THERE was once a Queensland publican who refused accommodation to a couple of ‘scab’ labourers, either out of fear, or to show support for the union during the height of the great shearers’ strike of 1891.
The 1891 shearers’ strike is one of Australia’s earliest industrial action, evolving from a dispute primarily between unionised and non-unionised wool workers. It resulted in the formation of large camps of striking workers, and minor instances of sabotage and violence on both sides.
Blackall, in outback Queensland, was one of the centres of the dispute, and it was here that the Australian Labor Party’s constitution and rules were drawn up, during its founding in December 1890.
Also at Blackall during this time was 60-year-old publican Richard “Dick” Lane. He risked losing the license for Blackall’s Tattersall’s Hotel after refusing to provide accommodation to the ‘non-union’ labour.
Dick likely refused the men accommodation out of fear his pub would be wrecked from a possible brawl between the union men and non-union men, rather than out of sympathy towards the cause. We’ll probably never know, but he undoubtedly won brownie points with the striking shearers, who were known for their big thirsts.
Dick Lane was an early settler of Portland Bay, and afterwards Warrnambool in Victoria, where he carried on business first as a butcher, and later as a hotel keeper. He was a keen sportsman, and was heavily involved in horse racing.
Dick and his wife, Maria, along with their children, moved to Blackall, a bustling service town for surrounding pastoral properties, in 1883, where he gained the license of the Tattersall’s Hotel.
Trouble stirred in the town with the arrival of non-union labour. The Rockhampton Morning Bulletin reported on April 14 1891:
A rumour got about that two free labourers were on board the mail coach, and a large crowd gathered about it when it stopped opposite Lane’s hotel. The passengers were George Gilbert, drover, four free stockmen, and two armed constables, The unionists at once commenced endeavouring to get the free labourers to join the union, and threats were used. Lane’s hotel was thronged with excited men. Mr Hartley, the Police Magistrate, was on the scene, and sent for the police, who arrived promptly in charge of Inspector Britton, all being armed. The free labourers, escorted by the police, were then taken to the police barracks. The unionists gathered in a crowd, and gave three cheers for the union… The proprietor of Tattersall’s Hotel, Mr Lane was afraid to accommodate the men on account of the probability of a disturbance, arising, and they were therefore escorted to the police barracks for protection, where they will remain until arrangements are made for them to be conveyed out of town. The unionists have a camp formed two miles from town, but they have pickets in town to-night for the purpose of bringing the union men back to the camp. Any man getting drunk will be sentenced to a week’s imprisonment in camp.
Sixteen summonses were issued against the most prominent of the unionists at Blackall Court House, where publican Dick Lane pleaded guilty to two charges of infringement of Clause 74 of the Licensing Act by refusing accommodation to the two free labourers. He was fined £1 without costs in each case.
The Police Magistrate remarked that Section 103 of the Licensing Act would be strictly enforced, and licenses cancelled for a third offence. It was revealed during the evidence that out of the four presumed free labourers who had arrived by the coach, two were constables in plain clothes.
Dick remained as host of the Tattersall’s Hotel at Blackall for 14 years before his untimely death in 1897. He fell seriously ill during October 1897 when he contracted gangrene in a wound in his foot. He died after a few days at the hotel, aged 66. His wife, Maria died the following year, aged 69.
The Tattersall’s Hotel traded for almost another 100 years in Blackall, before it was sadly reduced to ashes after a blaze in April 1994. Today a modern replacement pub trades from the site.
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