Matthew Charlton

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Matthew Charlton
Matthew Charlton 1925.jpg
Leader of the Opposition
Elections: 1922, 1925
In office
25 January 1922 29 March 1928
Prime Minister Billy Hughes
Stanley Bruce
Deputy Albert Gardiner
James Scullin
Preceded by Frank Tudor
Succeeded by James Scullin
Leader of the Labor Party
In office
16 May 1922 29 March 1928
Acting leader: 25 January – 16 May 1922
Deputy Albert Gardiner
James Scullin
Preceded by Frank Tudor
Succeeded by James Scullin
Member of the House of Representatives
In office
13 April 1910 17 November 1928
Preceded by Frank Liddell
Succeeded by Rowland James
Constituency Hunter
Member of the NSW Legislative Assembly
In office
6 August 1904 28 February 1910
Preceded by John Norton
Succeeded by William Kearsley
Constituency Northumberland
In office
5 December 1903 6 August 1904
Preceded by Arthur Hill Griffith
Succeeded by John Estell
Constituency Waratah
Personal details
Matthew Charlton

(1866-03-15)15 March 1866
Linton, Victoria, Australia
Died8 December 1948(1948-12-08) (aged 82)
Lambton, New South Wales, Australia
Resting place Sandgate Cemetery
Political party Labor
Martha Rollings(m. 1889)
Education Lambton Public School
ProfessionTrade unionist, politician

Matthew Charlton (15 March 1866 – 8 December 1948 [1] ) was an Australian politician who served as leader of the Labor Party from 1922 to 1928. He led the party to defeat at the 1922 and 1925 federal elections.

Australian Labor Party Political party in Australia

The Australian Labor Party is a major centre-left political party in Australia. The party has been in opposition at the federal level since the 2013 election. Bill Shorten has been the party's federal parliamentary leader since 13 October 2013. The party is a federal party with branches in each state and territory. Labor is in government in the states of Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, and in both the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory. The party competes against the Liberal/National Coalition for political office at the federal and state levels. It is the oldest political party in Australia.


Charlton was born in Linton, Victoria, but as a child moved to Lambton, New South Wales. He left school at a young age to work in the coal mines, initially as a hurrier. Charlton became prominent in the trade union movement, and in 1903 was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly for the Labor Party. He switched to federal parliament in 1910. Charlton was an anti-conscriptionist, and remained with Labor after the party split of 1916. He was elected party leader in early 1922, following the death of Frank Tudor. As Leader of the Opposition, Charlton increased Labor's vote in 1922 but suffered a backwards slide in 1925. He resigned as leader in early 1928, succeeded by James Scullin, and left politics later that year.

Linton, Victoria Town in Victoria, Australia

Linton is a town in Victoria, Australia, off Glenelg Highway. Most of the town is located in Golden Plains Shire; however, a small section is in the Shire of Pyrenees. At the 2016 census, Linton and the surrounding area had a population of 580. The Clarkesdale Bird Sanctuary lies to the south-east of the township, near Springdallah Creek.

Lambton, New South Wales Suburb of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

Lambton is a suburb of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia, 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) from Newcastle's central business district.


A hurrier, also sometimes called a coal drawer or coal thruster, was a child or woman employed by a collier to transport the coal that they had mined. Women would normally get the children to help them because of the difficulty of carrying the coal. Common particularly in the early 19th century, the hurrier pulled a corf full of coal along roadways as small as 16 inches in height. They would often work 12-hour shifts, making several runs down to the coal face and back to the surface again.

Early life

Little is recorded about Charlton's early life, as he grew up in a relatively unknown mining district. It is known, however, that Charlton was born on 15 March 1866 in Linton, Victoria, a small town near Ballarat that today has less than 500 residents. [2] He was born to Matthew Charlton, an English miner from Durham, and Mabel (née Foard). In 1871, the five-year-old Charlton's father moved with his family to Lambton, a suburb of Newcastle, New South Wales. After primary education at Lambton Public School, Charlton began work at Lambton Colliery as a coal trapper; a children's-only job opening trapdoors for coal carts. [3] When too old for the job, Charlton was given a job at the coal-face. At 23 he married Martha Rollings at nearby New Lambton. [4] [1]

Durham, England City in England

Durham is a historic city and the county town of County Durham in North East England. The city lies on the River Wear, to the west of Sunderland, south of Newcastle upon Tyne and to the north of Darlington. Founded over the final resting place of St Cuthbert, its Norman cathedral became a centre of pilgrimage in medieval England. The cathedral and adjacent 11th-century castle were designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986. The castle has been the home of Durham University since 1832. HM Prison Durham is also located close to the city centre. City of Durham is the name of the civil parish.

Newcastle, New South Wales City in New South Wales, Australia

The Newcastle metropolitan area is the second most populated area in the Australian state of New South Wales and the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie local government areas. It is the hub of the Greater Newcastle area which includes most parts of the local government areas of City of Newcastle, City of Lake Macquarie, City of Cessnock, City of Maitland and Port Stephens Council.

New Lambton, New South Wales Suburb of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

New Lambton is a suburb of Newcastle, in the Hunter Region of New South Wales, Australia. It is located about 6 km (4 mi) west of the Newcastle CBD. It includes two shopping districts, schools and other general facilities. At the 2016 Australian census it had a population of approximately 10,000.

Emerging interest in politics

In 1896 plans to reduce coal workers' wages led to strike action. Charlton supported the struggle against wage reductions, but the effort failed and, along with many other miners, he moved to the goldfields near Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. After two years there, Charlton returned to Lambton and became an official in the Colliery Employees' Federation, [5] becoming treasurer in 1901. While occupying that position, Charlton also prepared arbitration cases. Battling for an improvement in mine workers' conditions, he attended a trade union congress in November 1902, at which he moved for nationalisation of the coal mining industry, believing it would "eliminate cut-throat competition between owners that depressed miners' wages and conditions". [1] That idea was opposed as being too radical but a compromise was drawn up urging state governments to open and run their own coal mines, while affirming the ultimate desirability of full nationalisation. [1]

Strike action work stoppage caused by the mass refusal of employees to work

Strike action, also called labor strike, labour strike, or simply strike, is a work stoppage, caused by the mass refusal of employees to work. A strike usually takes place in response to employee grievances. Strikes became common during the Industrial Revolution, when mass labor became important in factories and mines. In most countries, strike actions were quickly made illegal, as factory owners had far more power than workers. Most Western countries partially legalized striking in the late 19th or early 20th centuries.

State political career

Colleagues urged Charlton to stand for the state electoral district of Waratah, and on 5 December 1903 Charlton became the second member for the district in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. His representation of that district was short-lived, as the next year he transferred to Northumberland, replacing John Norton. Charlton became the unofficial spokesperson for the miners, speaking principally about mining matters in parliament. In 1909 a coal miners' strike struck New South Wales and Charlton was called upon by the Colliery Employees' Federation to represent it in front of a wage board. Charlton was unsuccessful in gaining better conditions for the miners but he did settle the dispute, talking to miners around the state and convincing them to return to work. He resigned from state politics and in 1910 Charlton wrested the federal Division of Hunter from the sitting Frank Liddell. Hunter has remained a safe Labor seat ever since. [1] [6]

Waratah was an electoral district of the Legislative Assembly in the Australian state of New South Wales first created in 1894 with the abolition of multi-member districts from part of the electoral district of Newcastle. It was abolished in 1913 and recreated in 1930, replacing parts of Kahibah and Wallsend. It was abolished again in 1999.

New South Wales Legislative Assembly one of the two chambers of the Parliament of New South Wales

The New South Wales Legislative Assembly is the lower of the two houses of the Parliament of New South Wales, an Australian state. The upper house is the New South Wales Legislative Council. Both the Assembly and Council sit at Parliament House in the state capital, Sydney. The Assembly is presided over by the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly.

Northumberland was an electoral district for the Legislative Assembly in the Australian state of New South Wales from 1859 to 1913, in the Newcastle area and named after Northumberland County. It elected two members simultaneously between 1880 and 1887 and three members between 1887 and 1894. Voters cast a vote for each vacancy and the leading candidates were elected.

Early federal career

Charlton shortly after his election to federal parliament Matthew Charlton.jpg
Charlton shortly after his election to federal parliament

Charlton was an immediate success with Andrew Fisher and was promoted to the temporary chairmanship of committees in the House in 1913, however Charlton threatened to resign in 1915 over a dispute in government delays in granting the committee increased powers. Fisher mollified him and in 1916 Charlton proved his loyalty to the new Labor leader Billy Hughes by voting for Hughes' conscription referendum bill, even though he was vehemently opposed to conscription and fought hard against it. [7] However, Charlton seemed to accept the affirmative result of the referendum and again proved his loyalty to Hughes by defending him when he became the target of caucus criticism. Charlton attempted to deflect attacks made on Hughes to a party conference, but Hughes left the party before a decision could be made. [1] [7]

Andrew Fisher Australian politician, fifth Prime Minister of Australia

Andrew Fisher was an Australian politician who served three separate terms as Prime Minister of Australia – from 1908 to 1909, from 1910 to 1913, and from 1914 to 1915. He was the leader of the Australian Labor Party from 1907 to 1915.

Billy Hughes Australian politician, seventh prime minister of Australia

William Morris Hughes, was an Australian politician who served as the seventh Prime Minister of Australia, in office from 1915 to 1923. He is best known for leading the country during World War I, but his influence on national politics spanned several decades. Hughes was a member of federal parliament from Federation in 1901 until his death, the only person to have served for more than 50 years. He represented six political parties during his career, leading five, outlasting four, and being expelled from three.

Conscription compulsory enlistment into national or military service

Conscription, sometimes called the draft, is the compulsory enlistment of people in a national service, most often a military service. Conscription dates back to antiquity and continues in some countries to the present day under various names. The modern system of near-universal national conscription for young men dates to the French Revolution in the 1790s, where it became the basis of a very large and powerful military. Most European nations later copied the system in peacetime, so that men at a certain age would serve 1–8 years on active duty and then transfer to the reserve force.

The new Labor leader Frank Tudor was a weak leader in health and political prowess. A successor-designate was chosen by the caucus but it was not Charlton. T. J. Ryan was chosen over him, [8] but he died on 1 August 1921 after persistent ill health. On 29 September, the party elected Charlton as deputy leader in place of Ryan. [9] Tudor eventually died on 10 January 1922, and Charlton became the de facto acting leader of the party. On 25 January, the party unanimously chose him as leader of the Labor Party in the House of Representatives, thus allowing him to become Leader of the Opposition. [10] [11] The overall leadership of the party remained vacant until 16 May, when Charlton won a ballot against Albert Gardiner (the party's sole senator). Gardiner was then chosen as his deputy. [12]

Leader of the Opposition

At the 1922 federal election, Charlton offered alternative policies and looked to be favourite until he was hospitalised with illness halfway through the campaign. Labor still won the most seats as a single party, but Charlton was unable to defeat a strong government coalition. Labor remained in opposition. [1]

Because of great losses during World War I, Charlton opposed military training and commitments of Australian forces. In 1924 Charlton was invited to a League of Nations (now United Nations) conference in Geneva, Switzerland. At the conference Charlton strongly opposed war, and the Geneva Protocol took form. Upon his return to Australia, Charlton advocated adoption of the protocol, but the government sided with the British and refused to observe it. [1] [13]

Charlton lost the 1925 election, largely due to his stance on industrial relations and continual militant union action which plagued his campaign. Charlton always aided in maintaining amicable relations in the party and many times lent his expertise to conflicts within the NSW branch of the Labor Party. He resigned from his positions on 29 March 1928. His successor James Scullin went on to become the Prime Minister of Australia. [1]

Final years

Charlton in 1928 Matthew Charlton 1928.jpg
Charlton in 1928

Following retirement from federal politics, Charlton took an interest in local government and became an alderman on the Lambton Council from 1934 to 1938 (before its merger with the City of Newcastle). He died at Lambton, New South Wales, on 8 December 1948, the place where he had grown up and lived most of his life. Charlton was buried in the general section of Sandgate Cemetery. Martha Charlton died on 8 June 1955 and is interred with him. Their sons Matthew and Percy predeceased both of them. [1] [14]

The Division of Charlton in the Hunter Region was named in his honour, and was a safe Labor seat from its creation in 1984 until its abolition in 2016. [15]

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Perks, Murray (1979). "Charlton, Matthew (1866–1948)". Australian Dictionary of Biography . Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 12 December 2007.
  2. "Linton, Victoria". Postcodes Australia. Retrieved 12 December 2007.
  3. "Early Coal Mining History". Bill Riley's Archived from the original on 24 December 2012. Retrieved 13 November 2009.
  4. NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages Search Archived 6 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine (accessed 10 March 2008)
  5. "Colliery Employees Federation of the Northern District..." New South Wales electronic regional archives. Retrieved 12 December 2007.
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  9. "LABOR LEADERSHIP". The Age . 30 September 1921.
  10. "MR. CHARLTON LEADER IN THE HOUSE". The Sydney Morning Herald . 26 January 1922.
  11. "NEW LABOR LEADER". The Age . 26 January 1922.
  12. "FEDERAL LABOUR PARTY". The Melbourne Argus . 17 May 1922.
  13. "High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Protocol". Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Archived from the original on 18 November 2007. Retrieved 12 December 2007.
  14. NSW Register of Births, Deaths and Marriages Archived 6 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine – Death Record Search (accessed 10 March 2008)
  15. "Charlton – Electoral Profile (AEC)". Australian Electoral Commission . Retrieved 12 December 2007.
Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
Frank Liddell
Member for Hunter
Succeeded by
Rowley James
Preceded by
Frank Tudor
Leader of the Australian Labor Party
Succeeded by
James Scullin
Leader of the Opposition