Jim McGowen (1855 – 1922 ) first Labour Party Premier of New South Wales
J.S.T. McGowen, was the first Labour Party Premier of New South Wales. ‘Jim McGowen was a man who loved Jesus Christ . . . It is a tribute to the strictness of his principles and to his loyalty to his Church to be able to state that, throughout the long years, he never allowed his public duties to interfere with his Church attendance or his work in the Sunday-school.’
J.S.T. McGowen, the first Labour Party Premier of New South Wales, was born in 1855. He was apprenticed in 1870 as a boilermaker in Sydney and he joined the United Society of Boilermakers and Iron Shipbuilders of New South Wales on its formation in 1873, and was its secretary intermittently from 1874 to 1890.
He won a Redfern seat in the l89l election and held it until 1917–thanks, in part to the help of his minister, Francis Bertie Boyce, rector of Redfern for 46 years. Apparently, in what passed in those days for the pre-selection process, McGowen had been snubbed by those involved in the process.
Therefore, Boyce went on one of his famous letter writing campaigns – both personal and to the newspapers – and convinced key Labor leaders to reconsider McGowen’s candidacy. They did, and eventually nominated him for the Redfern seat, which he held for the next 26 years.
McGowen became Labor Party leader in 1894. During the next twenty years, he led a novel and complex party with a detailed program for radical social and political reform, and full of ambitious and restless young political cannibals. He strained to convince his often restive colleagues that they were on public probation, and that they must come to terms with a cautious electorate. It was under his steady hand, in the early twentieth century that Labor gradually became the official Opposition in the New South Wales Parliament.
For 32 years, before and during his long political career, he remained superintendent of the Sunday School at St Paul’s Redfern. According to Boyce, his rector, ‘Jim McGowen was a man who loved Jesus Christ . . . It is a tribute to the strictness of his principles and to his loyalty to his Church to be able to state that, throughout the long years, he never allowed his public duties to interfere with his Church attendance or his work in the Sunday-school.’
Boyce, himself a committed social activist and reformer, had occasion to work with McGowen on legislation of common concern to the church and the state: Sunday Closing, 6 O’clock Closing (McGowen was a teetotaller), Slum clearance, the Old Age Pension, female suffrage.
They called him “Honest Jim”. H.V. Evatt said that McGowen’s only known vice was Saturday afternoon bowls.
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