LAMP, Charles Adcock (1895–1972)
Senator for Tasmania, 1938–50 (Australian Labor Party)

Charles Adcock Lamp was born in Hobart on 3 September 1895. His father was John Frederick August Lamp, the son of a German naval storeman who deserted his ship and settled at York, in Adelaide, before moving to Linda Valley and Queenstown, Tasmania, where he worked in the mines. His mother was Rosina, ‘daughter of Mr Fewkes’. Charles was educated at a state school at Queenstown. After leaving school he trained initially as a cabinetmaker before being apprenticed to the Launceston shipwrights, Gurr and Sons. He later worked as a blacksmith and railwayman.

In January 1916, following service in the 92nd Infantry, Lamp added a year to his age and enlisted as a sapper in the AIF. He joined the 9th Field Company Engineers in France in March 1918, but was repatriated to England after being wounded in June, and returned to Australia a year later. Resuming his work with the Tasmanian Government Railways, Lamp became prominent in the Tasmanian branch of the Australian Railways Union (ARU).He was secretary of the locomotive division, a member of the state executive, and served a term as state president. In 1928 Lamp started the ARU Gazette, the first union journal in Tasmania, standing for White Australia and the tariff. On the left of the Labor Party, he served as the local branch secretary of a number of other unions and, in 1927, was selected president of the Launceston Trades Hall Council. He was involved also in the Workers’ Educational Association.[1]

Lamp played a leading part in the Tasmanian Labor Party of which he was secretary from 1936 to 1940, being eventually defeated as a result of the machinations of the powerful Australian Workers’ Union. Thomas D’Alton, state president of the ALP (1937, 1939–43), claimed that Lamp was ‘the best secretary the state movement had ever known’ and that during his time as secretary party membership had risen from 3000 to 13 000. Lamp served as a member of the state executive in 1928 and was a member of the Federal Executive (1928–31, 1946–47 and 1951). He was a delegate to interstate conferences between 1930 and 1933, in 1936, and again in 1938 and 1939. He was also ALP general secretary (1935–39).

In 1931 he joined the Douglas Social Credit Association in Launceston. This became a powerful influence in his life. Lamp was described by George McElwee, another Labor enthusiast, as ‘a 100 per cent Douglasite’. He participated fully in the Labor intra-party debates in the 1930s and sponsored motions for community control of credit through the banking system. He stood unsuccessfully for Bass in the 1934 state election that brought Labor to power in Tasmania under Albert Ogilvie, but won a bid for the Senate in 1937.[2]

In the Senate, Lamp remained a strong advocate of national credit, though he was more orthodox in his views than was his colleague, Senator Darcey. He maintained that World War II could be successfully prosecuted by its use, though he distinguished between capital costs associated with the war and recurrent costs, such as wages and salaries. ‘National credit’, he claimed, ‘properly employed will enable us to carry out necessary productive works, leaving the cost of the war effort to be met by taxes’. To prove his point, he quoted a range of authorities: H. G. Wells, Professor Frederick Soddy of Oxford, Professor Morgan Rees from the University of Wales and even Abraham Lincoln. Lamp believed that Australia should follow the example of Britain and establish a national defence contribution scheme so that ‘those who have wealth and property to defend should be compelled to contribute an amount over and above ordinary taxes’. The introduction in 1945 of the Labor Government’s Commonwealth Bank Bill prompted him to confess that ‘this’ was the day he had ‘lived for’. An ardent supporter of social welfare, he saw bank nationalisation as a guarantee to the people of ‘economic security and plenty for all time’.[3]

Lamp did not, however, restrict his Senate intervention to monetary issues, but, as was to be expected from a returned soldier, was particularly interested in defence matters (including a system of national defence based upon air power) and the treatment of World War II veterans. He was a member of the special committee that inquired into the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act, which provided the basis for new legislation in 1943.[4]

He was assiduous in his pursuit of Tasmanian interests. (In the late 1950s he would play a leading part in persuading the Tasmanian State Government to attract Comalco to Bell Bay in northern Tasmania.) He was once asked, ‘Is there any other place in the world apart from Tasmania?’ Despite being ‘essentially an industrialist’ who did ‘not claim to know a great deal about the apple and pear industry’, he regularly raised the concerns of Tasmanian fruit growers and other primary producers, concerns that embraced garden pests, such as cabbage moths, which, he said, had been introduced into Tasmania from Victoria. He never missed an opportunity to emphasise the difficulties faced by Tasmania since Federation. Nor was his purview restricted to Tasmania; Lamp, a staunch British patriot, who believed John Bull was still ‘very broad across the waistcoat’, nevertheless declared that British rule in India, despite bringing some benefits, had allowed the indigenous people ‘no voice whatever in the government of their country’.[5]

He was a strong supporter of Prime Minister John Curtin, and once offered to fight the future Labor Leader of the Opposition, Arthur Calwell, who appeared to have insulted Curtin at a party meeting. In 1946 he attended the 28th (maritime) session of the International Labour Conference in Seattle, as government representative. Despite his long career in Labor politics, Lamp was defeated in the 1949 election, when the Labor state executive placed him third on the party ticket.[6]

He remained active in the Tasmanian Labor Party, especially in his local branch. While a senator in 1947, he had been electedpresidentof the Tasmanian party, holding office for one year. He was a member of the Federal Executive in 1947, and again in 1951 when, prior to the referendum on communism, he voted for resistance on the Federal Executive. After his Senate defeat, his union responsibilities increased when he took over the secretaryship of the unions for the hospital employees, the fire fighters and the furnishing trades. In May 1955, and again in February 1959, he stood as a candidate for the Tasmanian Legislative Council seat of Westmorland, but was defeated on both occasions. At some time active in the Tasmanian Trade Union Council, he was a life member of the Labor Party.[7]

Lamp was twice married, first on 27 December 1921 at the Church of the Apostles, Launceston, under the rites of the Roman Catholic Church, to Mary Evangelist Ahearn, daughter of William Ahearn, bootmaker, of Launceston, and his wife, Margaret, née Haggerty. There were two sons of the marriage, John and Charles, and one daughter, Elsie. Mary died on 9 February 1966, and on 21 June 1968 Lamp married, again in the Church of the Apostles, Launceston, May Josephine Currie, daughter of James McDonald, a retired textile worker, and a Tasmanian Labor MLC, and his wife, Mary Ellen, née Scannell. There were no children of the second marriage. Both Lamp’s wives were keen Labor supporters and secured election to party offices. (Mary had been a contributor to the ARU Gazette.) Lamp died in Launceston on 17 April 1972, and was interred at Carr Villa Cemetery. May, Charles and Elsie survived him, John having been killed on active service in 1943. In 1946 Lamp had spoken sadly of the war: ‘I suffered during the course of it, and some of my worthy colleagues lost sons in it’. A member of the Church of England and of the Christian Industrial Fellowship of England, he had regularly called upon the Government to support the establishment of cooperative societies in the national capital. These he considered to be ‘Christianity in action’.[8]

Lamp has been variously described as ‘short and stocky with a gruff manner’ and ‘a very personable and charming man’. His interests were wide, including membership of the League of Nations Union, and the Launceston Hospital Board (1933–58). He was a keen sportsman, representing Launceston City and Invermay at Australian Rules football in the 1920s, achieving prominence in cricket and becoming a foundation member of the King’s Meadows Bowls Club. Lamp was also a lover of poetry and an enthusiastic musician; he played the tuba in the Launceston City Band and possessed a large collection of classical records. A strong defender of the national broadcaster, he had taken a keen interest in the Australian Broadcasting Commission, especially in relation to its national music competitions and eisteddfods for music, singing and literature. Late in life he gave moral support to his son, Charles, when the latter became president of the Vietnam Action Group.[9]

Richard Davis


[1] Charles Lamp and Frank Collet, Field Guide to Weeds in Australia, 3rd edn, Inkata Press, Melbourne, 1989, p. vi; Lamp, C. A.—War Service Record, B2455, NAA; Mercury (Hob.), 18 Apr. 1972, p. 23; Examiner (Launc.), 18 Apr. 1972, p. 2.

[2] Mercury (Hob.), 18 Apr. 1972, p. 23; Richard Davis, Eighty Years’ Labor: The ALP in Tasmania, 19031983, Sassafras Books and University of Tasmania, Hobart, 1983, pp. 23, 25, 121-4; Examiner (Launc.), 22 Mar. 1940, p. 6; Mercury (Hob.), 22 Mar. 1940, p. 8; Richard Davis, ‘Social Credit and the Tasmanian Labor Movement’, THRAPP, Dec. 1978, pp. 114–32; Lloyd Robson, A History of Tasmania, vol. 2, OUP, Melbourne, 1991, pp. 428–9.

[3] CPD, 6 Dec. 1940, pp. 528-30, 6 Oct. 1938, p. 441, 23 Nov. 1939, pp. 1526-7, 28 June 1945, p. 3750, 21 Nov. 1947, p. 2448.

[4] CPD, 27 Sept. 1938, pp. 208-10, 6 Oct. 1938, pp. 440-1, 23 Nov. 1939, pp. 1525-8;CPP, Joint Committee on the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act, reports, 1943; CPD, 3 Mar. 1943, pp. 2130–1, 24 Mar. 1943, pp. 2238-43.

[5] Robson, A History of Tasmania, vol. 2, p. 511; CPD, 20 Oct. 1948, p. 1844, 22 Nov. 1938, pp. 1772-3, 19 Apr. 1940, pp. 191-2, 10 Dec. 1940, p. 640, 27 Sept. 1945, pp. 5995, 5 Oct. 1945, pp. 6593-4, 29 May 1947, p. 3090, 16 Sept. 1942, p. 306.

[6] A. A. Calwell, Be Just and Fear Not, Lloyd O’Neil, Hawthorn, Vic., 1972, p. 55; CPP, Report of the Australian Government delegates to the twenty-eighth session of the International Labour Conference, Seattle, 1946; Patrick Weller and Beverley Lloyd (eds), Federal Executive Minutes, 1915–1955, MUP, Carlton, Vic., 1978, p. 394.

[7] Davis, Eighty Years’ Labor, pp. 49, 125-6; Examiner (Launc.), 18 Apr. 1972, p. 2, 12 May 1955, p. 7, 16 May 1955, p. 1, 13 Feb. 1959, pp. 7, 20, 16 Feb. 1959, p. 1.

[8] Davis, Eighty Years’ Labor, pp. 74, 130; May Lamp, ‘For A.R.U. Women’, A.R.U. Gazette, June 1928, p. 17; Examiner (Launc.), 9 Nov. 1943, p. 2; CPD, 11 Apr. 1946, p. 1413, 28 June 1945, p. 3751, 6 Oct. 1948, p. 1205.

[9] Audrey Johnson, Fly a Rebel Flag: BillMorrow 1888–1980, Penguin, Ringwood, Vic., 1986, p. 171; CPD, 19 Apr. 1972, pp. 1207–8; Mercury (Hob.) 18 Apr. 1972, p. 23; CPD, 6 Oct. 1948, p. 1207, 22 June 1949, p. 1281; Mercury (Hob.), 18 Nov. 1966, p. 4; Davis, Eighty Years’ Labor, p. 66.

This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol. 2, 1929-1962, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, Vic., 2004, pp. 206-209.

LAMP, Charles Adcock (1895–1972)

National Library of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator, Tas., 1938–50

Senate Committee Service

Standing Orders Committee, 1938–47

Joint Standing Committee on Public Works, 1940–49

Joint Committee on War Expenditure, 1941–43

Joint Select Committee on the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act, 1942–43

Library Committee, 1943–47