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William (Billy) Saunders (1861–?)

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William (Billy) Saunders (1861-after 1928) shearer, trade union leader, New Australia organiser, Paraguay 

Birth: 1861 in California, United States of America. Marriage: (possibly 16 September 1896 in Woolloomooloo, Sydney, to Mabel Emma McMahon). Death: after 1926 probably in California, United States of America.  

  • A third generation Californian, Saunders arrived in Australia as supercargo on a merchant ship [or possibly aboard the Cloncurry on 7 January 1885 as an assistant immigrant]. Worked in Queensland pastoral industry.
  • Active in Queensland Shearers' Union and chaired QSU's annual meeting December 1890, imposing several fines for disorderly conduct. With John Meehan, appointed to negotiate with rival Amalgamated Shearers' Union over proposed federation. Represented Australian Labour Federation at Intercolonial Labor Federation Conference, Sydney, February 1891 then attended ASU conference in Adelaide.
  • Continued to organise. On 11 December 1891 he and Charles Lech were elected vice chairmen of the Peoples Parliamentary Association (PPA), shortly after he was appointed chairman. In April 1892 addressed a PPA meeting in Hughenden, Queensland.
  • He spoke a little Spanish and was a close friend of William Lane, so in May 1892 he was sent to South America by Lane's New Australia Co-operative Settlement Association (of which he was a trustee) to obtain land for the proposed settlement. He travelled to Argentina, but found proposed site unsuitable. With Alfred Walker and Charles Leck, he selected site for New Australia settlement in Paraguay.
  • Returned to Brisbane, visited his imprisoned colleague Alec Forrester [Lewis] in St Helena Island gaol in April 1893 and did some election organising in central district. From Adelaide, organised & travelled with second group of settlers on voyage to Paraguay December 1893.
  • Went with Lane to breakaway colony of Cosme in 1894. Returned to Australia in August 1894 as agent for the new colony. In Sydney, published a Cosme circular & undertook organising tour in Queensland.
  • With his wife he returned to Cosme March 1896 and was elected village chairman. Resigned in 1898. Later ran a store at Yataity, near Villarrica. Left Paraguay in 1902 without any explanation. Had a good position with Liebig’s Meat Co in Buenos Aires, then had a business in Sydney.
  • When war broke out he went to San Francisco, USA, where he built up a prosperous automobile trading business, with financial assistance from Lane; visited Australia in 1926.
  • Reported in 1928 to be “a member of the Stock Exchange of San Francisco; his son, born in Cosme (Paraguay), is legal adviser to the State.”

Gavin Souter, A Peculiar People: the Australians in Paraguay, (Sydney, 1968); Stuart Svensen, The Shearers' War: the story of the 1891 shearers' strike (Brisbane, 1989); Mary Gilmore, 'New Australia's Three Musketeers', Bulletin (Sydney) 25 January 1928, pp 2 & 5 ( 

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Citation details

'Saunders, William (Billy) (1861–?)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 18 July 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


California, United States of America

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