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George Launder (1838–1914)

from Labor Call

When the future historian of Australia is engrossed in the scientific and social data relating to the rise and progress of our economic institutions, and the sources from which those institutions sprang, the will — if guided by strict impartiality, and without which history is valueless — recount the story of some of the men whose share in the formation of Australian democratic sentiment has compelled the admiration — if not the envy — of millions of toilers beyond our 12,000 miles of coast line.

In this connection the founders of our grand eight hours system will doubtless take a prominent place, and amongst those dear departed will appear the name of George Launder, the carpenter, almost the last of that little band who, nearly three score years ago, with British pluck and British foresight, won for us the guerdon we then sought, and which has become an object lesson, to the world to-day.

In his enumeration of the principal incidents in which those pioneers took part, he will recall the arrival of the ships, 'John Wickliffe'' and the 'Peter Lang,' from Scotland, with the early settlers at Port Chalmers, in New Zealand, in 1848, where the first movement for the establishment of the Eight Hours principle was enacted. With this he will associate the names of the veteran organisers, led by D. S. Parnell, with his companions, Samuel Shaw, John McIndoe, William Martin, John Hill, and others, who first proclaimed the assault on old world enervated slavery and the dawn of the Eight Hours system beneath the skies of the Southern main. He will then follow the movement as it was wafted over to Sydney in 1855, when Hughie Laundry — a mason— in that year drove the first picket of the principle in Australian soil at a meeting held at the Parramatta Hotel, in the month of September of that memorable year, which succeeded the Eureka in Victoria.

Here however, "vested interests" — the 'Sassiety' name for Capital, Trusts, Combines, Rings, etc. — having previously struck the movement down in New Zealand, now followed it with dogged pertinacity to the Mother State, entailing for a time disastrous results to the workers, until its resuscitation and final achievement by them in later years.

Crossing the Murray River into Australia Felix, the literary explorer on this subject of the Eight Hours Movement, will find his rest, and may in his wanderings perchance behold on some bright April morning the imposing Eight Hours' procession as it wends its way through the beautiful streets of our metropolis. Here George Launder labored; here this old man from Kent, with his devoted confreres sleep in their silent graves. Let me recall some of them— Stephen, the founder: Galloway, the dashing young pilot of the movement; Forsyth, the treasurer; Vine, the first president; together with others who justly claim an equal share in the triumph; Douglas, Grigg; Miller; the brothers Topping, O'Brien, Lambert, Dalgetty, burly and bluff but good-hearted Jack Gration, Hayden, Seccombe, Harry Emslie, the mason, whose son George rose to the position of Premier of his native state; crotchety, but honest old Sam Lemmon, one of whose sons also achieved to the honor of Ministerial dignity; and many others whom, in a hasty obituary notice, it is difficult to remember, but who in their day were the heroes of that serious, though bloodless, revolution, which was consummated in the memorable year of 1856.

George Launder, like his friend Douglas, was born away among the wealds of Kent, England, between 70 and 80 years ago. At an early age he emigrated to Australia, where on his arrival, he followed his trade —that of a carpenter. He was one of that old school of mechanics whose technical tuition during the long seven years of apprenticeship grounded him in the mysteries of the craft, embracing as it did a thorough training in building lore, which fitted him for the advanced positions he afterwards attained to. Launder was an excellent mechanical draughtsman, with a good knowledge of mathematics, and an accurate quantity surveyor, while his skill, urbanity and general efficiency in the several capacities of builder, clerk of works and foreman over many of our large public structures won for him the confidence of proprietors and architects together with the general respect of workmen engaged under his supervision. In the early seventies he joined the corps of Victorian military engineers, then under the command of the late Colonel E. Parnell, father of the present commandant of our local forces. In this early branch of our defence system, Launder served for a period of eight years, attaining the rank of N.C.O. It is, however, as a trades unionist he was better known to the pioneers and their followers of our industrial associations.

Subsequent to the acquisition of the Eight Hours. Launder, then in his prime, left Victoria to fulfil an engagement in Queensland, where he soon became deservedly popular with all classes. One incident which occurred in the course of his adventures in the wild interior of the great Northern State, is perhaps worth relating. The notorious bushranger, McPherson, was in the early sixties, a roving terror over that part of the country between the Condamine and Roma. Although an unwelcome visitor to many stations in that district, he enjoyed for a long time a complete immunity from arrest or the death which threatened him at sight. It occurred, however, to an energetic sub-inspector of police, named Elliot, to act promptly on certain information, and organising a small party of settlers, in which Launder joined, the desperado was surprised and captured at the 'Myles Station,' of which he had taken possession, on the Condamine. For this action the thanks of the Government was awarded to the party, added to a monetary reward, and in which Launder shared. Returning from this exploit to the city of Brisbane, our wanderer founded the original Queensland Society of Carpenters and Joiners, in 1862, and the following year we find him busily engaged in the organisation of the first Eight Hours procession that took place through the streets of Brisbane. In this State the quondam policeman was held in much esteem by the workers, a large number of whom farewelled him on his departure for the south, when, amongst the other souvenirs he received on that occasion, was a special gold foundation medal, which he showed me on his deathbed, while a tear-drop stood in the veteran's eye, as no doubt he recalled the memory of those long-past days of his early manhood.

In connection with the Eight Hours Pioneers' Association of Victoria, Launder succeeded to the position of secretary on the death of that staunch old unionist, Tom Topping. This, however, occurred at a period when there was yet a master-roll of the old members equal to the capacity of two large drags, drawn by four horses on each recurring Eight Hours festival. Alas! the secretary saw them, one by one, fall by the way. His melancholy duty of covering their honored remains with the old flag under which those brave old scions of a hardy race had so often and so proudly marched now served as their pall.

The reaper was abroad. .. Henceforth scarcely an anniversary day was celebrated unaccompanied by the emblems of mourning, being intertwined with the standards of their victories. The tottering but fearless few still clung to their old Kentish comrade, doubtless regarding him as the successor of Galloway and Charles Vine.

Launder's bright, genial disposition was for a long time proof against the warnings of the 'Gristly Monarch,' which are the forerunners of his certain visitation. . . . . The time at last arrived, and Launder now sleeps with his comrades "amongst the loved, the lost, the distant, and the dead." Oh! trades unionists of to-day, how have those fathers and founders of your young Democracy been requited for the inestimable boon they won for you long years ago? Do you recognise that the Eight Hours achievement was, and is, the corner stone of your powerful industrial and political unions?

Their names are seldom mentioned in the corridors or through the halls their patriotism reared for you. . . Their obsequies are scantily attended. . . The beautyful monument in the Melbourne Cemetery, placed there by the pioneers, over the grave of young Galloway, and which they once tended with loving care, is weed grown dilapidated, and its site almost unknown. Their memories are fast passing into oblivion, or remembered only by that structure called "the Eight Hours Column" in Spring street, while that chaste, artistic model(the design of the late Percival Ball, the gifted sculptor lies hidden away in some cellar, instead of its magnificent proportions setting forth the Goddess of Liberty, raising Her torch towards the setting sun, being feared in the front of the Trades Hall, emblematic of that advancement which Federated Australian Labor has heralded forth to the world.

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'Launder, George (1838–1914)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 18 June 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


5 July, 1838
Sevenoaks, Kent, England


26 May, 1914 (aged 75)
Preston, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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