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John Whiteley King (1857–1905)

by Chris Cunneen

John Whiteley King (1857-1905) secretary, Pastoralists Union, editor

Birth: 22 February 1857 in Auckland, New Zealand, elder of two sons of Belgrave Theodore King, customs agent, and Sarah Hannah, née Whiteley. Marriage: 26 May 1885 in Wellington, New Zealand, to Esther Barham. They had one daughter and three sons. Death: 21 December 1905, at Gladesville Hospital, Sydney. Buried in Gore Hill Cemetery, North Sydney. Religion: Anglican. 

  • In 1858 his father left for New South Wales where, as Byron Thomas Kemble, he became an auctioneer and was appointed magistrate and coroner for Tenterfield. His mother remarried in 1866. He was brought up by his grandfather, missionary Reverend John Whiteley (1806-1869).
  • Whitely King, as he was been known, lived in New Plymouth as a boy and was educated at the Wesleyan day school, Liardet Street, until the age of 14, leaving to work as an office boy to a solicitor. After a few years in the Post and Telegraph Department in the West Coast goldfields and a stint in Australia’s eastern colonies, he became a journalist at Gore, Invercargill, NZ, founded the Mataura Ensign in 1880 then was editor and part proprietor of the Taranaki News in New Plymouth and editor of the Marlborough Daily Times. He was bankrupted in August 1885. About 1890 he moved to Sydney, New South Wales, as acting manager for Australia for the New Zealand Press Association.
  • Selected from a large number of applicants to be secretary of the Pastoralists’ Union of New South Wales on its foundation in July 1890, he was a formidable organiser of that body in its battle with the emerging Australian Workers’ Union and the shearers in the 1890s.
  • A founder (in March 1891), part proprietor and editor (1902-1904) of the Australasian Pastoralists’ Review.
  • According to the Freeman’s Journal, King’s ‘loyalty to his masters, his apparently utter want of sympathy with the workers, his almost cynical reliance upon “freedom of contract” as a complete answer to the shearer’s grievance, and his fighting qualities as a whole, prolonged the strike beyond reasonable limits.’
  • A prominent Freemason, he was senior grand warden of the Grand Lodge of New South Wales, past first principal of the lodge Oxford, and past president of the grand committee of the Supreme Grand Chapter or Royal Arch Masons of New South Wales.
  • Struck down by general paralysis of the insane in 1901, he retired and died after a lingering, four years illness at Gladesville Hospital.

H. J. Gibbney & A. G. Smith, A Biographical Register 1788-1939, vol 1 (Canberra, 1987); John Merritt, The Making of the AWU (Melbourne, 1986); Stuart Svensen, The Shearers' War: the story of the 1891 shearers' strike (Brisbane, 1989).

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Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Whiteley King, John (1857–1905)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 16 June 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • King, John Whiteley

22 February, 1857
Auckland, New Zealand


21 December, 1905 (aged 48)
Gladesville, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death


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