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William (Billy) Mears (1865–1943)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published:

Billy Mears, caricature by Dick Ovenden, 1923

Billy Mears, caricature by Dick Ovenden, 1923

Labor Call (Melbourne), 19 April 1923, p 5

William (Billy or ‘Boxer’) Mears (1865-1943) bricklayer and trade union official

Birth: 1865 at Echuca, Victoria, son of English-born parents John Mears (Meyers) (1831-1913), a bricklayer from Yatehouse, Middlewich, Cheshire, and his third wife Jane, née Snowden (1836-1900), a domestic servant from Haltwhistle, Northumberland. Marriage: 1892 at Melbourne to native-born Cassandra (Cassie) Richards (1868-1925). They had two daughters and four sons. Death: 21 February 1943 at his home in Stanley Avenue, Eltham, Victoria. 

  • His parents had arrived at Melbourne aboard the Covenenter on 23 January 1855, Jane with her sister and John with his former wife — who died soon after arrival — and their son. The following year John and Jane married.
  • In his youth Billy played football with the Carlton Club and cricket with Carlton in the ANA competition. Followed his father (and his grandfather) into the bricklaying trade. First active appearance in the Labor movement was in the Bricklayers Society (Brunswick Branch) about 1901.
  • Member, Victorian Trades Hall Council Building Committee for some years.
  • Organising secretary of Bricklayers’ Society, Victoria, from about 1905.
  • President of the strike committee during the big 1907 strike that fought for a 44-hour week. The men lost in the Arbitration Court but the bosses conceded the demand after a long conference. That year was elected to the executive of the Political Labor Council.
  • For many years represented his union on the Trades Hall Council and the Eight Hours Committee. Secretary of the Bricklayers Society from 1915.
  • Described in Labor Call as a good platform speaker. “A great student of Ruskin and Carlyle, he decided to take to oratory, but a dental operation settled that anticipated flight into those flowery lingual domains.” Candidate for Labor preselection for the seat of Brunswick in 1909, was defeated by James Robert Jewell who won the seat and held it for thirty-nine years.
  • Described as “a trusty capable man at the helm” of bricklayers’ affairs “and they know it”. Retired in 1940.
  • A trade union leader for more than fifty years, at his death he was described as “one of the oldest trade union secretaries in years and service”. To his memory the red flag was flown at half-mast at the Trades Hall.
  • Cause of death: mitral valvular disease of the heart and senility.
  • Three sons served in Australian military forces in World War II.

Leslie John Louis, Trade unions and the Depression: a study of Victoria, 1930-1932 (Canberra, 1968) p 212.

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Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Mears, William (Billy) (1865–1943)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 June 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Billy Mears, caricature by Dick Ovenden, 1923

Billy Mears, caricature by Dick Ovenden, 1923

Labor Call (Melbourne), 19 April 1923, p 5

Life Summary [details]


Echuca, Victoria, Australia


21 February, 1943 (aged ~ 78)
Eltham, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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