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James Barr Lachlan (1844–1926)

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James Barr Lachlan (1844-1926) upholsterer, trade union official and political activist

Birth: 1844 at Paisley, Renfrewshire, near Glasgow, Scotland, son of George Lachlan, weaver, and Mary, née Barr. Marriage: 17 November 1870 at Govan, Lanark, Scotland, to Catherine McKinnon (1849-). They had two daughters and one son. Death: 13 November 1926 in his home at Woollarah, Sydney, New South Wales. 

  • Apprenticed upholsterer at firm, McKenzie’s, Glasgow, Scotland, from about 1858 to about 1865. When apprenticeship finished gained work with Wylie and Lockhead, Glasgow. Was foundation member and secretary of the Upholsterers’ Union, Glasgow, about 1865.
  • Moved to London and worked for the firm of Shoolbred in a leading shop of Ayrshire for seven years and continued union involvement.
  • Arrived in Queensland with his family in 1890. Elected organiser of public meetings to collect money in support of unionists and dependents involved in the great London Dock Strike, of that year.
  • “Lachlan’s agitation awakened a live interest in Trade Unionism, so much so that the then McIlwraith Government developed acute symptoms of capitalistic palsy, and rushed through their famous Coercion Act, practically making it a criminal offence to become a unionist.
  • Lachlan at this time gained much notoriety by his agitation against labour exploiters, and became not only a marked man insofar as the trade was concerned, but the victim of political espionage. Police agents wormed themselves into his union, and for a considerable time he was shadowed from nearly every street corner by detectives.
  • On the passing of McIlwraith, Arthur Morgan reconstructed the Cabinet out of a combination of members, with meagre Labor sympathisers and a few Tories. To a great extent the Coercion Act was modified, and unionists, through the efforts of this high-souled Scotsman, fought and won many battles”.
  • Returning officer, Federated Furnishing Trade Union.
  • Member of the Australian Labor Party.
  • Cause of death: chronic nephritis and pyelitis.

Labor News
(Sydney), 10 February 1923, p 27.

Additional Resources

Citation details

'Lachlan, James Barr (1844–1926)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 15 July 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland


13 November, 1926 (aged ~ 82)
Woollahra, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

kidney disease

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