William McWilliams

William James McWilliams (12 October 1856 – 22 October 1929) was an Australian politician who served as the inaugural leader of the Country Party, in office from 1920 to 1921. He was a member of the House of Representatives from 1903 to 1922 and from 1928 to his death, on both occasions representing the Division of Franklin in Tasmania. He represented five different political parties during his time in parliament, eventually seeing out his final term as an independent.

William McWilliams
1st Leader of the Country Party
In office
24 February 1920 – 5 April 1921
DeputyEdmund Jowett
Succeeded byEarle Page
Member of the Australian Parliament for Franklin
In office
17 November 1928 – 22 October 1929
Preceded byAlfred Seabrook
Succeeded byCharles Frost
In office
16 December 1903 – 16 December 1922
Preceded byNew seat
Succeeded byAlfred Seabrook
Member of the Tasmanian House of Assembly for Ringarooma
In office
Preceded bySamuel Hawkes
Succeeded byCarmichael Lyne
Personal details
Born(1856-10-12)12 October 1856
Bream Creek, Tasmania, British Empire
Died22 October 1929(1929-10-22) (aged 73)
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Cause of deathAngina
Political partyRevenue Tariff (1903–06)
Anti-Socialist (1906–09)
Liberal (1909–17)
Nationalist (1917–20; 1922–28)
Country (1920–22)
Independent (1928–29)
Josephine Fullerton
m. 1893)

Early lifeEdit

Born in Bream Creek, near Sorell, Tasmania, the son of Irish immigrants who ran the local school. Originally trained as a teacher, McWilliams became a journalist in 1877, rising to editor of the Launceston Telegraph in 1883. Marrying Josephine Fullerton in Melbourne on 19 October 1893, McWilliams's role as editor helped his stature in the local community enough to ensure his election to the Tasmanian House of Assembly for the electorate of Ringarooma in the 1893 election.[1]

An Australian rules football fan, in 1897 McWilliams help found the Southern Tasmania Football Association and remained a senior figure in football administration in Tasmania.[1]

McWilliams bought the Hobart-based Tasmanian News in 1896 and moved to Hobart shortly after, unsuccessfully standing for the seat of Glenorchy in 1900.


Switching to federal politics, McWilliams won the Franklin at the 1903 election as a Revenue Tariffist supporting the Free Trade Party on most economic issues.

In parliament, McWilliams advocated strongly on behalf of farmers, investigated the possibility of introducing sugarbeet farming into Tasmania and helped found the Tasmanian meteorological bureau. He also supported giving women and ex-convicts the vote[2] but opposed Federation, believing it should be delayed.

In parliament, McWilliams, like almost all his fellow members, strongly supported the White Australia Policy, but opposed federal spending on issues such as the establishment of the High Court of Australia, a federal department of agriculture, a transcontinental railway and federal acquisition of the Northern Territory. As in state parliament, McWilliams was a staunch advocate on rural matters, supporting the timber industry and primary producers.

Leader of the Country PartyEdit

McWilliams as an MP

After assisting in the formation of the Country Party in 1920, McWilliams was appointed as its first federal parliamentary leader.[3] However McWilliams did not always see eye to eye with his party colleagues and at times voted against the wishes of the party. He was relieved of the leadership of the Country Party in April 1921 and lost his seat at the 1922 election.

Later yearsEdit

McWilliams left the Country Party after losing the leadership, and unsuccessfully contested Franklin at the 1925 election as a Nationalist.

Running as an independent, he regained Franklin in 1928 and was again successful in 1929, although there was little time for celebration following his second win, because McWilliams died in Hobart from angina pectoris within hours of the declaration of the poll. He was survived by his wife, two daughters and a son.


  1. ^ a b Neilson, W. A. (1986). "McWilliams, William James (1856 - 1929)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Melbourne University Press. ISSN 1833-7538. Retrieved 20 September 2007 – via National Centre of Biography, Australian National University.
  2. ^ "Women Tasmania - Reaching For New Horizons" (PDF). Department of Premier and Cabinet. 2003. Retrieved 24 September 2007.
  3. ^ Graham, B. (1966) The Formation of the Australian Country Parties, ANU Press
Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
Electorate created
Member for Franklin
Succeeded by
Alfred Seabrook
Preceded by
Alfred Seabrook
Member for Franklin
Succeeded by
Charles Frost