MAUGHAN, William John Ryott (1863–1933)
Senator for Queensland, 1913–20 (Australian Labor Party)

Editor to state politician, Labor functionary to senator, William John Ryott Maughan was born on 8 January 1863 at Whitechapel, London, the son of the Rev. Joseph Maughan and Selina Gedge, née Pace. Maughan’s father, who had been ordained as an Anglican clergyman in 1860, was associate secretary of the Colonial and Continental Church Society, and author of Pastoral Addresses.By 1867, he was vicar of Holy Trinity Church, Armley Hall, Leeds, a largely working-class parish. William John was educated at the Leeds Preparatory and Grammar Schools, where he gained junior honours in Greek, Latin and French as well as several sporting trophies.

After the premature deaths of his father and mother, Maughan, who had intended to study medicine, became an apprentice in the mercantile marine, subsequently rising to fourth officer and studying navigation, astronomy and meteorology. Arriving in Queensland in January 1884 on the Duntrune, he worked as a wharf and shipping clerk for Gibbs, Bright and Company and in 1886 was a clerk in the railway commissioner’s office. Using his literary skills, he became paid secretary of the Grammar Schools Board, a founder and treasurer of the Queensland College and of the Queensland Pharmaceutical Society, honorary secretary of the Royal Society of Queensland and librarian and editor of its journal. He was also a founding member of the Queensland University Extension Movement.

By 1890, he was politically active in the Paddington Workers’ Political Organisation, the Toowong Shire Council (1891–93), and the ‘early shop closing’ and Saturday half-holiday movement. He wrote for the Brisbane shop assistants’ paper, the Advocate, and for the radical Worker, under his own name and the nom de plume, ‘Democritus’. He chaired the first meeting of the Queensland Naval Brigade, and developed an interest in colonial and continental defence. He became editor of the Chronicle (Brisbane) in 1894, but he soon transferred to the Ipswich Standard. After financial and health difficulties resulting from unwise investments, he founded the New Standard in 1898. Three years later, Maughan became proprietor and editor of the Moreton Leader.

Maughan served as secretary of the federal committee of the Queensland Railways Employees’ Association, a member of the Eight Hours Union, the Federated Seamen’s Union, and as an associate of the Australian Workers Union at several congresses. He was a member of the central political executive of the Queensland Labor Party (1903–13) and its vice-president (1909–13). He was also vice-chairman of the sixth Labor-in-Politics Convention at Townsville in May 1910.[1]

In 1896, he had unsuccessfully contested (for the Labor Party) the Legislative Assembly seat of Bundamba. Two years later, he won Burnett at a by-election, but was defeated at the general election of 1899. Undeterred, he contested the federal seat of Moreton at the first Commonwealth election of 1901; he was beaten, as he was for the state seat of Ipswich in 1902. He finally captured Ipswich in 1904 and held it until 1912, when he was defeated. Not a man to give up easily!

Maughan’s first speech in the Queensland Legislative Assembly on 4 August 1898 spelt out most of the ideological tenets that lay at the basis of his political career. Reinforcing his adherence to the ‘social gospel’, he quoted with approval the Encyclical of Pope Leo, RerumNoverum. He said that, as an advocate of ‘community’ rather than a class war warrior, he was sad to see Queensland duplicating the evil conditions of the Old World. He thought that while Labor could not really advocate ‘socialism in our time’, it could offer happiness and prosperity through following the social and industrial reforms of Gladstone and Bismarck. He supported the abolition of the Queensland Legislative Council, the principle of one adult one vote, the establishment of a state bank and the adoption of the New Zealand system of state advances to farmers. Maughan’s other proposals, such as state-controlled markets, state flour mills and mining batteries, and more branch and light railways, reflected the agrarian appeal that Queensland Labor was making to the small farmers of the colony.

On a wider canvas, Maughan drew on his own experience to plead for a viable defence force based on a stronger navy, rifle clubs, submarine mining of ports and a Moreton Bay training ship for boy entrants. If the functions of the state were to be greatly enlarged, he favoured a complete overhaul of the education system including the elimination of that ‘polite kind of sweating’, pupil-teachers, the extension of technical education, a teachers’ training college and a university for Queensland. Reflecting populist and class passions of the 1890s, he called for the nationalisation of lawyers to provide ‘less law and more justice’, and the direct election of magistrates; thus ‘social purity’ would be attained. Finally, a central motif was reinforced. White Australia was to be the keystone of Queensland, and Australian, society. Indeed it seems that Maughan went so far as to advocate the employment of special railway carriages for non-white aliens.[2]

During Maughan’s second parliamentary term (as Member for Ipswich, 1904–12) he refused to consider state aid for Catholic schools, opposed the ‘Bible in State schools’ push and advocated home rule for Ireland.Above all, his Ipswich industrial constituency revived his interest in social amelioration and change. Maughan represented the new, disciplined state Labor Party. His successful organisation of Ipswich’s Eight Hours Day procession, and associated festivities, was part of Labor’s social mobilisation following his, and Labor’s, 1912 defeat.[3]

Maughan was elected to the Senate with John Mullan and Myles Ferricks at the 1913 election, topping the poll, and was re-elected following the double dissolution of 1914. Earlier, he had played a leading part in the 1899 Federation referendum as paid general organiser for the Queensland Federal Referendum League, being presented with a jewelled pencil case for his efforts in stabilising and extending the ‘yes’ vote in areas where opposition was strongest.[4]

Maughan’s record in the Senate seems somewhat less distinguished than that in the State Parliament. Between 8 October 1914 and 17 March 1917, he was present on only just over half of the Senate’s sitting days although throughout his term he served on several Senate committees. As the Commonwealth Parliament fashioned a national defence system within a framework of imperial defence, he returned to his seminal themes of defence and White Australia. He agreed with Labor’s plan for a ‘citizen defence force with compulsory military training and an Australian-owned and controlled Navy’. He lauded the activities of the rifle clubs while deploring attempts to brand Japan as a likely aggressor.

In his only other major speech in the Senate (during the Address-in-Reply on 15 October 1914), Maughan anticipated some of the issues arising from World War I that were to bedevil both society and the Labor Party. He declared that ‘not even the war, with all its dreadful consequences’ must deter the Fisher Government from carrying out its radical reform program. In particular, Maughan advocated the immediate introduction of widows’ and orphans’ pensions. He argued that settlement by small farmers and the breaking up of the large landed estates could only be achieved by an effective land tax. Riding his nautical hobby horse, Maughan pleaded for a string of coastal naval bases, a strengthened Royal Naval Reserve and more transparency in regard to naval policy.[5]

After 1914, Maughan spoke infrequently in the Senate, mainly asking questions on cyclones, floods, science and industry, the Navigation Acts, and the demobilisation of the AIF. He pleaded for the annexation of the German colonies in the Pacific: ‘I can plainly foresee that in the very near future Australia will be called upon to play a very much more important part in the history and expansion of the British Empire than she has ever done before. We do not want any frowning enemy fortresses . . . in the vicinity of Australia’.[6]

When Hughes walked out of Labor’s party room in November 1916, Maughan was one who did not follow. His friend, Senator John Mullan, may have played some part in his decision not to leave the Labor Party. Nonetheless, Maughan was fiercely nationalistic, and totally dedicated to winning the war. A member of the federal parliamentary recruiting committee, he advocated better pay and pensions and repatriation benefits for servicemen and their families.

While he had not taken part in the debates on conscription in the Senate, in early October 1916 he returned to Queensland from Melbourne to campaign against conscription prior to the referendum to be held later that month. Maughan played a substantial role in consolidating and extending the ‘no’ vote among the Wide Bay and Burnett farmers, who had been hitherto strongly anti-Labor. He opened his anti-conscription campaign at Ipswich. He claimed that there was ‘a deep-laid conspiracy to use conscription for industrial purposes’, women and girls would ‘go down the mines’, workers’ conditions would suffer, coloured labour would be introduced and the trade union movement ‘which gave life’ to the Labor Government would be damaged. Maughan argued that the real concern should be to care for the men at the front and return them to a proper Australia.

Conscription, with its ‘echo of bitter controversy’, was reflected in Maughan’s last intervention in the Senate in November 1918, when the Senate unanimously voted to forward an address congratulating King George V on the successful conclusion of the war and praising Allied statesmen and armed forces, and ‘dead heroes’. After senators sang together the National Anthem, Maughan called for cheers for ‘Our volunteer Army’, only to be countered by Senator de Largie with his call for three cheers for ‘The conscript armies of our Allies’.[7]

Maughan had one substantial ‘last hurrah’ in politics. In the federal election of 1919, he was placed second on the Queensland Labor ticket for the Senate. His Queensland tour, which ranged from Brisbane to Cairns, Gordonvale, Babinda, Townsville and Wide Bay, showed him at his best. He stood on a platform of higher protection, industrial development, stronger arbitration laws, anti-sectarianism and opposition to Hughes, who, he considered, had abandoned the democratic ideal. He impressed the electors with his sincerity, but did not attract sufficient of their votes to ensure his return.[8]

In appearance, Maughan had a long, narrow face with a high forehead and deep-set bright eyes. His moustache had disappeared by 1914, but his lecturer’s gaze and slim posture remained. Though not an intellectual, Ryott Maughan was certainly a productive and effective member of an early small Queensland intelligentsia. He had considerable literary and speaking skills, which he employed to good effect.

On 18 September 1886, he had married Marion, née Hobson, who survived him, as did their three daughters, Vera, Hilda and Edna, and five sons, Derrick, Collingwood, Arnold, Kenneth and Harold. Three of his sons had seen active service in World War I,Harold, a fighter pilot in Palestine in 1918, having been awarded the DFC. Maughan and his family had lived in Melbourne during his Senate days. After his defeat he retired to 9 Orlando Avenue, Cremorne, Sydney, where he died on 9 April 1933 following a lengthy illness. He was cremated at Rookwood the following day after a ‘short, simple, but dignified’ Church of England service.

Maughan liked to quote a verse from Tennyson:

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.[9]

It could have been his own epitaph.



D. B. Waterson


[1] Pugh’s Queensland Almanac, Brisbane, 1911, p. 407; Queensland Times (Ipswich), 8 March 1902, p. 9; Worker (Brisbane), 6 March 1913, p. 8; QPD, 1 December 1908, p. 288; D. J. Murphy (ed.), Labor in Politics: The State Labor Parties in Australia 1880–1920, UQP, St Lucia, Qld, 1975, pp. 175, 221.

[2] Letter, Moreton Central Executive Committee to Edmund Barton, 25 February 1901, A6 1901/560, NAA; QPD, 4 August 1898, pp. 133-145, 15 August 1907, pp. 275–282; Progress (Brisbane), 6 May 1899, p. 10.

[3] Queensland Times (Ipswich), 7 April 1896, p. 4; QPD, 19 July 1910, pp. 98–99, 26 September 1906, pp. 975-977; CPD, 26 June 1914, p. 2605; D. J. Murphy (ed.), Labor in Politics, Murphy, op. cit., p. 175; Queensland Times (Ipswich), 6 May 1912, p. 6.

[4] W. J. R. Maughan, campaign leaflet, 21 February 1901, A6 1901/560, NAA; Queensland Times (Ipswich), 8 March 1902, p. 9.

[5] W. J. R. Maughan, ‘A “White Australia” in Danger: Forewarned is Forearmed’, Worker (Brisbane), 21 May 1914, p. 14; CPD, 23 October 1913, p. 2422, 18 December 1913, pp. 4707–4711, 15 October 1914, pp. 205–209.

[6] CPD, 11 December 1918, pp. 9016, 9018, 24 January 1918, p. 3428, 21 July 1915, p. 5073, 19 July 1917, p. 296.

[7] Daily Standard (Brisbane), 15 November 1916, p. 5; Argus (Melbourne), 22 June 1917, p. 8; Daily Standard (Brisbane), 27 October 1916, p. 5, 17 October 1916, p. 5; Ernest Scott, Australia During the War, A & R, Sydney, 1943, p. 477; CPD, 12 November 1918, pp. 7643–7647.

[8] Daily Standard (Brisbane), 6 December 1919, p. 6, 1 December 1919, p. 5.

[9] Worker (Brisbane), 6 March 1913, p. 8; Daily Standard (Brisbane), 15 November 1919, p. 5; Daily Mail (Brisbane), 10 April 1933, p. 8; F. M. Cutlack, The Australian Flying Corps in the Western and Eastern Theatres of War 1914–1918, A & R, Sydney, 1923, p. 117; Brisbane Courier, 10 April 1933, p. 13; Argus (Melbourne), 11 April 1933, p. 6; Daily Standard (Brisbane), 10 April 1933, p. 4; Queenslander (Brisbane), 13 April 1933, p. 9; Daily Mail (Brisbane), 11 April 1933, p. 8; QPD, 4 August 1898, p. 145.



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. 124-128.

MAUGHAN, William John Ryott (1863-1933)

National Library of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator, Qld, 1913–20

Queensland Parliament

Member of the Legislative Assembly, Burnett, 1898–99; Ipswich, 1904–12

Senate Committee Service

Select Committee on the Case of Mr H. Chinn, 1913

Select Committee on the Fitzroy Dock, 1913

Library Committee, 1914–20

Select Committee on Post Office, Balfour, Tasmania, 1915

Committee of Disputed Returns and Qualifications, 1917–20