Matthew Charlton

Matthew Charlton
Matthew Charlton MP
7th Leader of the Opposition
Elections: 1922, 1925, 1928
In office
16 May 1922 – 29 March 1928
Preceded by Frank Tudor
Succeeded by James Scullin
5th Leader of the Australian Labor Party
In office
16 May 1922 – 29 March 1928
Preceded by Frank Tudor
Succeeded by James Scullin
Member of the NSW Parliament
for Waratah
In office
Preceded by Arthur Hill Griffith
Succeeded by John Estell
Member of the NSW Parliament
for Northumberland
In office
Preceded by John Norton
Succeeded by William Kearsley
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Hunter
In office
Preceded by Frank Liddell
Succeeded by Rowland James
Personal details
Born 15 March 1866(1866-03-15)
Linton, Victoria,
Died 8 December 1948(1948-12-08) (aged 82)
New South Wales,
Nationality Australian
Political party Australian Labor Party
Spouse(s) Martha Rollings
Occupation Coal miner, politician

Matthew Charlton (15 March 1866 – 8 December 1948) was an Australian Labor Party politician.

Charlton was born at Linton in rural Victoria but moved to Lambton, New South Wales at the age of five. He worked as a coal miner after only a primary education and then married Martha Rollings in 1889. Charlton had an interest in politics from his early middle age, and joined union strikes against wage reductions in 1896.

After a two-year stint in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, Charlton returned to Lambton and rejoined the local colliery workers' union, becoming its treasurer in 1901. He won a by-election for the NSW seat of Waratah in 1903 and transferred to Northumberland in 1904.

In 1910 Charlton won the seat of Hunter and rose through the ranks of Andrew Fisher's government, then staying with the Australian Labor Party during its period in opposition. Charlton rose through the ranks to become party leader in 1922. He lost his first election campaign, partly because he was hospitalised with illness during its course. In 1924 Charlton was invited to a meeting of the League of Nations (now United Nations) but was unsuccessful in getting Australia to adopt the Geneva Protocol, established during the meeting.

Due to union strikes in 1925, Charlton and his party lost the election held that year and he resigned in 1928. He died on 8 December 1948.


Early life

Little is recorded about Charlton's early life, as he grew up in a relatively unknown mining district. It is known, however, that Charlton was born on 15 March 1866 in Linton, Victoria, a small town near Ballarat that today has less than 500 residents.[1] He was born to Matthew Charlton, an English miner from Durham, and Mabel (née Foard). In 1871, the five-year-old Charlton's father moved with his family to Lambton, a suburb of Newcastle, New South Wales. After primary education at Lambton Public School, Charlton began work at Lambton Colliery as a coal trapper; a children's-only job opening trapdoors for coal carts.[2] When too old for the job, Charlton was given a job at the coal-face. At 23 he married Martha Rollings at nearby New Lambton.[3][4]

Emerging interest in politics

In 1896 plans to reduce coal workers' wages drew widespread criticism and strike action. Though Charlton supported the struggle against wage reductions, his efforts failed and he moved, along with many other miners, to the goldfields near Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. After two years in Western Australia, Charlton returned to Lambton and became an official in the Colliery Employees' Federation,[5] becoming treasurer in 1901. While working as treasurer, Charlton also prepared arbitration cases. Battling for an improvement in mine workers' conditions, he attended a trade union congress in November 1902. Here he moved for nationalisation of the coal mining industry, believing it would 'eliminate cut-throat competition between owners that depressed miners' wages and conditions'.[4] His calls were dismissed as too radical but a compromise was drawn up urging state governments to reconsider their use of coal mines.[4]

State political career

Colleagues urged Charlton to stand for the state electoral district of Waratah, and on 5 December 1903 Charlton became the second member for the district in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. His representation of that district was short-lived, as the next year he transferred to Northumberland, replacing John Norton. Charlton became the unofficial spokesperson for the miners, speaking principally about mining matters in parliament. In 1909 a coal miners' strike struck New South Wales and Charlton was called upon by the Colliery Employees' Federation to represent it in front of a wage board. Charlton was unsuccessful in gaining better conditions for the miners but he did settle the dispute, talking to miners around the state and convincing them to return to work. He resigned from state politics and in 1910 Charlton wrested the federal Division of Hunter from the sitting Frank Liddell.Hunter has remained a safe Labor seat ever since.[4][6]

Early federal career

Charlton was an immediate success with Andrew Fisher and was promoted to the temporary chairmanship of committees in the House in 1913, however Charlton threatened to resign in 1915 over a dispute in government delays in granting the committee increased powers. Fisher mollified him and in 1916 Charlton proved his loyalty to the new Labor leader Billy Hughes by voting for Hughes' conscription referendum bill, even though he was vehemently opposed to conscription and fought hard against it.[7] However, Charlton seemed to accept the affirmative result of the referendum and again proved his loyalty to Hughes by defending him when he became the target of caucus criticism. Charlton attempted to deflect attacks made on Hughes to a party conference, but Hughes left the party before a decision could be made.[4][7]

The new Labor leader Frank Tudor was a weak leader in health and political prowess. A successor-designate was chosen by the caucus but it was not Charlton. T. J. Ryan was chosen over him,[8] but he died in 1921 and Charlton filled the deputy leadership position. During election year, 1922, Tudor died also, and Charlton became Leader of the Opposition going into the 1922 election.

Matthew Charlton during his time as Member for Hunter, exact date unknown.

Leader of the Opposition

Charlton offered alternative policies and looked to be favourite until he was hospitalised with illness halfway through the campaign. Labor still won the most seats as a single party, but Charlton was unable to defeat a strong government coalition. Labor remained in opposition.[4]

Because of great losses during World War I, Charlton opposed military training and commitments of Australian forces. In 1924 Charlton was invited to a League of Nations (now United Nations) conference in Geneva, Switzerland. At the conference Charlton strongly opposed war, and the Geneva Protocol took form. Upon his return to Australia, Charlton advocated adoption of the protocol, but the government sided with the British and refused to observe it.[4][9]

Charlton lost the 1925 election, largely due to his stance on industrial relations and continual militant union action which plagued his campaign. Charlton always aided in maintaining amicable relations in the party and many times lent his expertise to conflicts within the NSW branch of the Labor Party. He resigned from his positions on 29 March 1928. His successor James Scullin went on to become the Prime Minister of Australia, something Charlton never managed to do.[4]

Final years

Following his six years of service as Labor leader, Charlton took an interest in local government and became an alderman on the Lambton Council from 1934-38 (prior to its merger with the City of Newcastle). On 8 December 1948 Charlton died at Lambton, New South Wales, where he grew up and had lived most of his life.[4][10]

The Division of Charlton in the Hunter Valley region is named in his honour and has been a safe Labor seat since its creation in 1984.[11]


  1. ^ "Linton, Victoria". Postcodes Australia. Retrieved 2007-12-12. 
  2. ^ "Early Coal Mining History". Bill Riley's Retrieved 2009-11-13. 
  3. ^ NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages Search (accessed 2008-03-10)
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Perks, Murray (1979). "Charlton, Matthew (1866 - 1948)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 2007-12-12. 
  5. ^ "Colliery Employees Federation of the Northern District...". New South Wales electronic regional archives. Retrieved 2007-12-12. 
  6. ^ Adam Carr. "Index of Members 1901-2002". Psephos. Retrieved 2007-12-12. 
  7. ^ a b Fitzhardinge, L. F. (1979). "Hughes, William Morris (Billy) (1862 - 1952)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 2007-12-12. 
  8. ^ Johnston, W. Ross (1988). "Ryan, Thomas Joseph (1876 - 1921)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 2007-12-12. 
  9. ^ "High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Protocol". Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Archived from the original on November 18, 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-12. 
  10. ^ NSW Register of Births, Deaths and Marriages - Death Record Search (accessed 2008-03-10)
  11. ^ "Charlton - Electoral Profile (AEC)". Australian Electoral Commission. Retrieved 2007-12-12. 

External links

Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
Frank Liddell
Member for Hunter
1910 – 1928
Succeeded by
Rowland James
Preceded by
Frank Tudor
Leader of the Australian Labor Party
1922 – 1928
Succeeded by
James Scullin
Leader of the Opposition
1922 – 1928

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