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James Vance Marshall (1887–1964)

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James Vance Marshall (1887-1964) journalist, trade union leader, gaoled anti-conscriptionist and author

Birth: 15 July 1887 at Casino, New South Wales, son of native-born parents Reverend James Vance Marshall (1855-1930), Presbyterian Minister, and Agnes, née Quinn (1863-1939). Marriage: 19 July 1919 at the registry office, Stanmore, Sydney, to Isabelle Emily ‘Belle’ Sirman. They had one son and one daughter. Death: 3 February 1964 in the district hospital at Oberon, NSW. Religion: Anglican. 

  • Spent childhood in Pymble, NSW. Attended Fort Street High School, Sydney.
  • Bank clerk for two years, then became a seaman and world traveler (China, Japan, Russia, North and South America). Was arrested on five occasions. Jailed by Tsarist authorities in Russia for carrying a revolver while working in Vladivostok dispatch office of Trans-Siberian Railway. Released with the aid of US Consul. Also jailed in Mexico.
  • Worked as a journalist on numerous newspapers, including North China Daily News, South China Herald, Chicago Tribune and Mississippi Scimitar. Had short stories published in Saturday Evening Post and Yorkshire Post.
  • Returned to Australian at the outbreak of war in 1914, joined Darling Harbour branch of the Australian Labor Party. An active anti-conscriptionist in association with the Social Democratic League.
  • In February 1917 became first organiser for NSW Miscellaneous Workers Union (MWU) (selected from 79 applicants). Delegate to Labor Council of NSW.
  • Anti-conscription activist in 1916-17. Arrested, charged and convicted for remark made at anti-conscription meeting. Served four-month jail sentence in Albury and Long Bay jails, where he met Donald Grant. Soon afterwards jailed again in Goulburn for saying that ‘soldiers in the war are the blind tools of the capitalist class’.
  • Wrote two best-selling books informed by the experience of political incarceration, each prefaced by his friend Henry Lawson. Presented with a gold watch by NSW Labor Council purchased from funds raised to secure his release.
  • Arrested again in June 1919 for inciting a riot during a meeting protesting the deportation of Paul Freeman. Norman Jeffery remembered him as ‘a fiery, emotional speaker’. Described by the Socialist in 1919 as ‘the irrepressible leader of the social democrats in Sydney’.
  • Resigned from MWU in 1920 and travelled to Queensland. In 1925 travelled to Britain, becoming involved in the Fabian Society and British Labour Party. Chairman of Labour Party’s Westminster Branch. Member Westminster and London County Councils. Appointed to London Bench of Magistrates, where he heard appeals from conscientious objectors during World War II.
  • As an air warden in the British Civil Defence Organisation, he received Diploma and Medal of Merit for rescue work during the London blitz. Appointed ‘official lecturer to H.M. Forces’ in 1942.
  • Worked in British Civil Service as Public Relations Officer for Board of Trade. Review writer for London’s Windmill Theatre.
  • Returned to Australia in 1950. Worked in Department of Labour and National Service as administrator of migrant hostels.
  • Retired to Oberon, NSW, 1958, to pursue writing interests. Author of Jail From Within; The World of the Living Dead; Poison Gas (play), By Appointment (play), Physical Fits (play). The Children; A River Ran Out of Eden (stories); ‘The Wind Blew My Way’ (uncompleted autobiography).
  • Cause of death: acute myocardial infarction and coronary artery disease.
  • His work was used as source material for the novel Walkabout (1959), by the English author Donald Gordon Payne (1924-2018), who borrowed Marshall’s name as a pseudonym for this and other books.

Sources
Merrifield papers, State Library of Victoria; Socialist (Melbourne), 13 June 1919, p 2, 28 November 1919, p 2; Miscellaneous Worker, May 1961, February 1964; Federation News, March 1984; Tribune (Sydney), 19 February 1964, p 6; AustLit database: https://www.austlit.edu.au/austlit/page/A31307.

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Citation details

'Marshall, James Vance (1887–1964)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/marshall-james-vance-34095/text42756, accessed 21 June 2024.

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