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Emma Miller (1839–1917)

from Worker

Mrs. Emma Miller, one of the most remarkable and dearly loved of women, passed away from this vale of tears and tribulation on Monday evening.

The grand old lady, 'the mother of the Australian Labor Party,' as she was affectionately styled throughout the Commonwealth, had been in indifferent health of late, and some little time back she visited Toowoomba for the purpose of having a much-needed rest. On Saturday she was in the best of spirits and apparently well in health, and during the afternoon she was entertained by the combined unions at the Gardens. On Sunday evening she motored to see some friends, and it was not until Monday afternoon she took alarmingly ill. Despite the attention of the most skilful medical aid, the dear old lady gradually sank, and finally passed away about 9 o'clock.

In the passing of dear old Mother Miller the Labor movement has lost one of its most sterling fighters, and this paper has lost a particularly dear and cherished friend. Mrs. Miller was known and respected by all classes of people in every State of Australia, but of course in Queensland, where she has lived for nearly forty years, she will be most sadly missed and most deeply-mourned.

Mrs. Miller, who belonged to an old Unitarian family, was born in England in 1839. Her father was a Chartist, and it was an influence that made his daughter a rebel against the present order of society. The memories of her childhood and the Chartist days permeated her whole life, and she fought tirelessly for freedom and liberty and for the love of humanity up till her closing hours.

It was in 1878 that Mrs. Miller left her native land, and in March of that year she landed in Queensland. The tiny spark of freedom implanted in her nature so early burst into an ardent and consuming flame under the open skies of the Southern Cross, and her whole life was given up to the cause she loved with a devotion unparalleled in our history.

She was only a little handful – so frail in body – but she had the courage of a lion, and her energy was marvellous. In the early days of the Labor movement she stood beside the most valiant of the pioneers, and never for a moment did she falter. Her keen intellect, her magnetic personality, and above all her wonderful devotion to the cause were a continual source of inspiration to that noble band of stalwarts with whom she was associated, and she was justly proud of the fact that she had been privileged to play a prominent part in the moulding of our great movement.

She watched the Labor movement grown from its infancy and she recalled with great pleasure and stirring events of the early nineties, when with 'the dingoes of civilisation' she fought for personal liberty and economic freedom.

She was proud of her triumphant marches with the strike prisoners of '91, and she was also proud of the fact that she was the first woman to carry the gospel of Labor to the people of the Western country.

Under the auspices of the A.W.U. she undertook an extensive organising tour of the West, and held a series of successful meetings at all the more important centres.

In nearly every Labor campaign of any note from the commencement right down to the recent anti-conscription fight Mrs. Miller was a prominent figure, and as a champion of the rights of women she was without equal.

At the inception of the Woman's Franchise League she was made president, and in the fight, which lasted a decade, she was a veritable tower of strength.

As she advanced in years, the frail little body seemed to be imbued with increasing energy, and the part she played in the great general strike of 1912 is still fresh in the minds of all. Her more recent battle against conscription is a matter of current history, and as the fight is barely won ere she lays down her life it would be no misstatement to say that she died fighting.

Mrs Miller was an anti-militarist of the most ardent character, because she had experienced the oppression of militarism in her childhood days. She took a prominent part in the organisation of the Women's Peace Army, and it was only last year that she represented Queensland at a conference in Melbourne.

Of Mrs. Miller's four children, a son and a daughter remain to mourn her loss, and for them the deepest sympathy is felt. Their consolation and the consolation of the Labor movement will be in the knowledge that their noble mother's spirit will live on, and the inspiration of her glorious example will lend mankind to a fuller realisation of those ideals for which she lived.

As the 'Worker' goes to press the remains of the dear old lady are being laid to rest in the Toowong Cemetery, and in spite of the pouring rain there is present one of the largest and most representative Labor gatherings ever held in the State. Conspicuous amongst the floral tributes, which were abundant and beautiful, were a number of brilliant red wreaths sent by the different Socialist organisations, which, among the many associations to which she was attached, were nearest and dearest to the heart of the dear old lady.

May the memory of her brilliant life ever remain a source of inspiration and courage to the thousands of her adopted children in the Labor movement who are zealously working for the emancipation of down-trodden humanity along the lines laid down and faithfully followed by dear old Mother Miller during the whole of her magnificent career.

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Citation details

'Miller, Emma (1839–1917)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 24 July 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Emma Miller, n.d.

Emma Miller, n.d.

State Library of Queensland, 66914697

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Silcock, Emma
  • Calderwood, Emma
  • Holmes, Emma

26 June, 1839
Chesterfield, Derbyshire, England


22 January, 1917 (aged 77)
Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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