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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Clark, George Daniel (1848–1933)

by J. D. Bollen

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

George Daniel Clark (1848-1933), politician and prohibitionist, was born on 30 July 1848 at Colchester, Essex, England, son of Daniel Clark, labourer, and his wife Mary Ann, née Clark. Financial troubles cut short his schooling and he went to sea; he arrived in Australia about 1871 and was employed in Australasian Steam Navigation Co.'s ships. After he married Rosannah Jane Druce with Congregational forms on 27 August 1875 at Woolloomooloo, he settled in Sydney and was a messenger at the Sydney Observatory. A determined self-improver, he already had three loyalties: temperance, Methodism and the cause of labour.

About 1873 Clark had joined the International Order of Good Templars, which he chose for its clear commitment to prohibition. He edited the New South Wales Good Templar (Australian Temperance World from 1896) in 1883-1917, and in 1925-32 held high office in the New South Wales Grand Lodge; for many years he was electoral superintendent. The Templars were close knit: Brother Clark, tireless and single-minded (he had no hobbies and only once took a holiday), helped to make the order the most determined and impatient contingent of the State's temperance cause. In 1887 Clark was also a member of the Independent Order of Rechabites and the Local Option League.

In 1891 Clark was elected to the Legislative Assembly for Balmain for the Labor Electoral League as one of the original Labor members: for him the drink problem was a labour problem and temperance legislation a means of social reform; he wrote extensively for the Labor press and later was a foundation member of the New South Wales Institute of Journalists. His manoeuvring as grand electoral superintendent attempted to attract the temperance vote to Labor. However in 1893 he was unwilling to 'hand over to caucus his religious convictions, his temperance principles, and his freedom of action on moral questions'. He refused to sign the pledge and in 1894 was defeated for Leichhardt as a free trader.

Although he was a member of its executive, Clark's relations with the New South Wales Alliance for the Suppression of Intemperance were often strained. When reform was blocked by the Lyne-See ministry, he helped to patch over differences with proposals for a distinct temperance political party 'to force the pace a bit', but the alliance refused to make prohibition its immediate goal. The connexion between the temperance and the Liberal parties after 1900 and the rift between Labor and the Churches made Clark's position awkward. A Labor candidate again, he put the best face possible on the party's vague liquor policy and commended its record to Protestant voters but was defeated for Leichhardt in 1898, Newtown (St Peters) in 1901, Botany in 1904 and Queanbeyan in 1907. He discounted the worth of a local option measure passed by the Carruthers government in 1905. He was guided by the American Prohibition Party, but when the chance came for a State vote in 1928 prohibition was linked with compensation to the liquor trade. Clark declined to fight on such terms and led criticism of the alliance's ambiguous and, as it proved, disastrous stand. In 1928 he published the Good Templar Movement, its History and Work.

A lay preacher, he was a member of the Methodist Conference's social questions committee. Though not a leading figure in the denomination he was valued as a symbol of its earlier links with organized labour. As temperance reform lost momentum, Clark's energy and optimism were unaffected. 'Prohibition means prosperity': it was the simple creed, even naive, of a self-taught man. His closest ties were with the Good Templars and in 1932 he was made a patriarch.

Clark died on 21 February 1933 at Lakemba and was cremated with Methodist forms. He was survived by his wife, four sons and a daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • T. R. Roydhouse and H. J. Taperell, The Labour Party in New South Wales (Syd, 1892)
  • J. D. Bollen, Protestantism and Social Reform in New South Wales 1890-1910 (Melb, 1972)
  • Australian Temperance World, Mar 1933
  • J. D. Bollen, ‘The temperance movement and the Liberal Party in New South Wales politics, 1900-1904’, Journal of Religious History, 1 (1960-61), no 3
  • A. Fairley, The Failure of Prohibition in New South Wales … 1913-28 (B.A. Hons thesis, University of New South Wales, 1968).

Citation details

J. D. Bollen, 'Clark, George Daniel (1848–1933)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 30 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

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