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Charles Thomas (Charlie) Reeve (1877–1942)

by Frank Cain

This article was published:

Charles Thomas (Charlie) Reeve, also known as Charles Reeves (1887-1942) bricklayer, gaoled IWW member and Communist organiser

Birth: 2 November 1877 London, England, son of John Reeve, plumber. Never married. Death: 30 May 1942 at Gymea Bay, New South Wales. Religion: Rationalist. 

  • Migrated to Sydney in 1907, where he belonged to Chicago local of Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), working as an organiser and secretary.
  • was in New Zealand in 1913. Secretary of Auckland local of IWW.
  • Visited Broken Hill (NSW), Adelaide & Port Pirie, South Australia, resulting in his arrest and 10-day gaol term in Gladstone (SA), June 1916, for refusing to move on while addressing a large street meeting, his arrest generating considerable local protest. Made further journeys including to Western Australia, working on Fremantle wharf during 1915-16, and to Adelaide and Broken Hill. Was in in Sydney by May 1916.
  • In September 1916 was arrested on charge of seditious conspiracy and conspiring to commit arson. One of the 'IWW Twelve', on 2 December 1916 he was sentenced by Judge R. D. Pring to 10 years hard labour in Long Bay gaol. Was regarded as the most dangerous of all imprisoned IWW members and was subjected to very harsh treatment from warders. Learnt trade of bricklaying while in gaol.
  • After judge R. K. Ewing’s inquiry, Reeve was the last to be released. He came out of prison on 27 November 1921, having served 5 years and 2 months of his sentence. The conditions of his release were that he remain under police surveillance until 30 November 1926.
  • After his release, he travelled to Perth as an organiser for the Industrial Union Propaganda League, inviting deportation by Commonwealth authorities. He joined the Communist Party of Australia in WA in 1921.
  • Was in Sydney by 1923 speaking in the Botanic Gardens under the Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) ring and permit which was revoked because of one of his speeches and not restored until 1924 after a change of government. BLF permit was revoked again in April 1925 after a speech by Reeve and the permit expired in December 1925. Reeve and the IWW took over the BLF ring and when their permit expired in June 1926 the authorities refused an extension. Reeve and others continued their meetings for 13 weeks without permission and the police made arrests in October 1926 of Reeve and four others for addressing crowds estimated at 6000 people.
  • Released from gaol after a month due to activities of a Free Speech Defence Committee which rallied support and urged the abolition of the permit system. Opened a bookshop in Sydney in the 1930s. Well-spoken and cultured.
  • Was a gay man.
  • Died of influenza and chronic nephritis.

Tribune, 17 June 1942; Westralian Worker, 23 December 1921, p.2; Justina Williams, The First Furrow (Perth, 1976,) pp 65,88; Jim Moss, Sound of trumpets: history of the labour movement in South Australia (Cowandilla, 1985), pp 233, 265-69; Frank Cain, The Wobblies at war; A history of the IWW and the Great War in Australia (Melbourne, 1993).

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Citation details

Frank Cain, 'Reeve, Charles Thomas (Charlie) (1877–1942)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 15 June 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Charlie Reeve, 1916

Charlie Reeve, 1916

Sydney Mail, 18 October 1916, p 7

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Reeves, Charles Thomas

2 November, 1877
London, Middlesex, England


30 May, 1942 (aged 64)
Gymea Bay, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death


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