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George Francis McGowan (1873–1931)

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George Francis McGowan (1873–1931) printer, journalist, trade union official and Labor activist

Birth: 1873 at Kilmore, Victoria, son of Irish-born John McGowan (1813-1879), bootmaker, and his second wife Bridget, née Hayes (1830-1911), from Cashel, Tipperary. Marriage: 1900 at Cowwarr, Gippsland, Victoria, to native-born Mary McKenzie (1875-1919). They had three daughters and three sons. Death: 2 January 1931 at Coburg, Melbourne, Victoria; usual residence Walsh Street, Coburg, Melbourne. Religion: Catholic. 

  • His father arrived in New South Wales as a convict aboard the Parkfield on 1 September 1839. He had sixteen children by two wives. George was his youngest child.
  • Apprenticed printer and compositor with the Kilmore Advertiser. Manager, Moira Independent and Walhalla Times.
  • Moved to Riverina and worked on Berrigan Advocate. Later he managed the Tungamah Independent. Secretary of the local Progress Association (while working on the Berrigan Advocate), which worked in the capacity of a town council. Secretary of Berrigan Railway League and attempted to persuade New South Wales government to connect Riverina railways with Victoria at either Cobram or Tocumwal but despite much effort was unsuccessful.
  • Participated in yeoman service to establish Murray River Main Channel League, which attempted to lock the Murray River for irrigation for the Riverina and northern Victoria.
  • About 1900 joined sales staff of the Singer Sewing Machine Co. and became company representative in the Riverina. Won all of his firm’s prizes for sales.
  • Organised for Labor at Horsham, Victoria, and his political enemies sent letters to his employer stating that he should be dismissed for injuring the firm’s business; Resulted in company offering him a position in the Ballarat district, but instead he resigned from the company. Presented with a substantial cheque by friends in the Riverina district for their appreciation.
  • Moved to Geelong and worked for T&G Insurance in Western District of Victoria, 1905-1913. Assisted J. K McDougall to win the Federal seat of Wannon for Labor in 1906. Unsuccessfully contested the State seats of Lowan in 1911 [his successful opponent was James Menzies, father of the future prime minister] Bulla in 1914 and St. Kilda in 1917, Active in Fitzroy and Prahran areas for Labor.
  • Moved to Melbourne in 1913 and became organiser of the Federal Implement and Ironworkers’ Union. Sent by union to Adelaide to organise union in South Australia, where he organised new members.
  • Actively involved in anti-conscription campaigns, was prosecuted several times under War Precautions Act for fiery speeches including in Toorak, Melbourne, where he was said to be making statements likely to be prejudicial against recruiting. An attempt was made during an anti-conscription campaign at Leongatha, Victoria, to convict him of making false statements which his solicitor fought to the High Court and resulted in the conviction being quashed with costs against the Crown.
  • Foundation member and secretary of Journeymen Farriers’ Association, Melbourne, 1919-1931 (death).
  • Moved to Coburg in the early 1920s. Organised Coburg Council for Labor in 1924, resulting in gaining three seats from the opposition, and gaining a seat himself (This was the only significant municipal success for Coburg prior to the late 1940s). Representative for Coburg on Municipal Association of Victoria. Did not seek re-election in 1927 due to ill-health.
  • Prominent member of the Druid’s Lodge in Coburg. Appointed Justice of Peace. Described by Labor Call as a ‘thinker and a fighter’.
  • Cause of death” chronic myocarditis, chronic nephritis and cardiac failure.

Labor Call
(Melbourne), 8 January 1931, 5 February 1931; Recorder, April 1977 No. 87 p 8.

Additional Resources

  • profile, Socialist (Melbourne), 9 November 1917, p 3
  • tribute, Labor Call (Melbourne), 5 February 1931, p 2

Citation details

'McGowan, George Francis (1873–1931)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 13 June 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


Kilmore, Victoria, Australia


2 January, 1931 (aged ~ 58)
Coburg, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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 Organisations
Political Activism