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William Henry Sharp (1842–1929)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published:

William Sharp, by Marion Art, 1891 [detail]

William Sharp, by Marion Art, 1891 [detail]

State Library of New South Wales, 110336407

William Henry Sharp (1842-1929) printer, trade union leader, politician expelled from the Labor Party

Birth: 27 July 1842 at Clerkenwell, Middlesex, London, England, son of Henry John Sharp (1823-1850), clerk in Her Majesty’s State Paper office and Mary Saunders, née Knight (1823-1868). Marriage: 25 August 1869 at St Mary, Islington, Middlesex, England, to Eliza Alice Ramsay (1851-1943). They had four sons. Death: 4 October 1929 in his home at Mosman, New South Wales. Religion: Congregationalist. 

  • Apprenticed at the age of 13 to Messrs Eyre and Spottiswood, printer. Left for the United States of America in 1873, receiving an illuminated address and gold chain from his co-workers. Joined the Typographical Association in New York and worked in Boston and Chicago, returning to England in 1874.
  • Was a member of the London Society of Compositors for thirteen years. In 1881 was living at Islington, London, with his wife and family and working as a printer compositor.
  • Came to Australia to benefit his health, as he suffered from a throat infection. He arrived in Sydney with his family on 12 June 1887 aboard the Iberia. Worked at the Government Printing Office and for other Sydney printers.
  • Joined the Sydney Typographical Association. Served on the board of management for four years and as a delegate to the eight-hour committee. Twice elected trustee, he was a delegate for three years to the Trades and Labor Council (TLC) from 1888.
  • Vice-president of the TLC and acting secretary in 1889, he was elected honorary president in February 1891.
  • On 17 June 1891 he was one of the pioneer members of the Australian Labor Party to be elected to an Australian parliament. He was one of the four members of the Legislative Assembly for the seat of Redfern. As TLC president he presided at the first sitting of the ALP caucus, which elected one of his Redfern colleagues W. H. McGowen party leader and Sharp a member of the committee of management.
  • In 1892 he voted in support of the government of Dibbs, contrary to his party’s caucus instructions. He also refused to sign the solidarity pledge. As a consequence, he was expelled from the ALP.
  • In the following election, on July 1894 he stood as a Protectionist candidate and was soundly defeated. The seat was won by a Free Trader.
  • Sharp retired from politics. He was president of the NSW Typographical Association in 1895-1897. On 1 January 1897 he was appointed a first-class compositor at the Government Printing Office and in October 1901 was promoted to proof reader. He retired from that position and from the public service on 31 January 1917. Was a civil service pensioner.
  • Obitiaries indicated he retained an interest in politics until his death. One reported that “he came of an old Dorset family, and had an extensive knowledge of English folk-lore and early London history”.
  • Cause of death: senile heart failure.
  • His son Walter Alexander Ramsay Sharp. OBE (1875-1937), a notable Sydney surgeon, donated a bequest to the University of Sydney to establish a prize in operative surgery to be called the William Henry and Eliza Alice Sharp prize, in memory of his father and mother.

N. B. Nairn, Civilising Capitalism, (Canberra, 1973); C. N. Connolly, Biographical Register of the New South Wales Parliament 1856-1901 (ANU Press, Canberra, 1983) [N.B. following several contemporary profiles, wrongly states that his father was a clergyman]

Additional Resources

  • profile, Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 30 June 1891, p 3
  • profile, Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 28 June 1894, p 5
  • tribute, Leader (Orange, NSW), 14 October 1929, p 4

Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Sharp, William Henry (1842–1929)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 July 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

William Sharp, by Marion Art, 1891 [detail]

William Sharp, by Marion Art, 1891 [detail]

State Library of New South Wales, 110336407

Life Summary [details]


27 July, 1842
London, Middlesex, England


4 October, 1929 (aged 87)
Mosman, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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