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Henry (Harry) Lawton (1874–1937)

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Henry (Harry) Lawton (1874-1937) tramway driver, trade union official, grocer and clerk

Birth: 9 April 1874 at Kopuru, Wairoa, Kaipara, Northland, New Zealand, son of George Lawton (1842-1894), a fitter, and Dorothy Ann (Dora), née Wood (1843-1900). Both parents had been born in Yorkshire, England. Marriage: 12 December 1893 at the Mariners’ Church, Sydney, New South Wales, to native-born Margaret Duggan (1867-1957). They had two sons and six daughters, two of whom died in infancy. Death: 7 October 1937 in his residence at Rockdale, Sydney. Religion: Anglican. 

  • About 1879 his parents had moved back with their family, to the city of York, Yorkshire, where Harry and his siblings attended school.
  • The family arrived in Port Jackson, Sydney, New South Wales, aboard the RMA Ormuz on 21 November 1887, having departed from Plymouth on 15 October. The passage from London, 29 Days, was the fastest till then and the vessel had carried 828 persons, the largest number that had ever reached Australia in one bottom. The government astronomer, Russell, had returned to Australia on the same trip.
  • Harry was a soldier in the permanent artillery then worked as a labourer. In August 1895 his brother George (1870-1895), a fireman, also previously a gunner in the NSW Artillery, was killed while proceeding to fight a fire.
  • Harry joined the tramway service as a conductor in 1899; was later electric driver; He was dismissed for posting a Union notice on the Union Notice Board at Newtown Depot. Founding member of the Tramway Union in 1900 and held various positions from 1905 including general treasurer, vice-president and president.
  • Was delegate to the Eight-Hour Committee, the Political Labor League Conference, the Trades Union Congress, and in 1903 the Superannuation Conference.
  • Unsuccessful Australian Labor Party candidate for the seat of Surry Hills, held by John Norton in 1906.
  • Elected president of grand council of Railway and Tramway Unions. President of the Federated Tramway Workers of Australasia in 1910.
  • Represented union on Wages Board and successfully worked for award wage increases and better conditions for various grades of the electrical branch of the service.
  • Became general secretary of the Tramway Traffic Association in 1918. The organisation came into existence during a strike in 1917-1918, formed by those opposed to the strike by the Tramway Employees’ Union of which he had been formerly assistant secretary.
  • The new union had been granted registration by the Industrial Arbitration Court as the registration of the Tramway Employees’ Union (TEU) was cancelled. It caused controversy amongst the TEU members and Lawton became persona no grata with his former Labor associates. The union’s registration was cancelled in September 1925.
  • Thereafter he worked as a grocer and as a clerk until he retired.
  • Cause of death: coronary thrombosis.

Railway and Tramway Record, 16 January 1905, 15 September 1910, 25 February 1913, 8 January 1918 p 4, 22 January 1918 p 18, 5 February 1918 p.4, 16 April 1918 pp 9, 14.

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Citation details

'Lawton, Henry (Harry) (1874–1937)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 18 May 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


9 April, 1874
Te Kopuru, New Zealand


7 October, 1937 (aged 63)
Rockdale, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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