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William Arthur Holman (4 August 1871 – 5 June 1934) was an Australian politician who served as Premier of New South Wales from 1913 to 1920. He came to office as the leader of the Labor Party, but was expelled from the party in the split of 1916. He subsequently became the inaugural leader of the NSW branch of the Nationalist Party.

William Holman

William Holman 1919.jpg
19th Premier of New South Wales
In office
30 June 1913 – 12 April 1920
MonarchGeorge V
GovernorSir Gerald Strickland
Sir Walter Davidson
Preceded byJames McGowen
Succeeded byJohn Storey
Attorney-General of New South Wales
In office
21 October 1910 – 29 January 1914
PremierJames McGowen
Preceded byCharles Wade
Succeeded byDavid Hall
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Martin
In office
19 December 1931 – 5 June 1934
Preceded byJohn Eldridge
Succeeded byWilliam McCall
Member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly
In office
27 July 1898 – 18 February 1920
ConstituencyCootamundra (1904–1920)
Grenfell (1898–1904)
Personal details
Born(1871-08-04)4 August 1871
St Pancras, London, England
Died5 June 1934(1934-06-05) (aged 62)
Gordon, New South Wales, Australia
Political partyLabor (until 1916)
Nationalist (1916–1931)
UAP (after 1931)
Ada Kidgell (m. 1901)
RelationsPortia Holman (daughter)
OccupationCabinet-maker, trade union official, journalist

Holman was born in London and arrived in Australia at the age of 17, becoming a cabinet-maker in Sydney. Before being elected to parliament, he was active in the labour movement as a journalist and union official. He was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in 1898. He began studying law part-time, and was called to the bar in 1903. In 1910, Holman became Attorney-General of New South Wales in the state's first Labor government, under Premier James McGowen. He succeeded McGowen as premier in June 1913, and later that year led his party to victory at the 1913 state election.

In 1916, Holman supported the "Yes" vote in the referendum on overseas conscription and was consequently expelled from the Labor Party. He and his supporters remained in government with the backing of the opposition Liberal Reform Party, and the two groups subsequently merged to form the Nationalist Party's NSW branch under Holman's leadership. The new party won a large majority at the 1917 election. However, it was heavily defeated at the 1920 election, in which Holman lost his own seat. After his defeat, he returned to his legal practice and was made King's Counsel. He was elected to the House of Representatives for the United Australia Party at the 1931 federal election, but was in poor health and died before completing his first term.


Early lifeEdit

Holman was born in St Pancras, London, England in 1871, the son of William Holman, an actor. His mother was also on the stage under the name of May Burney. He was educated at an Anglican school and was apprenticed as a cabinetmaker. He attended night classes and literary societies. There were bad times in the theatrical profession during the 1880s, and the Holmans were glad to obtain an engagement with Brough and Boucicault in Australia. The family migrated to Melbourne, Victoria in October 1888. The burning of the Bijou Theatre in Melbourne resulted in their move to Sydney, New South Wales.[1][2]

Trade union activityEdit

As a cabinet maker in Sydney he was interested in the ideas of John Stuart Mill, William Morris, Herbert Spencer and Charles Darwin, and became very active in the Australian labour movement. He joined the Single Tax League, the Australian Socialist League and the newly formed Labor Electoral League, a forerunner to the Australian Labor Party (ALP). In the Australian Socialist League he mixed with anarchists and socialists and met future Prime Minister Billy Hughes, Creo Stanley, Ernie Lane, Henry Lawson and J.D.Fitzgerald. Holman and Hughes were associated with Arthur Desmond on the scandal sheet paper, The New Order.

In 1893 he became Secretary of the Railways and Tramways Employees’ Union, representing the union on the Sydney Trades and Labor Council. With the support of the Labor Electoral League he unsuccessfully stood for election to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in 1894 and 1895. During this period he was the proprietor of the Daily Post newspaper, sympathetic to the labour movement, which wound up in liquidation, with Holman and four other directors convicted of fraud. He spent nearly two months in jail before the conviction was quashed. He went on to become a journalist for the Grenfell Vedette, and later its proprietor. From 1896 to 1898 he worked as an organiser for the Australian Workers' Union.[1]

Legal professionEdit

In 1900 Holman began to study law part-time and in 1903 he passed the University of London's intermediate examination, and was admitted to the bar as a barrister of the Supreme Court of New South Wales on 31 July 1903.[2] In 1909 he co-authored with P.A. Jacobs Australian Mercantile Law. In the 1920s, when he resumed his legal practice, he was made a Kings Counsel. After a lectureship in Brisbane in 1928, The Australian constitution : its interpretation and amendment was published.

Parliamentary careerEdit

In the late 1890s Holman was on the central executive of the embryonic Labor Party, before being elected as the Member for Grenfell in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in 1898. When Grenfell was abolished in 1904 as part of the post-Federation downsizing of the Legislative Assembly, Holman transferred to the new seat of Cootamundra. He became deputy-leader of the Labor party in 1905.[3] In 1910 the Labor Party first won Government in New South Wales with a slim majority of 46 seats in a parliament of 90 seats, with James McGowen as Premier, and Holman made Attorney General.

Premier of New South WalesEdit

Labor governmentEdit

On 30 June 1913 McGowen resigned and Holman was named leader of the New South Wales Labor Party and hence became Premier. During his government, many state-owned enterprises were established to compete with private businesses, as a compromise to the Labor policy on Nationalisation. The Labor Party had a policy commitment to abolishing the New South Wales Legislative Council, with Holman moving a motion in 1893 that the upper house be abolished. Only 47 per cent of Government bills were passed by the Upper House for the period between 1910 and 1916. But Holman contradicted his position in 1912 by making nine appointments to the Upper House, some of which were not members of the Labor Party, without consultation with the party machine or the Trades and Labor Council. Other issues placing him at odds with the labour movement include the failure to control prices and profiteering during the war, and attitudes to pay and conditions of public servants.

Nationalist governmentEdit

In 1916 the conscription issue divided the Labor Party and wider Australian Community. While much of the Australian labour movement and general community were opposed to conscription, Australian Labor Prime Minister Billy Hughes and Premier Holman strongly supported conscription, and both were expelled from the Labor Party for this stance. On 15 November 1916, Holman and 17 other pro-conscription Labor MPs formed a coalition with the leader of the opposition Liberal Reform Party, Charles Wade, with Holman remaining as Premier. Early in 1917, Holman and his supporters merged with Liberal Reform to form the state branch of the Nationalist Party of Australia, with Holman as leader. At the general election held that March, the Nationalists won a huge victory, picking up a 13-seat swing which was magnified by the large number of Labor MPs who followed Holman out of the party. It proved to be a harbinger of the Nationalists' equally massive victory in the federal election held two months later.

Holman vigorously defended the state-owned enterprises from his new conservative allies. In the 13 March 1920 state election, Holman and his Nationalists were thrown from office in a massive swing, being succeeded by a Labor Government under the short-lived John Storey. Unusually for a long-serving premier, Holman was defeated in his own seat. However, he continued outside Parliament as a senior figure in conservative politics.

Federal politics and deathEdit

Holman's later parliamentary career was less notable than might have been expected from his 1910-20 achievements. He was elected to the federal Parliament as the Sydney seat of Martin in December 1931 as a member of the United Australia Party, which by this time had absorbed the Nationalists. He had an undistinguished time as a backbencher in the Joseph Lyons government. His health having deteriorated over a considerable period, he died on 5 June 1934 in the Sydney suburb of Gordon, apparently from shock and loss of blood after a difficult tooth extraction on the previous day. He was cremated at Northern Suburbs crematorium on 6 June 1934.[4]

It is rather telling that Lyons did not make Holman a minister as both were Labor defectors and former state Labor leaders and premiers, even though they were on opposite sides of the World War I conscription debate; the ensuing split helped Lyons ascend to the Tasmanian Labor leadership. In fact Lyons' tenure as Tasmanian Labor leader between 1916 and 1929 briefly overlaps Holman's tenure as NSW Labor leader between 1913 and 1917. However, by this time Holman was in poor health, which probably disqualified him for ministerial preferment in any event.


Holman is still a controversial figure, for the same reason as Hughes. Both men moved from the ALP to the conservative parties, and as a consequence, historians of the ALP are apt to regard them as traitors. Although Holman protected the state-owned enterprises he had helped create during his ALP days, the Australian labour movement still considers him a "rat."


On 22 January 1901, Holman married journalist and novelist Ada Augusta Kidgell, niece of James Kidgell, a Member of the Queensland Legislative Assembly.[5][6] Their one child, Portia Holman, was born on 20 November 1903; she was to become a doctor.


  1. ^ a b Serle, Percival. "Holman, William Arthur (1871 - 1934)". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Project Gutenberg Australia. Retrieved 21 May 2007.
  2. ^ a b Nairn, Bede. "Holman, William Arthur (1871 - 1934)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Australian National University. Retrieved 21 May 2007.
  3. ^ "Mr William Arthur Holman (1871-1934)". Former Members of the Parliament of New South Wales. Retrieved 11 May 2019.
  4. ^ Sydney Morning Herald- Death/Funeral Notice 06/06/1934 (page 12)
  5. ^ Heather Radi, 'Holman, Ada Augusta (1869–1949)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 17 March 2015.
  6. ^ "DEATH OF OLD COLONIST". Wangaratta Chronicle (2039). Victoria, Australia. 22 May 1915. p. 3 (Mornings). Retrieved 4 September 2016 – via National Library of Australia.


  • Australian labour leader : the story of W.A. Holman and the labour movement Herbert Vere Evatt (1940).
  • The First New South Wales Labor Government 1910-1916; Two Memoirs: William Holman and John Osborne Michael Hogan (2005) ISBN 0-86840-880-8

External linksEdit

New South Wales Legislative Assembly
Preceded by
George Greene
Member for Grenfell
1898 – 1904
District abolished
New district Member for Cootamundra
1904 – 1920
Succeeded by
Peter Loughlin
Hugh Main
Greg McGirr
Political offices
Preceded by
Charles Wade
Attorney General of New South Wales
1910 – 1914
Succeeded by
David Hall
Preceded by
John Garland
Minister for Justice
1910 – 1912
Preceded by
James McGowen
Colonial Secretary of New South Wales
1913 – 1914
Succeeded by
John Cann
Premier of New South Wales
1913 – 1920
Succeeded by
John Storey
Preceded by
John Cann
Colonial Treasurer of New South Wales
1914 – 1918
Succeeded by
John Fitzpatrick
Preceded by
Ambrose Carmichael
Minister for Public Instruction
Succeeded by
Arthur Griffith
Party political offices
Preceded by
James McGowen
Leader of the Australian Labor Party in New South Wales
1913 – 1917
Succeeded by
Ernest Durack
New political party Leader of the New South Wales Nationalist Party
1917 – 1920
Succeeded by
George Fuller
Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
John Eldridge
Member for Martin
1931 – 1934
Succeeded by
William McCall