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James (Shearblade Jim) Martin (c. 1862–1913)

by Martin Sullivan

This article was published:

James Martin, 1900 [far right]

James Martin, 1900 [far right]

from Worker (Brisbane), 22 December 1900

James Martin ('Shearblade Jim') (c.1862-1913) shearer, gaoled trade union leader

Birth: c.1862 in Ireland. Marriage: unknown. Death: 14 November 1913 in Broken Hill. Religion: Catholic. 

  • Arrived in Queensland aboard Royal Standard in 1865 according to his first prison record, or in 1868 on Blue Jacket, according to his second prison record.
  • He later claimed he had attended Geelong College with George ‘Chinese’ Morrison, when the latter’s father was principal.
  • Boundary rider, central Queensland, spending much of his time reading Marx, Bellamy and Nordeau. He became staunch supporter of William Lane. Queensland Shearers' Union delegate to Central District Council of Australian Labour Federation in 1890. Addressed meetings at Barcaldine on 21 March 1891, referring to the Queen as 'Old Mother Brown', and urging listeners ‘to take up arms and fight . . . The only petition I believe in is ten thousand resolute bushmen behind ten thousand shear blades’.
  • On 25 March 1891 he was arrested and charged with making seditious speech. Appeared before Justice George Harding in Rockhampton Circuit Court in April 1891. T. J. Ryan and others testified that he was drunk when making the speech. Sentenced in May to two years hard labour in St. Helena prison, Moreton Bay, and to find sureties for two years.
  • Prison records describe him as a native of Ireland, able to read and write, aged 29, of medium build, and 5ft 8 inches (173 cm) tall, with a fair complexion, brown hair and grey eyes, a scare on forehead and marks on his leg. Was released on 19 January 1893.
  • Obtained work as organiser of Charleville branch of Australian Workers' Union (Queensland). During 1894 shearers' strike, was active in militant group led by John Amor, probably involved in arson attacks on woolsheds in Ayrshire Downs area near Winton. Arrested in July 1894 but released on six months good behaviour bond. Rearrested, with David Bowes and others, on arson charge 1896. Sentenced by Justice Miller to 15 years hard labour. First held in Boggo-road gaol, then imprisoned in harsh conditions at Stewarts Creek, Townsville. In April 1897 arrived at St Helena prison where he worked as a librarian, bootmaker and cook.
  • Released with special remission in December 1900, but by then was 'a badly broken old battler'. Became a wanderer all over Australia’.
  • Earlier in life had advocated for a residential Workers’ Club in Longreach with meeting and game rooms, concert hall, library, sporting fields, gardens, general store and Government saving bank and for the formation of network of residential Workers’ Clubs ‘in every large town in the colony’.
  • A resident in a boarding house at Broken Hill, Martin was found dead at the bottom of a stairway in a bakery. Cause of death “injury to base of skull; whether accidental or otherwise the evidence does not say”.

Stuart Svensen, The Shearers' War: the story of the 1891 shearers' strike (Brisbane, 1989); Australian Worker (Sydney), 11 Dec. 1913, p.18

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Citation details

Martin Sullivan, 'Martin, James (Shearblade Jim) (c. 1862–1913)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 April 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

James Martin, 1900 [far right]

James Martin, 1900 [far right]

from Worker (Brisbane), 22 December 1900

Life Summary [details]


c. 1862


14 November, 1913 (aged ~ 51)
Broken Hill, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death


Cultural Heritage

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