ST LEDGER, Anthony James Joseph (1859–1929)
Senator for Queensland, 1907–13 (Anti-Socialist Party)

Anthony James Joseph St Ledger, educationalist, who was born in Barnsley, Yorkshire, on 18 February 1859, arrived in Queensland on the Persia on 3 December 1861 with his parents, Michael, a sawyer, and Martha née Waddington, and his brother John and sister Mary. His education took place at St Mary’s Boys’ School, Ipswich, under Rev. J. Breen, followed by some years at St Kilian’s College, now St Laurence’s, Brisbane. At the age of twelve, he gained first place in the first Queensland Government grammar school scholarships examination.[1]

Initially St Ledger entered the Education Department in 1874, but worked from 1875 to 1879 as a pupil-teacher at a Roman Catholic school, returning to the Education Department where he became one of its most successful teachers. In 1885, he was appointed to the Central Boys’ School working under J. S. Kerr, and from 1887 was honorary secretary of the East Moreton Teachers’ Association. St Ledger, who has been described as an ‘organisational wizard’, appears to have been at the forefront of the establishment of the Queensland Teachers’ Union in 1889, becoming its first honorary secretary. Called to the Bar in 1891, he resigned from the Education Department in the same year, although in 1895 he founded the Queensland Education Journal, of which he remained editor and manager until he entered politics. He was an advocate of the extension of government secondary education and of a university for Queensland. In his writings, St Ledger was unmerciful in his attacks on J. G. Anderson and David Ewart of the Queensland Education Department whom he accused of maintaining conservative and limited methodologies.[2]

St Ledger was elected on the Queensland Anti-Socialist Senate ticket at the 1906 federal election. He appealed directly to the women of Queensland, urging them to vote in the forthcoming election.[3] One of a number of Queensland Roman Catholics who did not support the socialism espoused by the Labor Party and upheld by Cardinal Moran at the Church’s third plenary council, his speeches during the eight-week campaign, show him a stern critic of all forms of socialism. He thought socialism ‘would cut away the liberties of Australia morsel by morsel’.[4] He later expanded upon these views in his book, Australian Socialism in which he wrote: ‘Australian Socialism is far more the creation of low-grade parliamentary intrigue, than the deliberate expression of public opinion’. The book was hotly debated in Parliament.[5]

The anti-Labor invective of his electioneering days continued in the Senate. He opposed nationalisation, compulsory arbitration and the expansion of the trade union movement. In 1909, he successfully moved for the tabling of a return on the number of hearings of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, the names of those appearing and the associated costs. Speaking in the debate on the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill in 1911, he said: ‘The spectacle that we have witnessed since the industrial arbitration policy was inaugurated in Australia would be sufficient to deter a man from giving any credit to the Socialist party. . . . If ever one were tempted to go in that direction, the strikes that have occurred in this country would be enough to drive him back to what may be called Tory methods of dealing with industrial affairs’. St Ledger felt that the Labor Party was legislating to give ‘a certain class of workers—a class within a class—absolute privileges over their fellow workers’. Earlier he had called for detailed statistics on trade unions.[6]

His experience with the teacher’s union may have given him a taste for debate. On the Customs Tariff Bill 1908, he had spoken on a long list of items ranging from agricultural machinery to wire netting. He was ever mindful of the Queensland interest, once opposing the importation of bananas from Fiji because of the growing banana industry among ‘white persons’ in southern Queensland. A reader of his speeches in Hansard could well agree with Punch: ‘He is a sort of corrective. There is no debate so wearisome but Senator St Ledger will find something new to say, and say it at the greatest possible length’.[7]

St Ledger favoured a narrow interpretation of the Constitution, and feared the development of socialism in the federal sphere. His second book, Federation or Unification?, contains a pungent criticism of what he perceived as the unconstitutional growth of Commonwealth power over that of the states. He felt the reason for this lay in ‘the intriguing political combinations of sections seeking office at any price, even at the price of the violation, both of the spirit and letter, of the charter which they were pledged and trusted to administer’.[8]

St Ledger was a defender of Parliament in the face of the increasing power of political parties and the executive. In 1907, he objected to the adjournment of Parliament after a mere two days of sittings to enable the Prime Minister to attend the Imperial Conference in London. He felt that the Prime Minister’s action amounted to a mere ‘chloroforming of Parliament’. St Ledger argued: ‘ . . . just as the position and strength of a Parliament depends ultimately upon the confidence of the people, so the strength and influence of a Ministry depend upon the confidence of Parliament’. And again: ‘It is noted by constitutional writers . . . that our so-called democratic constitutions are gradually merging into a system which, through Ministers of the Crown, gives the Crown greater powers than were possessed by the Tudors or the Stuarts’.[9]

Round-faced and sporting a pince-nez, St Ledger looked every inch the impressive advocate when, following his electoral defeat in 1913, he returned to the Bar, practising in Melbourne where he continued to live until his death on 17 April 1929 at his Armadale home, ‘The Wattles’. He was buried in St Kilda Cemetery. In Brisbane on 14 February 1893, St Ledger had married Mary Helena Baker. There was one son of the marriage, Anthony Charles, who became a doctor in Brisbane, and three daughters (Letitia, Fedora and Phonsie), one of whom became a nun. The Brisbane Courier obituary commented that St Ledger had been ‘noted for his eloquence and his diction’. [10]

Jennifer Harrison


[1] Ross Johnston, History of the Queensland Bar, Bar Association of Queensland, Brisbane, 1979, p. 121; Andrew Spaull, ‘St Ledger, Anthony James Joseph’, ADB, vol. 11.

[2] Andrew Spaull, ‘The Origins and Formation of Teachers’ Unions in Nineteenth Century Australia’, in Imelda Palmer (ed.), Melbourne Studies in Education, MUP, Carlton, Vic., 1984, pp. 153–156; Andrew Spaull, ‘The Emergence of Teacher Unionism in Queensland 1884–1893’, Australian Journal of Education, vol. 29, no. 1, April 1985, pp. 47–62; Punch (Melbourne), 8 August 1912, p. 212.

[3] Brisbane Courier, 5 December 1906, p. 5.

[4] T. P. Boland, James Duhig, UQP, St Lucia, Qld, 1986, p. 126; Patrick O’Farrell, The Catholic Church in Australia: A Short History: 1788–1967, Thomas Nelson, Melbourne, 1968, pp. 189–190; Brisbane Courier, 11 December 1906, p. 5.

[5] A. St Ledger, Australian Socialism: An Historical Sketch of its Origin & Developments, Macmillan, London, 1909, p. xi; CPD, 15 September 1909, pp. 3418–3425.

[6] Senate, Journals, 9 July 1909; CPD, 10 November 1911, pp. 2485–2486; Senate, Journals, 20 October 1911.

[7] CPD, 23 January 1908, pp. 7596–7599, 6 February 1908, p. 7852; Punch (Melbourne), 8 August 1912, p. 212.

[8] A. St Ledger, Federation or Unification? Some Problems of the Australian Commonwealth and their Solution, A. Muir, Brisbane, 1910, p. 11.

[9] CPD, 21 February 1907, p. 66, 4 July 1907, pp. 66–67.

[10] Brisbane Courier, 18 April 1929, p. 17, 19 April 1929, p. 17; Queenslander (Brisbane), 25 April 1929, p. 22; Age (Melbourne), 18 April 1929, pp. 1, 9.


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. 118-120.

ST LEDGER, Anthony James Joseph (1859–1929)

National Library of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator, Qld, 1907–13

Senate Committee Service

Standing Orders Committee, 1907–13