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William John McLean : 11-June-2011
William John McLean : 11-June-2011

Photographs supplied by Kent Watson

Monument erected over grave in memory of unionist William John McLean, who was shot during the Shearers Strike of 1894, and died in 1896. 

William John McLean was the first Australian to die for unionism as a result of being gaoled in 1894.

McLean left home in 1894 to go shearing in New South Wales, and on August 26, he and fifty of his mates set out from their Darling River camp near Wilcannia to Grassmere Station where it was said `scabs` from New Zealand had started work. Mclean was the first person to enter the mens` hut at the station and he and Jack Murphy were shot. On the march back to Wilcannia, the shearers were met by a police force who arrested McLean, Murphy and six others. McLean was sentenced to three years hard labour and sent to Goulburn Gaol. The wound and the prison cold eventually killed McLean, but he was released and sent home to his mother so that his death would not take place in gaol. Death certificate records "tuberculosis of the lungs".

Money was sent to his mother by his mates, and they raised 90 pounds to erect a monument over his grave. The monument is a granite column about 10ft tall resting on a square of bluestone and enclosed by a wrought iron fence. The inscription may have been written by Henry Lawson.

For some years after his death, his mates conducted an annual pilgrimage to the grave until they passed on also. In 1936, 40 years after his death, union leaders from all over Australia gathered to pay tribute.

Koroit, Sunday. A pilgimage to the grave at the Tower Hill cemetery of the late Mr. W. J. McLean, who met his death at Grasmere Station, New South Wales, during the shearers' strike of 1894, was attended today by members of the executive council of the A.W.U. and delegates from all States to the jubilee conference at Ballarat. Those present were welcomed by the mayor of Koroit (Cr. J. P. Leahy), who also presided at the pilgrimage. Mr. J. Barnes, general president of the A.W.U., said it was the second occasion a pilgrimage had been made to the grave, and it was fitting that such a large number was present. William John McLean, Mr. Barnes said, gave his life fighting for a principle, and delegates of the A.W.U. present represented 80,000 men who were paying their respect to a man who made the supreme sacrifice. The union stood for the laws of the country, and had helped to frame the laws so that there could not be a similar tragedy again.

Mr. E. Grayndler, chief secretary, said McLean was the first martyr of a barbarous system in vogue in the days when shearers were fighting for their rights. Barnes and he (the speaker) were in the district shearing when McLean was shot. The A.W.U. buried its dead, and all expenses of the monument had been paid. Mr. J. McNeil, secretary of the A.W.U in New South Wales, said representatives were present from every State, from North Queensland and the north-west ol West Australia, to pay tribute to the memory of a great man who died for the cause he espoused. He was shot by a non-unionist. While the body of the man lay mouldering in the grave his soul would go marching on in camp fires, mustering camps, and under the canopy of heaven. His praises were sung by every man worthy of the name. Those who came later should not forget that a heavy penalty was paid for many of the blessings they now enjoyed. As long as the A.W.U. lived, so long would the name of McLean be revered and respected. W. B. Daly said as the results of the efforts of men like McLean vicious laws had been swept aside. Members should continue the struggle for still better conditions. Mr. W. Kiely referred to the work of the stalwarts of the industrial movement. He said the ranks of the older men were rapidly thinning, but A.W.U. men had graduated to the highest positions in national life. The work of such men as Barnes, McNeil and Grayndler would be remembered long after they had passed away. Wreaths from the A.W.U. jubilee conference, and a mate in West Australia, who was with McLean when he was shot were placed on the grave. 
Age (Melbourne), 10 February 1936.


Address:Princes Highway, Tower Hill Cemetery, Tower Hill, 3283
GPS Coordinates:Lat: -38.326756
Long: 142.388206
Note: GPS Coordinates are approximate.
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Monument Type:Monument
Monument Theme:People
Actual Event Start Date:26-August-1896
Actual Event End Date:26-August-1896


Front Inscription

Erected by
His Fellow Unionists
And Admirers

In Memory Of Their Comrade
Who Was Shot By A Non-Unionist
At Grassmere Station, NSW
During The Bush Union Struggle
      Of 1894,
Who Died 22nd March 1896, |
Aged 26 years

A Good Son A Faithful Mate And A Devoted Unionist.

Union Strength

Monument details supplied by Monument Australia - www.monumentaustralia.org.au
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