William Holman

William Arthur Holman (4 August 18716 June 1934) was an Australian Labor Party Premier of New South Wales, Australia, who split with the party on the conscription issue in 1916 during World War I, and immediately became Premier of a conservative Nationalist Party Government.

Early life

Holman was born in St Pancras, London, England in 1871, the son of William Holman, an actor, his mother was also on the stage under the name of May Burney. He was educated at an Anglican school and was apprenticed as a cabinetmaker. He attended night classes and literary societies. There were bad times in the theatrical profession during the 1880s, and the Holmans were glad to obtain an engagement with Brough and Boucicault in Australia. The family migrated to Melbourne, Australia in October 1888. The burning of the Bijou theatre in Melbourne resulted in their move to Sydney.[1][2]

Trade union activity

As a cabinet maker in Sydney he was interested in the ideas of John Stuart Mill, William Morris, Herbert Spencer and Charles Darwin, and became very active in the Australian labour movement. He joined the Single Tax League, the Australian Socialist League and the newly-formed Labor Electoral League, a forerunner to the Australian Labor Party (ALP). In the Australian Socialist League he mixed with anarchists and socialists and met future Prime Minister Billy Hughes, Creo Stanley, Ernie Lane, Henry Lawson and J.D.Fitzgerald. Holman and Hughes were associated with Arthur Desmond on the scandal sheet paper, The New Order.

In 1893 he became Secretary of the Railways and Tramways Employees’ Union, representing the union on the Sydney Trades and Labor Council. With the support of the Labor Electoral League he unsuccessfully stood for election to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in 1894 and 1895. During this period he was the proprietor of the Daily Post newspaper, sympathetic to the labour movement, which wound up in liquidation, with Holman and four other directors convicted of fraud. He spent nearly two months in jail before the conviction was quashed. He went on to become a journalist for the Grenfell Vedette, and later its proprietor. From 1896 to 1898 he worked as an organiser for the Australian Workers Union.[1]

Legal Profession

In 1900 Holman began to study law part time and in 1903 he passed the University of London's intermediate examination, and was admitted to the bar as a barrister of the Supreme Court of New South Wales on 31 July 1903.[2] In 1909 he co-authored with P.A. Jacobs Australian Mercantile Law. In the 1920s, when he resumed his legal practice, he was made a Kings Counsel. After a lectureship in Brisbane in 1928, The Australian constitution : its interpretation and amendment was published.

Politician and Premier

In the late 1890s Holman was on the central executive of the embryonic Labor Party, before being elected as the Member for Grenfell in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in 1898. He became deputy-leader of the Labor party in 1905, and at the 1907 election he was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Assemby for the seat of Cootamundra.[3] In 1910 the Labor Party first won Government in New South Wales with a slim majority of 46 seats in a parliament of 90 seats, with James McGowen as Premier, and Holman made Attorney General.

On 30 June 1913 McGowen resigned and Holman took over as Premier of New South Wales. During his government many state-owned enterprises were established to compete with private businesses, as a compromise to the Labor policy on Nationalisation. The Labor Party had a policy commitment to abolishing the New South Wales Legislative Council, with Holman moving a motion in 1893 that the upper house be abolished. Only 47 per cent of Government bills were passed by the Upper House for the period between 1910 and 1916. But Holman contradicted his position in 1912 by making nine appointments to the Upper House, some of which were not members of the Labor Party, without consultation with the party machine or the Trades and Labor Council. Other issues placing him at odds with the labour movement include the failure to control prices and profiteering during the war, and attitudes to pay and conditions of public servants.

In 1916 the conscription issue divided the Labor Party and wider Australian Community. While much of the Australian labour movement and general community were opposed to conscription, Australian Labor Prime Minister Billy Hughes and Premier Holman strongly supported conscription, and both crossed the floor to join the conservative parties. Holman formed a coalition on 15 November 1916 with the leader of the opposition, Charles Wade, with himself as Premier. At the general election in March 1917 he was elected as a Nationalist Party of Australia candidate, and continued in the Premier's role.

During his leadership of the Nationalist Government he vigorously defended the Government-owned enterprises from his fellow conservatives in power. Most unusually for a serving Premier, he lost his seat in the state legislature on 12 April 1920, with the election of a Labor Government led by the short-lived John Storey; but he continued outside Parliament as a senior figure in conservative politics.

Holman's later parliamentary career was less notable than might have been expected from his 1910-20 achievements. Elected as a United Australia Party MP, for the Division of Martin, to the Australian House of Representatives in December 1931, he had an undistinguished time in Federal Parliament as a backbencher in the Joseph Lyons government. His health having deteriorated over a considerable period, he died on 6 June 1934 in the Sydney suburb of Gordon, apparently from shock and loss of blood after a difficult tooth extraction on the previous day.

Holman is a controversial figure, as, along with Billy Hughes, he is considered one of the "rats" of the Australian labour movement for crossing to the conservative side of Australian politics.



  • Australian labour leader : the story of W.A. Holman and the labour movement Herbert Vere Evatt (1940).
  • The First New South Wales Labor Government 1910-1916; Two Memoirs: William Holman and John Osborne Michael Hogan (2005) ISBN 0-86840-880-8

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Preceded by
James McGowen
Premier of New South Wales (2 consecutive terms, for different parties)
Succeeded by
John Storey

NAMEHolman, William Arthur
SHORT DESCRIPTIONNew South Wales politician and Premier
DATE OF BIRTH4 August 1871
PLACE OF BIRTHSt Pancras, London, England
DATE OF DEATH6 June 1934
PLACE OF DEATHGordon, New South Wales
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Dion Boucicault Jr. (23 May 1859 - 25 June 1929) was an actor and stage director.

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