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William John (Billy) Russell (1879–1915)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published:

William John Russell (1879-1915) plumber, trade union leader and political candidate

Birth: 1879 at Smithtown, New South Wales, son of Patrick Russell (1840-1924), a farmer born in Quin, County Clare Ireland, and Sydney-born Ann ‘Annie’, née Moylan. Marriage: 1 February 1904 in Sydney to native-born Catherine Elizabeth ‘Kit’ Diggs. They had three sons and a daughter. Death: 14 August 1915 at Pyrmont, Sydney. Religion: Catholic. 

  • Born on a farm and educated at Smithtown public school, Billy won a bursary to Sydney High School, but was forced by the depression of the 1890s to learn a trade so was apprenticed to a plumber. He attended Technical College “for instruction in science connected with the trade”. The certificates he won earned him employment with the Sydney City Council where he became a foreman plumber.
  • In Sydney Russell imbibed his labour politics in the industrial storm centre of Darling Harbour.
  • Moved to Campsie where he was first president of the Labor League and a founder of the Parkes Federal Labour Council, of which he was president since its formation. Also president of the Canterbury State Labour Council.
  • First president of the Canterbury Friendly Societies’ Association and founder of the Campsie branch of the Irish National Foresters’ Society.
  • An active trade unionist, he was some-time vice-president and in 1912-1913 was president of the Operative Plumbers’ Society of NSW and its delegate to the NSW Labor Council.
  • Contested seat of Parkes for Labor in House of Representative elections of May 1913 and September 1914. Was defeated in Labor preselection for the State seat of Canterbury by George Cann (who won the seat).
  • Russell died of injuries received when he fell from a ladder while working on a city council property at Pyrmont.
  • His elder brother, a field correspondent for a London daily newspaper during a South American war, had died on the homeward voyage. A brother and a sister had died in an outbreak of bubonic plague in northern NSW in 1907.
  • His widow remarried and became one of the first two women to be members of the NSW Legislative Council. Two sons became noted cartoonists, Dan Russell (1906-1999) and James Newton ‘Jim’ Russell (1909-2001).

Additional Resources

  • photo, Worker (Wagga, NSW), 17 April 1913, p 5

Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Russell, William John (Billy) (1879–1915)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 16 June 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

William Russell, n.d.

William Russell, n.d.

Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 23 August 1915, p 9

Life Summary [details]


Smithtown, New South Wales, Australia


14 August, 1915 (aged ~ 36)
Pyrmont, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

workplace accident

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