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Robert George (Bob) McWilliams (1895–1951)

This article was published:

Bob McWilliams, n.d.

Bob McWilliams, n.d.

photograph provided by family

Robert George (Bob) McWilliams (1895-1951) labourer, cook and Communist activist

Birth: 28 May 1895 at Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland, son of Edward McWilliams (1856-1918), a shipyard labourer, who signed with a mark, and Ann Jane, née Cowan (1857-1911). Both parents were originally from Leitrim, in Ireland. Marriage: 22 March 1922 at Katoomba, New South Wales, to Daisy Olive Patterson (c.1898-1981), domestic servant, born at Brunswick East, Melbourne, Victoria. They had one daughter and one son. Death: 15 November 1951 at Malekula, Santo, New Hebrides. Religion: Ardent atheist but christened by Church of Ireland minister, married with Methodist forms and buried with an Anglican service. 

  • Worked with his brother Tom as shipbuilders at Clydeside, Glasgow.
  • Arrived with Tom in Sydney about 1921. By 1930 Bob was working as a cleaner and living with Daisy at Rosebery, Sydney. In November 1933 the family was being evicted from their home in Telopea Street, Redfern, when the district anti-eviction committee stepped in.
  • A member of the Australian Labor Party, Redfern East branch, for many years, he joined the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) in June 1934. The following year he stood as CPA candidate for the seat of Redfern, held by Bill McKell.
  • Was a member of the State Committee of the CPA from 1937 to 1942. Became secretary of the Sydney branch of the CPA. Later expelled from the party, one of the Sydney leaders of the 1930s attacked by Jack Miles.
  • Mobilised for full-time duty in the Citizen Military Forces on 18 September 1941, he served in various areas of NSW and was discharged on 3 January 1944. According to his obituary he “then served overseas in US small ships”.
  • Described in police files as a ‘very rabid revolutionary’. Wrote pamphlets for the CPA including ‘Our Police’ [1927].
  • Wife was gaoled at Long Bay for distributing pamphlets on ‘Fair Rent’ in State parliament. She wrote ‘Unemployed’ in Depression Down Under edited by Len Fox. She also wrote under the name ‘Sweet Pea’ in the Communist press.
  • By 1951 Bob was an invalid pensioner. He was working with his son (also Bob) in the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) when he died from natural causes.
  • His daughter and son were also members of the CPA.

Information supplied by Margaret Sampson, historian and grand-daughter of Robert.

Additional Resources

  • ASIO file, A6126, 534 (National Archives of Australia)
  • photo, Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 22 November 1933, p 12

Citation details

'McWilliams, Robert George (Bob) (1895–1951)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 23 July 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Bob McWilliams, n.d.

Bob McWilliams, n.d.

photograph provided by family

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Life Summary [details]


28 May, 1895
Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland


15 November, 1951 (aged 56)
Malekula Island, Vanuatu

Cause of Death

general debility

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.

Military Service
Political Activism