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Pinkerton, Robert Corry (1884–1956)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published:

Robert Corry Pinkerton (1884-1956) engine driver, gaoled trade union leader

Birth: 23 March 1884 in Paisley, Scotland, son of John ‘Jack’ Pinkerton (1855-1932), clerk, and Maggie, née Potter (1861-1924). Marriage: 5 June 1907 in Braidwood, New South Wales, to native-born Sara ‘Sally’ Jane MacInnes (1874-1955), formerly a teacher at Port Kembla, NSW. They had one son and three daughters. Death: 18 December 1956 at his residence at Wentworthville, NSW. Religion: Presbyterian. 

  • Arrived in Australia with his parents aboard the iron clipper Loch Rannoch on 5 October 1884.
  • Educated at Wollongong Superior Public School. Employed as a pupil teacher at Port Kembla in 1901-1902.
  • Worked as an engine driver at the Tingha tinfields, NSW. Employed by the Public Works department at Greenwell Point and Port Kembla. A member of the Wollongong Life Saving Club in 1913-1914.
  • In 1915 became secretary of the Illawarra sub-branch of the Federated Engine Drivers and Firemen’s Association of Australasia (FEDFA). Secretary of the Sydney district of the FEDFA from 1916 to 1932, Pinkerton was one of the seven men charged in the “Port Lyttelton conspiracy’ or “Coffin ship” case. The trade unionists were charged with having conspired to pervert the course of justice by declaring the steamer Port Lytellton “black”. Judge Edwards refused to grant bail on remand so the defendants were imprisoned for two nights in Long Bay gaol before they were acquitted on 23 July 1924.
  • He was general secretary of the FEDFA from August 1933 to January 1945. From 1941 to 1944 he was a member of the Central Coal Reference Board.
  • Pinkerton had been an endorsed Labor candidate for the seat of Oxley in the NSW State elections in March 1920, and was appointed Justice of the Peace in August that year.
  • A member of the Lodge Wentworthville, he was esteemed life member and worshipful brother of the Lodge Prospect No. 809, United Grand Lodge of NSW.
  • During World War II his daughter Isabel Mary Coutts, née Pinkerton, served in the Australian Army Nursing Corps and his son Lieutenant Robert John Donald Pinkerton won the Military Cross for activities in “Z Special Unit” with the Australian Imperial Force in Borneo.

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Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Pinkerton, Robert Corry (1884–1956)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/pinkerton-robert-corry-32711/text40660, accessed 6 December 2022.

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