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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

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William Dudley Flinn (1858–1917)

In the person of Mr. William Dudley Flinn there has passed away a well known native of this metropolis, and a class-conscious, much-travelled and widely read propagandist of revolutionary Socialism.

A man of broad sympathies and keen intellect, he was a voracious reader and a close observer of men and movements. In his early years he was one who had investigated existing social systems, and found them faulty, foul and immoral. He was one who had looked far into our social sea.

'Where every maw
The greater on the less feeds evermore,
One who distressful saw into the core
Of an eternal, fierce destruction,"

and was thereby moved to a deep, divine discontent. In after years the daily spectacle that came under his ken of

'The Shark at savage prey, the Hawk at pounce—
The gentle Robin, like the Pard or Ounce, Ravening a worm;

only fanned the flame of discontent and kept him to the end of his day an unswerving supporter and valiant advocate of the Underdog. Retrospectively, amongst a small band of educated Socialists, we see him, in '91 of last century, a blond-haired, blue-eyed, well-knit young man, a clarion-voiced, logical speaker, whose eloquence was ebullient. We clearly discern in his modest personality the most instructive, erudite and capable propagandist of International Socialism in this metropolis, who was continuously active for several years. In Mr. Flinn, and in Mr. Max. Hirsch who joined the majority years ago, we see the then leading exponents here of collectivism and individualism.

Mr. Flinn was one of the founders of the Social Democratic League, and for some years its hon. secretary, one of the founders of the Democratic Club, and a pioneer member of the Labor party in this State, which was first styled the Progressive Political League, and whose secretary and assistant secretary were respectively G. M. Prendergast and Frank Anstey. For a season, too, Comrade Flinn was a conspicuous leader and sound adviser of the unemployed, whose members were surprisingly large.

Once, at a meeting of the Social Democratic League, Mr. Flinn was twitted with posturing as a teacher, whereupon he replied: 'I'm here to teach or I would not be here at all!' And truly he very efficiently performed the part of instructor in those days, a teacher to whom thousands have to be, and doubtless are, thankful for illumination on social and political questions. He was an occasional contributor to Labor papers, amongst them the defunct 'Commonweal' and the 'Worker' (Sydney). Amongst Mr. Flinn's contributions to magazines and other publications was an essay on the 'Federation of the World'— published many years ago by Mr. Cole, of the Book Arcade.

On two or three occasions our late comrade was selected by the Labor party to contest seats for Parliamentary honors, but, despite his undoubted ability as a platform speaker, he was unsuccessful. Mr. Flinn's rather unexpected demise at the age of 59, due to an attack of pneumonia, came as a great surprise to those of his friends who up to now became aware of it. His remains were interred in the Coburg Cemetery in the presence of his sorrowing relatives and of a few friends, amongst whom were G. M. Prendergast, M.L.A., Dr. Maloney, M.P., and Messrs. Wright and Carter, J's.P.

After the Rev. H. W. Lane had read the burial service, Dr. Maloney touchingly mentioned his long friendship with the sacred dead, which had been unsullied by a single hard word, and then added: 'Flinn was a straight, honest man of wide reading; a kind, intelligent teacher to those willing to learn, and one who never said a harsh word, never spoke in anger, and never spoke words a woman should not hear. Peace to his sacred clay, and may his spirit circle with us, helping to that day when tyrant monarchs and men can no longer force the workers to commit that holocaust of murder that men call war." Mr. Prendergast eulogised the early work, the continuous reading and splendid concentration on social subjects that distinguished Mr. Flinn, and ended by stating that his work and thoughts would bear fruit in the future, and help to the attainment of the ideals of the Labor party. It is but warm appreciation of the brilliant and arduous labor for humanity's emancipation done by our comrade in the pioneer days of the Labor movement in this State that impels us regretfully to pen this obituary.

Melbourne (23/5/17).

Original publication

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Citation details

'Flinn, William Dudley (1858–1917)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 April 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


6 August, 1858
North Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


19 May, 1917 (aged 58)
East Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death


Cultural Heritage

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Political Activism