LYNCH, Patrick Joseph (1867–1944)
Senator for Western Australia, 1907–38 (Labor Party; National Labour Party; Nationalist Party; United Australia Party)

Patrick Joseph Lynch, shearer, miner, seaman, engine-driver, trade unionist and farmer, was born on 24 May 1867 at Skearke, Moynalty, Kells, County Meath, Ireland, the youngest of eight children, to Michael Lynch, farmer, and his wife Bridget, née Cahill. Patrick’s family had farmed their 17-acre property for several generations. It was here in this close-knit rural community at the Newcastle end of Moynalty parish, some fifty miles north‑west of Dublin, that the young Patrick grew up. He attended the Cormeen National School, then completed his schooling at the Bailieborough Model School, a non-denominational finishing school for bright young pupils in nearby County Cavan. From the age of fifteen he worked on his father’s farm. In 1886 he emigrated to Australia via the United States.

Lynch enjoyed a varied and eventful career that brought him not only to most states in Australia but to nearly all corners of the globe. Arriving in Queensland he started off in Charleville, where he was employed in railway construction, then went overland to work on the Croydon goldfield for three years. From there he proceeded to Darwin and became for seven years a seafaring man, first as a stoker and finally securing a certificate as a marine engineer. He was involved in the New South Wales Maritime Strike of 1890 and became a committed member of the labour movement at this time. During his time at sea he was shipwrecked twice and on another occasion attempted to save a fellow seaman by ‘jumping overboard on a dark night in the shark-infested waters of Fiji’, for which deed he was awarded a certificate of the Royal Humane Society. Lynch also had a spell working for the Colonial Sugar Refining Company in Fiji. But the ‘alluring gleam’ eventually tempted him to Western Australia, to Hannan’s Field.

In 1897 Lynch took up residence on the Western Australian goldfields at Boulder. As an ‘elite’ engine-driver, he became a founding member of the Amalgamated Certificated Engine Drivers’ Association of Western Australia, then considered the most powerful union on the goldfields due to the particular skills demanded of its members in their work on the mines. Over a seven-year period Lynch served at the union’s head office in Boulder, both on its management committee and as general secretary. In 1901 he became the first president of the Boulder Political Labor League and, with the foundation of the Western Australian Arbitration Court, a forceful advocate of workers’ interests in that arena. These formative years in the goldfields saw Lynch, by now in his mid-thirties, cutting his industrial and political teeth in the early Western Australian labour movement. From 1901 until 1904 he served as a member of the Boulder Municipal Council and was at different times a member of various other local boards and societies that contributed to the welfare of the goldfields community.[1]

In 1901 Lynch married Annie Cleary, a native of County Clare, Ireland, at All Hallows Roman Catholic Church in Boulder, and together they had two daughters and a son. In 1904 Lynch was returned unopposed as the Labor member for the newly created seat of Mount Leonora in the Western Australian Legislative Assembly. He served briefly (June to August 1905) as Minister for Works in the Daglish Government, the first Labor administration in Western Australia, the ministry being composed largely of former goldfields trade unionists. Lynch’s election to the Senate in December 1906, when Labor won all three Senate vacancies for Western Australia, brought to an end his short career in state politics.[2]

He was soon taking a prominent part in the tariff debate, as an ardent protectionist. Indeed, protectionism under its various guises, both economic and military, was a dominant theme in Lynch’s speeches during his early years in the Senate, his priorities including high tariffs, national development, defence and the maintenance of the White Australia policy. Foremost among his concerns also was the construction of the transcontinental railway, something that his state had been promised as part of the deal leading to Federation in 1901. A supporter of Dalgety as the federal capital site, Lynch held that the framers of the Constitution had intended the site to be well away from ‘commercial aggrandizement’ or the ‘whims’ of any state government.[3]

In 1909 Lynch effectively severed his direct links with the goldfields when, along with his brother Phil (newly arrived from Ireland), he acquired a 2500-acre wheat property at Three Springs outside Geraldton. For the remainder of his working life he successfully balanced the work of senator, based in Melbourne and later in Canberra, with that of a progressive farmer in Western Australia. Lynch’s continuing preoccupation with economic development, but particularly with issues of rural development, is reflected in his membership of the Royal Commission on the Fruit Industry (1912–14) and as founding president of the River Murray Commission (1917).

The conscription controversy heralded the major turning point in Lynch’s political career. In June 1915 he was among the first federal Labor politicians to publicly advocate conscription when he spoke during debate on the Supply Bill immediately following a pro-conscription speech by Liberal senator, Thomas Bakhap. When the federal Labor caucus split in November 1916, Lynch was one of the twenty-four dissidents who followed Prime Minister W. M. Hughes out of the party room. The following month Lynch was expelled from the Labor Party when, as a Western Australian delegate to the special Labor conference in Melbourne on conscription, he abstained from voting on the successful motion to expel members ‘who supported compulsory overseas military service’. This was despite the fact that the Western Australian branch of the Labor Party had allowed federal members to exercise freedom of opinion on the issue. While he had been at loggerheads with Archbishop Daniel Mannix in Melbourne, Lynch was thoroughly in accord with his own archbishop in Western Australia, the pro-conscription Patrick Joseph Clune of Perth.[4]

Lynch was one of the Labor dissidents in the federal Parliament who formed the breakaway National Labour Party, which quickly linked up with the conservative opposition to form a Nationalist government under Hughes. Lynch served briefly (November 1916 to February 1917) as the first federal Minister for Works and Railways before having to stand aside to allow an extra Liberal into the Cabinet. Lynch was never again to achieve ministerial office. He retained his personal popularity in Western Australia and, supported by a strong rural vote complementing the urban following of George Pearce, was returned in every election until his eventual demise, along with Pearce, in 1937. Perhaps it was as well that in June 1917 he was given a ‘citizens presentation’ in the Perth Town Hall in honour of his service to the state, for his political career after 1917 was something of an anti-climax. Around this time, he must have been feeling disillusioned with politics for he applied, unsuccessfully, to become Administrator of the Northern Territory.[5]

As a Nationalist senator (from 1931 federally UAP) and a wheat farmer, Lynch remained committed to rural interests in Western Australia. In 1922, he and Henry Gregory (MHR for Dampier, WA) tabled their report to the Prime Minister on the possibilities of settling immigrants on the land in Western Australia. In 1931, at odds with some Western Australian political colleagues, Lynch opposed, during debate on the Wheat Marketing Bill, compulsory pooling in favour of a dual system that preserved the operating rights of private wheat-selling agencies. In 1934 he gave evidence to the Commonwealth’s Royal Commission on the Wheat, Flour and Bread Industries. This former Labor man then declared himself in favour of taxing bread.[6]

In 1926 Lynch had been defeated in a party room contest for the nomination of President of the Senate. The elevation of the Nationalists’ successful candidate, Senator Newlands, to the position led to an extraordinary outburst by Lynch, directed primarily at Pearce whom he blamed for his defeat in the party room. He was, said Lynch, ‘humiliated’ that Pearce did not support him given his work for the party for many years on the goldfields and his long service as ‘understudy’ to Pearce. In 1929, he was defeated again for the party nomination—this time by Senator Kingsmill and by a single vote. It was a case of third time lucky when Lynch eventually won the Senate presidency in August 1932. Three years later Lynch faced no fewer than six opponents from within his own party for the nomination, and was not the preferred candidate of the Government when he won a second three-year term.[7]

Lynch generally enjoyed the respect and support of both sides of the chamber during his time as President. He was a principled defender of the role and authority of the Senate vis-à-vis the House of Representatives. In 1913, in the debate on the Committee of Public Accounts Bill, he had successfully moved that the proposed House of Representatives committee be a joint committee, with Senate representation. As a member of the Select Committee on the Advisability of Establishing Standing Committees of the Senate, he supported the establishment of the Senate’s Regulations and Ordinances Committee—from 1932 a powerful Senate tool. With regard to the respective roles of the executive and legislature, he was sufficiently a realist to acknowledge that, particularly in the financially stringent post-Depression years, ‘he who paid the piper called the tune’. Lynch remained President of the Senate until 30 June 1938, following upon his defeat at the October 1937 election, his last years in office marked by substantial periods of absence due to ill health. His health was probably the reason for his being replaced by Senator James Guthrie as one of two senators who were part of the Empire Parliamentary Association delegation to London for the coronation of King George VI in 1937.[8]

On his last night in the Senate, 30 June 1938, Lynch, in jocular vein, told of how in order to become President he had ‘“dogged and devilled” morning, noon and night’ to learn Erskine May’s great tome on parliamentary practice by heart! He then added that of all the rulings he had given ‘not one has ever been dissented from’. This was true enough, though J. R. Odgers, Clerk of the Senate (1965–79), did not agree with a 1935 ruling by Lynch against an amendment to a motion for disallowance that would have narrowed the scope of the regulations being disallowed.  The ruling has never been followed.

At the height of the secessionist movement in the early 1930s, Lynch, a fervent states’ righter and Western Australian loyalist, declared himself a secessionist, although, following concern that his support could be in conflict with his role as Senate President, he denied any active participation. Ironically, the vengeful ‘Put Pearce Last’ campaign, conducted by elements within the secessionist movement prior to the 1937 Senate election, contributed to the demise not only of Pearce but also of Lynch himself. His ‘fiery eloquence’ and ‘highly explosive temperament’ would enliven the Senate no more.[9]

After his electoral defeat, Lynch unsuccessfully applied to Prime Minister Joseph Lyons for membership of the Interstate Commission, a position that had narrowly been denied him by an inopportune change of government in 1913. In 1938 he became a member of the Nationalist Party’s state council and in 1939 unsuccessfully contested the state seat of Geraldton for the party. A year later he approached the party’s executive with the idea of contesting the federal seat of Fremantle, then held by John Curtin.

Lynch spent most of his retirement years at his property, Mt Leonora Farm, at Three Springs. In 1933 he had married, at St Matthew’s Roman Catholic Church, Narrogin, his secretary, Mary Brown, his first wife having died several years earlier. He passed away at St Anne’s Nursing Home, Mt Lawley, Perth, on 15 January 1944, survived by Mary and the three children of his first marriage, Bridget, Molly and Michael. After a state funeral at St Mary’s Cathedral, Perth, he was buried in Karrakatta Cemetery.

Lynch was well read and an independent thinker to whom personal liberty and freedom remained a ‘precious heritage’. A colourful personality, he maintained throughout his career a reputation for straightness and single-mindedness. Nevertheless, the youthful promise of the newly elected senator of 1907 never really blossomed. As Lynch himself tacitly acknowledged, the term ‘the Nearly Man’ aptly describes his parliamentary career. This may be attributed to a conspiracy of circumstances, the fallout from the Labor split and the fact that he remained thereafter in the political shadow of George Pearce, combined with his own obdurate personality and reputation as something of a political maverick.[10]

Danny Cusack

[1] David Black, ‘Lynch, Patrick Joseph’, ADB, vol. 10; J. S. Battye (ed.), The Cyclopedia of Western Australia, vol. 1, Hussey & Gillingham, Adelaide, 1912, pp. 306–7; CPD, 2 Oct. 1919, p. 12936; Punch (Melb.), 23 Nov. 1916, p. 804; Lenore Layman and Julian Goddard, Organise! A Visual Record of the Labour Movement in Western Australia, Trades and Labor Council of Western Australia, East Perth, 1988, pp. 82–3; Westralian Worker (Kalgoorlie), 11 July 1902, p. 3, 26 Mar. 1901, p. 3, 12 Apr. 1901, p. 2, 31 May 1901, p. 3, 12 July 1901, p. 2, 6 Sept. 1901, p. 4, 18 Mar. 1904, p. 3, 15 Nov. 1901, p. 3; Mount Leonora Miner, 2 July 1904, p. 2; Information supplied to author by Margaret Flanagan, descendant.

[2] Westralian Worker (Kalgoorlie), 18 Mar. 1904, p. 4, 7 Sept. 1906, p. 3, 30 Nov. 1906, p. 8, 14 Dec. 1906, p. 7, 18 Jan. 1907, p. 2; West Australian (Perth), 8 June 1905, p. 5; D. J. Murphy (ed.), Labor in Politics: The State Labor Parties in Australia 1880–1920, UQP, St Lucia, Qld, 1975, p. 359.

[3] CPD, 29 Jan. 1908, p. 7693, 11 Feb. 1908, p. 7946, 27 Feb. 1908, pp. 8432–3, 29 Aug. 1907, pp. 2531–7, 5 July 1907, pp. 147–57, 1 Aug. 1907, pp. 1253–61, 4 Nov. 1908, pp. 1907–18.

[4] CPP, Royal Commission on the Fruit Industry, final reports, 1914; H. O. Eaton, A Short History of the River Murray Works, Government Printer, Adelaide, [1945], p. 52; CPD, 9 June 1915, pp. 3776–82; George Foster Pearce, Carpenter to Cabinet: Thirty-Seven Years of Parliament, Hutchinson & Co., London, 1951, pp. 140–4, 154; Punch (Melb.), 23 Nov. 1916, p. 804; H. McQueen, ‘Who Were the Conscriptionists? Notes on Federal Labor Members’, Labour History, May 1969, pp. 44–8; ALP, Report of proceedings of the special Commonwealth conference on conscription, Melbourne, Dec. 1916; E. J. Holloway, The Australian Victory Over Conscription in 1916–17, Anti-Conscription Jubilee Committee, Melbourne, 1966, p. 18; Murphy, Labor in Politics, pp. 370–1; Pearce Papers, MS 213, NLA; L. F. Fitzhardinge, The Little Digger 1914–1952: William Morris Hughes: A Political Biography, vol. 2, A & R, Sydney, 1979, pp. 202–29, 429.

[5] Bobbie Oliver, War and Peace in Western Australia: The Social and Political Impact of the Great War 1914–26, UWA Press, Nedlands, WA, 1995, p. 107; Gavin Souter, Acts of Parliament, MUP, Carlton, Vic., 1988, p. 150; CPD, 29 Nov. 1916, p. 9239; British Australasian (Lond.), 18 Jan. 1917, p. 25; Western Mail (Perth), 8 June 1917, p. 29; Letter, Lynch to Lyons, 27 Nov. 1937, Perkins Papers, MS 936/2/624, NLA,.

[6] CPP, Report on the Possibilities of Settling Immigrants on Lands in Western Australia, 1922; CPD, 30 July 1931, pp. 4739–45; CPP, Royal Commission on the Wheat, Flour and Bread Industries, first report, 1934; SMH, 5 Mar. 1934, p. 10.

[7] Herald (Melb.), 16 July 1926, p. 1; CPD, 1 July 1926, pp. 3681–3, 31 Aug. 1932, pp. 10–13; G. S. Reid and Martyn Forrest, Australia’s Commonwealth Parliament 1901–1988, MUP, Carlton, Vic., 1989, pp. 42–4; Argus (Melb.), 24 Sept. 1935, p. 10; Age (Melb.), 24 Sept. 1935, p. 12.

[8] CPD, 21 Aug. 1929, p. 84, 22 Nov. 1929, pp. 170–1, 28 Nov. 1929, pp. 407–8, 12 Nov. 1931, pp. 1633–6, 11 Dec. 1913, pp. 4146–50; CPP, Select Committee on the Advisability or Otherwise of Establishing Standing Committees of the Senate, reports, 1930; CPD, 8 May 1930, pp. 1555–7; Herald (Melb.), 8 May 1936, p. 3, 27 May 1936, p. 9, 10 Nov. 1936, p. 1, 11 Jan. 1937, p. 3.

[9] CPD, 30 June 1938, pp. 2957–6; Rulings of the President of the Senate, The Hon. P. J. Lynch, 1932 to 1938, vol. 6, Government Printer, Canberra, c. 1938; Harry Evans (ed.), Odgers’ Australian Senate Practice, 10th edn, Department of the Senate, Canberra, 2001, p. 355; CPD, 5 Nov. 1931, p. 1477, 25 June 1937, pp. 439–40; SMH, 8 Mar. 1933, p. 11, 10 Mar. 1933, p. 8; Peter Heydon, Quiet Decision: A Study of George Foster Pearce, MUP, Carlton, Vic., 1965, pp. 194–205; Nationalist (Perth), June 1937, p. 17, Sept. 1937, p. 19, July 1938, pp. 2–3; CPD, 31 Aug. 1932, p. 13.

[10] Herald (Melb.), 24 June 1938, p. 5; Perkins Papers, MS 936/2/624, NLA; Nationalist (Perth), Aug. 1938, p. 1; SMH, 29 Jan. 1940, p. 8, 17 Jan. 1944, p. 4; West Australian (Perth), 17 Jan. 1944, pp. 1, 2; Nationalist (Perth), Jan. 1944, p. 8; CPD, 8 Feb. 1929, pp. 110–19, 12 May 1938, p. 1129, 11 July 1923, pp. 873–83, 9 Feb. 1944, pp. 12–13, 15 Mar. 1944, p. 1304.

This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol. 2, 1929-1962, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, Vic., 2004, pp. 21-25.

LYNCH, Patrick Joseph (1867–1944)

National Library of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator, WA, 1907–38

Minister for Works and Railways, 1916–17

President of the Senate, 1932–38

Western Australian Parliament

Member of the Legislative Assembly, Mount Leonora, 1904–06

Senate Committee Service

Library Committee, 1907–20, 1932–38

Committee of Disputed Returns and Qualifications, 1913–19

Joint Standing Committee on Public Works, 1914–16, 1923–26

Standing Orders Committee, 1920–23, 1932–38

Select Committee on the Advisability or Otherwise

of Establishing Standing Committees of the Senate, 1929–30

Printing Committee, 1932

House Committee, 1932–38