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Sangster, George (1845–1915)

by Frank Bongiorno

This article was published:

George Sangster, n.d.

George Sangster, n.d.

Sangster, George (1845-1915) seaman, trade union leader and politician

Birth: 23 June 1845 at Fintray, near Aberdeen, Scotland, son of Andrew Sangster, manager of woollen mill, and Christian ‘Christina’, née Riddle. Marriage: 28 May 1880 at Emerald Hill, Victoria, to Sarah Gertrude Bourke. They had one son and three daughters. Death: 8 April 1915 at Paddington, Sydney, New South Wales. Religion: Catholic. 

  • Educated at local primary school 1850-54. Worked in woollen factory managed by his father, where he learned woollen spinning. Worked as engine-clear with Great North of Scotland Railway Company before going to sea as a fireman in 1867.
  • Arrived in Australia in 1870. Worked as a seaman in Australian waters from 1870-1874 and then worked alternatively as an engine-driver at various Melbourne establishments, and at sea.
  • Founding member of Seamen’s Union in 1872. Held office as vice-president and in 1874 was elected president. Spent six months organising branches of the Union in New Zealand in 1880. Elected secretary of Victorian Seamen’s Union in 1893. Led the Union in the seamen’s strike, 1893.
  • Represented the Seamen’s Union on the Trades Hall Council. Vice-president, THC, in 1893-94, president 1894-95.
  • President of the Port Melbourne branch of the Progressive Political League (Victorian Labor Party) in 1891. Member of the Council of the Australian Federation League of Victoria, 1894.
  • Unsuccessfully contested Port Melbourne council election in August 1893 but was successful in a by-election in October 1893, defeated in August 1894. Won Port Melbourne Legislative Assembly seat in 1894 and held the seat until his death.
  • His complaints against the Marine Board led to an inquiry which recommended improvements in conditions for seamen and the seaworthiness of coastal shipping.
  • Regarded as belonging to the radical wing of the Labor Party. Opposed the moderate leadership of W.A Trenwith in the late 1890s. Opposed sending the Victorian contingent to South Africa.
  • Expelled by Labor Party when accused by the Port Melbourne branch of having misappropriated £187 of Seamen’s Union money, and then accepting a cheque from the shipowner and anti-Labor politician Sir Malcolm McEacharn to cover the shortfall.
  • Successful as an independent Labor candidate in 1902 and 1904. Readmitted to the Labor Party in 1906.
  • Suffered from illness associated with a nervous breakdown for many years until his death. 

Sources
Kathleen Thomson & Geoffrey Serle, A Biographical Register of the Victorian legislature, 1859-1900 (Canberra, 1972). Nancy U’Ren, A History of Port Melbourne, (Melbourne, 1983). Brian Fitzpatrick and Rowan Cahill, The Seamen’s Union of Australia 1872-1972: A History, (Seamen’s Union of Australia, Sydney 1981). Table Talk (Melbourne), 4 January 1895 pp 4-5, 24 July 1902 pp 2-3, 21 August 1902 pp 12-14. Town and Country Journal (Sydney), 14 April 1915 p 50. Labor Call (Melbourne), 15 April 1915. Argus (Melbourne), 9 April 1915 p.6. Age (Melbourne), 9 April 1915 p.7. PLC Minutes 1902-06. PLP Minutes 1902-06. Merrifield Collection, Victorian State Library.

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Citation details

Frank Bongiorno, 'Sangster, George (1845–1915)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/sangster-george-32757/text40726, accessed 29 November 2022.

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