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William Holman

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Title: William Holman  
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Collection: 1871 Births, 1934 Deaths, Alumni of the University of London, Attorneys General of New South Wales, Australian Cabinetmakers, Australian Labor Party Members of the Parliament of New South Wales, Australian Labor Party Politicians, Australian People of English Descent, English Emigrants to Australia, Members of the Australian House of Representatives for Martin, Members of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, Nationalist Party of Australia Politicians, People from St Pancras, London, Premiers of New South Wales, Treasurers of New South Wales, United Australia Party Members of the Parliament of Australia, United Australia Party Politicians
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William Holman

The Honourable
William Holman
19th Premier of New South Wales
In office
30 June 1913 – 12 April 1920
Monarch George V
Governor Sir Gerald Strickland
Sir Walter Davidson
Preceded by James McGowen
Succeeded by John Storey
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Martin
In office
19 December 1931 – 5 June 1934
Preceded by John Eldridge
Succeeded by William McCall
Personal details
Born (1871-08-04)4 August 1871
St Pancras, London, England
Died 5 June 1934(1934-06-05) (aged 62)
Gordon, New South Wales, Australia
Nationality English Australian
Political party Labor (1898–1917)
Nationalist (1917–31)
UAP (1931–34)
Occupation Unionist

William Arthur Holman (4 August 1871 – 5 June 1934) was the second Australian Labor Party Premier of New South Wales, Australia. He later 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 1
  • Trade union activity 2
  • Legal profession 3
  • Politician and Premier 4
  • Family 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

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 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 Assembly 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 was named leader of the New South Wales Labor Party and hence became Premier. 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 were expelled from the Labor Party for this stance. On 15 November 1916, Holman and 17 other pro-conscription Labor MPs formed a coalition with the leader of the opposition Liberal Reform Party, Charles Wade, with Holman remaining as Premier. Early in 1917, Holman and his supporters merged with Liberal Reform to form the state branch of the Nationalist Party of Australia, with Holman as leader. At the general election held that March, the Nationalists won a huge victory.

Holman vigorously defended the Government-owned enterprises from his new conservative allies. In the 13 March 1920 state election, Holman and his Nationalists were thrown from office in a massive swing, being succeeded by a Labor Government under the short-lived John Storey. Unusually for a long-serving premier, Holman was defeated in his own seat. However, 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. He was elected to the federal Parliament as the Sydney seat of Martin in December 1931 as a member of the United Australia Party, which by this time had absorbed the Nationalists. He had an undistinguished time as a backbencher in the Joseph Lyons government. His health having deteriorated over a considerable period, he died on 5 June 1934 in the Sydney suburb of Gordon, apparently from shock and loss of blood after a difficult tooth extraction on the previous day. He was cremated at Northern Suburbs crematorium on 6 June 1934.[4]

Holman is a controversial figure, as along with Hughes, he became and remains a traitor in Labor histories for joining forces with the non-Labor forces. Although he protected the state-owned enterprises he helped create, the Australian labour movement still considers him a "rat."


Holman married journalist Ada Augusta Kidgell on 22 January 1901.[5] They had one child, a daughter, on 20 November 1903.


  1. ^ a b Serle, Percival. "Holman, William Arthur (1871 - 1934)". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Project Gutenberg Australia. Retrieved 21 May 2007. 
  2. ^ a b Nairn, Bede. "Holman, William Arthur (1871 - 1934)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Australian National University. Retrieved 21 May 2007. 
  3. ^ "Mr William Arthur Holman (1871 - 1934)". Members of Parliament. Parliament of New South Wales. Retrieved 21 May 2007. 
  4. ^ Sydney Morning Herald- Death/Funeral Notice 06/06/1934 (page 12)
  5. ^ Heather Radi, 'Holman, Ada Augusta (1869–1949)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 17 March 2015.


  • 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

External links

  • First NSW Labor Government 1910-1916
  • Australian Trade Union Archives
Parliament of New South Wales
Preceded by
George Greene
Member for Grenfell
1898 – 1904
District abolished
New district Member for Cootamundra
1904 – 1920
Succeeded by
Peter Loughlin
Hugh Main
Greg McGirr
Political offices
Preceded by
Charles Wade
Attorney General of New South Wales
1910 – 1914
Succeeded by
David Hall
Preceded by
John Garland
Minister for Justice
1910 – 1912
Preceded by
James McGowen
Colonial Secretary of New South Wales
1913 – 1914
Succeeded by
John Cann
Premier of New South Wales
1913 – 1920
Succeeded by
John Storey
Preceded by
John Cann
Colonial Treasurer of New South Wales
1914 – 1918
Succeeded by
John Fitzpatrick
Preceded by
Ambrose Carmichael
Minister for Public Instruction
Succeeded by
Arthur Griffith
Party political offices
Preceded by
James McGowen
Leader of the Australian Labor Party in New South Wales
1913 – 1917
Succeeded by
Ernest Durack
New political party Leader of the New South Wales Nationalist Party
1917 – 1920
Succeeded by
George Fuller
Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
John Eldridge
Member for Martin
1931 – 1934
Succeeded by
William McCall
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