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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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St Ledger, Anthony James Joseph (1859–1929)

by Andrew Spaull

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Anthony James Joseph St Ledger (1859-1929), by Paul C. Poulsen, 1900s

Anthony James Joseph St Ledger (1859-1929), by Paul C. Poulsen, 1900s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23365530

Anthony James Joseph St Ledger (1859-1929), teacher, solicitor and politician, was born on 18 February 1859 at Barnsley, Yorkshire, son of Michael St Ledger, sawyer, and his wife Martha, née Waddington. They arrived in Queensland in 1861. Anthony attended St Mary's Boys' School and St Kilian's College, Ipswich, obtaining first place in the first government grammar schools scholarships in 1873.

He joined the Queensland Education Department in March 1874 but was a pupil-teacher at a Roman Catholic school in 1875-79. Returning to the department, as an outstanding teacher he was appointed a first assistant to the Central Boys' School, Brisbane, in 1885 under J. S. 'Bully' Kerr. St Ledger also began studying law under Frederick Swanwick. In 1873 Swanwick and Kerr had founded a small teachers' union. When Kerr and his staff established the East Moreton Teachers' Association in July 1887, St Ledger was honorary secretary. Intelligent, energetic and an admirer of the organizing skills, but not the politics, of William Lane, he encouraged the formation of other regional unions as the first step towards a central union modelled on the English National Union of Teachers.

A civil service commission, established in 1888 to investigate public service efficiency, became a rallying point for emergent teacher unionism. St Ledger, who co-ordinated the teachers' evidence and gave his own, also drafted rules for a central union and organized an inaugural union conference. The commission's first report (August 1888) condemned outright the excessive bureaucratic control of teachers. This recognition convinced teachers of the need for a central union to participate in proposed reforms. In January 1889, when the pioneering Queensland Teachers' Union was established, St Ledger was its secretary, but he resigned later that year to practise law; in December 1891 he was admitted to the Bar. In 1895 he founded, managed and edited the Queensland Education Journal, which he used for ten years to promote reforms, especially the need for State high schools and a university. His targets remained the conservative Education Department and its senior officers, especially the 'twin martinets' J. G. Anderson and David Ewart, who detested him. Ewart retaliated that his 'vision of the Department and its operations is a cross between that of a peeping Tom and a hostile spy; and his spirit and attitude are a compound of a retail grocer and a resurrectionist'.

St Ledger's reforming polemic lent weight to his emerging 'Liberal' political profile, strengthened by his association with (Sir) James Blair and Thomas Joseph Byrnes. In 1906, however, St Ledger was elected to the Senate as an Anti-Socialist candidate. There he vehemently attempted to unmask 'the true socialistic gospel' of parliamentary Labor. A prominent Brisbane Catholic, he detected the origins of Labor policies in godless Continental socialism. Eloquent, lengthy addresses denounced compulsory arbitration and State and Commonwealth enterprises. He attacked Labor's encouragement of trade unionism and public service arbitration, apparently forgetting the Q.T.U. His Australian Socialism (London, 1909) and Federation or Unification? (Brisbane, 1910) condemned Labor governments for undermining the Federalist principles of the Constitution.

Defeated by Labor in the 1913 election, St Ledger remained in Melbourne where he practised law. He died on 17 April 1929 at Armadale and was buried in St Kilda cemetery. On 14 February 1893 at St Joseph's Church, Brisbane, he had married Mary Helena Baker who, with their son and three daughters, survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • A. D. Spaull, ‘The origins and formation of teachers' unions in 19th century Australia’, Melbourne Studies in Education, 1984, I. Palmer ed (Melb, 1984)
  • T. P. Boland, James Duhig (Brisb, 1986)
  • Australian Journal of Education, 29, no 1, 1985
  • Punch (Melbourne), 8 Aug 1912
  • Queenslander, 25 Apr 1929.

Citation details

Andrew Spaull, 'St Ledger, Anthony James Joseph (1859–1929)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 2 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

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