

  • Arrived in Australia in 1911. Active organiser and speaker for the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), assisted in establishing the Chicago local in Sydney. To New Zealand where he played an important role in the 1912 Waihi strike.
  • Prosecuted in Australia in 1916, as the official publisher, for failing to register the publication Direct Action under the Newspapers Act of 1898. Travelled to Newcastle, and Western Australia to gain support for the IWW and its policies of industrial unionism, sailed to Fremantle by signing on as a fireman with a coastal steam ship and then travelled to the mining centre of Boulder to rally support from the miners.
  • Travelled to Moree, NSW, to utilise money collected by public appeal during Sydney meetings of the IWW for shearers’ strike in Queensland and northern NSW.
  • Charged on 18 September 1916 with forgery. Conducted his own defence. On 26 October was sentenced to three years imprisonment. After an appeal, on 27 March 1917 the sentence was reduced to two years.
  • King had also been one of the twelve IWW members arrested on 22 September 1916 and charged with conspiracy to commit arson. He was sentenced by Justice Pring on 2 December 1916 to five years hard labour to be served at the expiration of the forgery sentence. Was not released until 30 August 1921.
  • Helped to re-establish Direct Action. Joined the Communist Party of Australia. Lectured at Labour College in Sydney where Communist Party recruits were trained to develop strategies of trade unionism with the ultimate aim of gaining control of industry. Was reported in 1927 to be working as a boot-mender.
  • King’s commitment to the principles of Marxian economics inspired a journey to Russia in 1931 where he studied the new Soviet. After returning to Sydney via New Zealand in October 1936 he travelled widely throughout Australia for two years as a Communist propagandist.
  • Thereafter he became deeply disillusioned and ceased to be an active organiser for the IWW.
  • Was a pensioner at Innisfail, Queensland, in the last years of his life.

Information from Frank Cain 1991; J. Monat, ‘Industry and Community: A Comparison of Broken Hill’, NSW, Waiti, New Zealand, Rossland, British Columbia; K. Tenfelde (ed.), Towards a Social History of Mining in the 19th and 20th Centuries, (CH Beck, Munich, 1992); Frank Cain, The Wobblies at war; A history of the IWW and the Great War in Australia (Melbourne, 1993); Frank Cain, Biography and ideology in the Industrial Workers of the World in Australia 1911-1922: a brief review in 2011 ASSLH conference:

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

'King, John Benjamin (1870–1954)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 22 April 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

John King, 1916

John King, 1916

Sydney Mail, 18 October 1916, p 7

Life Summary [details]


26 July, 1870
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada


14 October, 1954 (aged 84)
Innisfail, Queensland, Australia

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.

Key Events
Key Organisations
Political Activism