McDOUGALL, Allan (1857–1924)
Senator for New South Wales, 1910–20, 1922–24 (Australian Labor Party)

Allan McDougall, boilermaker, was born at Pyrmont, New South Wales, on 2 August 1857, son of Allan McDougall and his wife Catherine, née Keith. Educated to primary school level, he became an apprentice at the Australian Steam Navigation Company, where his father was foreman boilermaker. Later, the young McDougall moved to Mort’s Dock where he worked beside John Storey and other pioneers of the labour movement. McDougall was for many years president and secretary of the Society of Boilermakers and Iron Shipbuilders of New South Wales. McDougall gained his political education at the Sydney Trades Hall. Believing that the conditions of workers could be improved, he devoted ‘every ounce of his energy and all his abilities’ to that end. A long-serving member and secretary of the Eight-Hours Committee, for fifty years he marched in the annual eight hours procession in Sydney.[1]

McDougall, who had tried unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1906, was elected, in 1910, at the top of the poll for New South Wales. In his first Senate speech, he lost no time in affirming his political beliefs. ‘The policy of the Labour party’, he declared, ‘is a policy of progress, a policy for the bettering of the conditions of the toiling multitude’. He supported the introduction of invalid pensions and lowering the age at which women became eligible for the old-age pension. He also supported moves for a land tax, reflecting that it sometimes took him eight hours to drive through one man’s land.[2]

McDougall was a large man, over 6 feet tall and weighing about 252 pounds. He was patient, moderate, good humoured and intensely proud of his Australian birth. He was a colourful character, a person of independent mind who expressed decided views on a variety of subjects. McDougall regarded the Address-in-Reply as ‘a waste of time’, and called for the abolition of such ‘flummeries’. Nevertheless, he strongly defended parliamentary powers and prerogatives, insisting that, in establishing the federal capital, Parliament, not boards and commissions, should be ‘supreme’. Though an advocate of temperance and unfamiliar with the ‘taste of beer’, McDougall supported the introduction of wet canteens during World War I: ‘I have not the right to deprive any man of the privilege of drinking beer if he wants it’.

He was nothing if not outspoken. In debate on the Unlawful Associations Bill in July 1917, he made clear his opposition to the one-big-union principle. ‘I am’, he said, ‘a craft unionist pure and simple’. He objected to the entry to Australia of a ‘motley crew of foreigners’ and emphasised the need to develop a ‘sturdy race’ through selective migration. He cautioned against encouraging the emigration of young desk workers from the cities of the Old World: ‘One might as well paint the legs of a “poddy” calf and enter it for the Melbourne Cup . . . as think of successfully settling such young men in the back country’. Writing in December 1916 to Andrew Fisher, then Australian High Commissioner in London, McDougall likened Senator de Largie to an ‘old grey wolf that’s been fed on nothing for a week’. (Unlike McDougall, de Largie had followed Hughes out of the Labor Party in November 1916).[3]

McDougall was keenly interested in defence issues. In December 1912, he called for the creation of an Australian citizen army. ‘Our soldiers’, he said, ‘should be given an idea that there is something to be gained by military training’. In 1916, McDougall visited Egypt and London as an administrator of the Australian Comforts Fund, ‘putting his heart and soul’ into providing food parcels, reading matter and entertainment for the men in base camps and the firing line. A member of the executive of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party (1914–20), McDougall resigned for a brief period in 1915 because of his dissatisfaction with the conduct of the war. This included his view that men in the ranks were meted out more severe punishment than that given to officers.

 He would continue to be troubled by the politics of war. During the campaign for the 1916 referendum on conscription, McDougall urged those voters whose names had been removed from the electoral roll to go to the booths and demand their votes. For this action, he was prosecuted under the War Precautions (Military Service Referendum) Regulations, though he was later cleared of any offence. While he never swerved in his opposition to compulsory military service, he consistently and wholeheartedly supported the war effort, and those Australians already at the front. In September 1918, he was one of nine New South Wales federal Labor parliamentarians who publicly opposed an ALP initiative to scale back recruitment for overseas service.[4]

McDougall had an abiding interest in the federal capital. During a parliamentary tour of the Canberra area in 1910, he was inadvertently thrown from a punt into what later became notorious as a hazardous spot at the junction of the Cotter and Murrumbidgee rivers. The experience does not seem to have marred his enjoyment of the subsequent ditty: ‘How McDougall Reached the Shore’. In 1915, McDougall voted in support of John Grant’s unsuccessful motion to appoint a select committee to investigate the delay in commencing work on the federal capital, and later showed a concerned interest in the welfare of workers engaged in the construction of the capital.[5]

McDougall was defeated at the December 1919 election, but was returned in 1922. Under the Senate Elections Act 1922, his position in the poll made him eligible to fill the casual vacancy previously held by Senator Garling. This meant that instead of becoming a senator on 1 July 1923, McDougall became a senator from the date of the election. There now occurred a minor dispute between McDougall and the Clerk of the Senate, George Monahan concerning the date on which McDougall’s parliamentary allowance should be paid. McDougall plugged for December; the Clerk argued that under the Parliamentary Allowances Act 1920 the allowance could not be paid until McDougall’s casual vacancy appointment was certified by the Governor of New South Wales, which had not occurred until January. This weighty matter was taken by Senator Gardiner to the Treasurer, Earle Page, and dragged on until June, when it appears that the Clerk’s advice prevailed. The issue highlights the complexities surrounding the appointment of casual vacancies at that time.[6]

In 1923, McDougall became a Temporary Chairman of Committees for the second time, having served previously from 1913 to 1914. His 1911 viewthat the Senate should be abolished may or may not have changed, but it certainly had not hindered his having given twelve years of dedicated service as a backbench senator. He had served on eight Senate committees as well as the joint committee of public accounts. The select committee on the Fitzroy Dock, of which he was chair and which had investigated the partial closure of the Australian Naval Shipbuilding Yard and the resulting unemployment, was appointed at his instigation in 1913.[7]

McDougall’s concern to safeguard the rights of the individual was reflected in his membership of committees inquiring into the dismissal of Warrant Officer J. R. Allen, the rehabilitation of the severely wounded Lieutenant W. W. Paine and the Government’s treatment of the munitions worker, J. T. Dunk. In his dissenting report on the J. R. Allen inquiry, McDougall, with Senator H. E. Elliott, complained that the committee had received insufficient evidence to enable it to make a proper recommendation and argued that Allen be compensated for his discharge. In 1923, McDougall was appointed to the royal commission on national insurance, which inquired into social security provisions relating to sickness, old age, unemployment and the maternity allowance.[8]

McDougall died in office at the Molonglo Private Hospital, Darlinghurst, on 14 October 1924 and was buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery, Rookwood, following a full Masonic funeral. On 26 July 1884, he had married Sarah Cheeseman; there were four sons and one daughter of the marriage. His wife and two sons, Charles and Archibald, survived him. Tagged a ‘sporting Senator’, McDougall had been president, and later patron, of the New South Wales League of Wheelmen.

In the Senate, President Givens, who had left the Labor Party during the 1916 Labor split, said of McDougall: ‘From the day that he entered this chamber there was never a break in my friendly associations with him’. In 1912, Punch had commented that ‘men of the Allan McDougall type, to whatever party they may belong, are valuable in any Parliament’.[9]


S. M. Tilse


[1] SMH, 15 October 1924, p. 12; Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 15 October 1924, p. 1; Australian Worker (Sydney), 15 October 1924, p. 18; Daily Standard (Brisbane), 15 October 1924, p. 5, 18 October 1924, p. 6; CPD, 10 June 1925, p. 13; Fisher Papers, MS 2919,1/285, NLA.

[2] CPD, 1 July 1910, pp. 13–16.

[3] Punch (Melbourne), 24 October 1912, p. 696; CPD, 17 July 1912, p. 877, 18 June 1924, pp. 1332–1334, 20 November 1914, p. 898, 25 July 1917, p. 411, 13 June 1924, p. 1246, 21 August 1924, p. 3422, 15 March 1923, p. 383; Letter, McDougall to Andrew Fisher, 11 December 1916, Fisher Papers, MS 2919, 1/285, NLA.

[4] CPD, 5 December 1912, pp. 6445–6453, 12 December 1913, p. 4214; British-Australasian (London), 18 May 1916, p. 13; Commonwealth of Australia. Attorney-General’s Department, Senator McDougall: Counselling Disqualified Persons to Vote, A456/3, W26/217/85, NAA; Patrick Weller (ed.), Caucus Minutes, 1901–1949: Minutes of the Meetings of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party, MUP, Carlton, Vic., 1975, vol. 1, 1901–1917, p. 404n; CPD, 14 December 1916, pp. 9784–9785; Ernest Scott, Australia During the War, A & R, Sydney, 1943, pp. 464–468.

[5] CPD, 15 September 1910, pp. 3177–3178; Daily Standard (Brisbane), 18 October 1924, p. 6; Derek Drinkwater, ‘How McDougall Reached the Shore: The Senate and the Federal Capital Site 1901–1910’, Canberra Historical Journal, New Series, no. 42, September 1998, pp. 26–36 (a copy of the ditty has eluded the editors); CPD, 30 October 1913, p. 2700, 27 May 1915, pp. 3459–3460; Senate, Journals, 27 May 1915; CPD, 13 February 1917, p. 10462.

[6] The casual vacancy had been caused by Senator Pratten’s resignation in 1921, when it had been filled by Henry Garling, who had been defeated at the 1922 election; J. R. Odgers, Australian Senate Practice, Government Printing Office, 1953, pp. 28–30; Senate Registry file. 8161/S.164, NAA.

[7] Argus (Melbourne), 10 October 1911, p. 6; CPP, Report of the select committee on the Fitzroy dock, 1913.

[8] CPP, Report of the select committee on the discharge of Warrant Officer J. R. Allen from the Australian Military Forces, 1923; CPP, Report of the select committee on the case of First Lieutenant W. W. Paine; No report was presented on the Dunk matter, 1924; CPP. Report of the royal commission on national insurance; CPD, 21 August 1924, pp. 3431-3437, 28 August 1924, pp. 3706-3707, 4 September 1924, pp. 3951-3958.

[9] Daily Standard (Brisbane), 18 October 1924, p. 6; CPD, 10 June 1925, p. 13; Punch (Melbourne), 24 October 1912, p. 696.



This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol. 1, 1901-1929, Melbourne University Press, Carlton South, Vic., 2000, pp. 49-52.

McDOUGALL, Allan (1857-1924)

National Library of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator, NSW, 1910–20, 1922–24

Senate Committee Service

House Committee, 1910–17, 1923–24

Select Committee on the Fitzroy Dock, 1913

Select Committee on Post Office, Balfour, Tasmania, 1915

Standing Orders Committee, 1917–20

Joint Committee of Public Accounts, 1917–20

Committee of Disputed Returns and Qualifications, 1923–24

Select Committee on the Discharge of Warrant Officer J. R. Allen from the Australian Military Forces, 1923

Select Committee on the Case of First Lieutenant W. W. Paine, 1924

Select Committee on the Case of Mr J. T. Dunk, 1924