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Biographical entry O'Neill, John Henry (1888 - 1971)

Sandy Bay, Tasmania
Trade Union - Official


John Henry O'Neill was born on the 30th August 1888 at Sandy Bay, Tasmania. Educated at St Peters' School Hobart, O'Neill was apprenticed in the printing trade but also worked on riverboats, in sawmills and as a fruitpicker. He began his involvement with unionism in 1907 when he joined the Carters' and Drivers' Union, becoming honorary assistant and financial secretary just a year later and then a member of the relevant wages board when it was constituted in 1911.

In the early decades of the twentieth century when Tasmanian unions were generally weak or conservative, O'Neill gained a strong foothold among the small craft-based unions unable to pay full-time officers. It has been said he collected secretaryships "like postage stamps". State secretary of not only the Carters' and Drivers' but the Electrical Trades, Storemen and Packers', Gas Employees', Meat Industry Employees' and Miscellaneous Workers' Union whose membership he greatly increased over twenty-five years as secretary. His trade unionism, "my only religion", cost him his job at least twice.

Active in the Hobart Trades Hall Council from 1917, O'Neill was its secretary in 1927-1967, apart from a break, caused by a dispute with its Launceston counterpart in 1958-1962. He was secretary of the Eight Hours Day Committee in 1921-1967, was involved in the foundation of the Commonwealth Federation of Trade Unions (1923), was on the Womens' Employment and Fair Rents boards, and was responsible for the building and later relocation of the Trades Hall premises. O'Neill died at Howrah on the 23rd January 1971.

Archival resources

University of Tasmania Library, Special/Rare Collection

  • John Henry O'Neil - Papers, 1921 - 1950, 01/; University of Tasmania Library, Special/Rare Collection. Details

Bruce A. Smith