Matthew Charlton

Matthew CharltonMatthew Charlton, who lived in Lambton for most of his life, rose to prominence in the Australian Labor Party, serving as federal opposition leader for six years in the 1920s. He was born in 1866 at Linton (near Ballarat) in Victoria, but moved with his family to Lambton at the age of seven. He attended Lambton Public School, then at age 14 commenced work in the Waratah Colliery as a “trapper”, whose job was to open and close the ventilation trapdoors in the mine to allow coal skips to pass through.

Charlton worked in various mining jobs and became involved in union politics and leadership. In 1903 at the urging of his union colleagues he contested and won the seat of Waratah in the NSW Legislative Assembly. In 1910 he switched to the federal arena and won the seat of Hunter. In January 1922 he became leader of the opposition when the previous leader Frank Tudor passed away.

Charlton went on to contest and lose two federal elections as opposition leader, in 1922 and 1925. He resigned from parliament in 1928 and retired in Lambton, continuing to live in the house he had built in High Street in 1905. He moved to Chilcott St in the 1930s and made a return to politics with a term as alderman on Lambton Council (1934-38), thus completing the trifecta of serving at all three levels of government – local, state, and federal.

Charlton was an active participant in the Lambton community and a patron of organisations such as the Mechanics’ Institute and the Bowling Club. He had an interest in local history, presenting a talk in 1937 to the Newcastle and Hunter District Historical Society on the early days of Lambton.

Matthew Charlton died in his home on 8th December 1948 aged 82, survived by his wife Martha, and was buried in Sandgate Cemetery.

Matthew Charlton. ca. 1915. National Library of Australia.

Matthew Charlton. ca. 1915. National Library of Australia.

Matthew Charlton and family at his High St house in 1906. Photo by Ralph Snowball, Newcastle Region Library.


The article above was first published in the September 2016 edition of the Lambton Local.

Additional information

It seems that Matthew Charlton was well regarded by all who had dealings with him. His good character is described in a newspaper article in 1910 after his transition from State to Federal politics …
“He is a Labour member of the best type, moderate in his views, temperate in speech, and considerate to those who disagree with him.”
In another article in 1910 he is described as …
“Honest, fearless, faithful, and able, he will win his way in the
Parliament of Australia, and will command the respect of all he may meet there.”
This illustration of Matthew Charlton appeared in 11 Oct 1925 edition of "The Truth" newspaer, iin the lead up to the November 1925 Federal election.

This illustration of Matthew Charlton appeared in 11 Oct 1925 edition of “The Truth” newspaper, in the lead up to the November 1925 Federal election.

When did the Charlton’s move to Lambton?

The Australian Dictionary of Biography entry states that the Charlton family moved to Lambton in 1871 when Matthew would have been about five years of age, however at least three separate newspaper articles state that the move happened in 1873 when he would have been 7 years of age. (The Sun, 22 Sep 1928; The Australian Worker, 26 Sep 1928; Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 13 Jul 1938) An article in The Catholic Press on 19 Jan 1922, states that he was aged five when he moved to Lambton 53 years previously, but the maths in that article just doesn’t add up – 53 years earlier, in January 1869, Matthew Charlton was only two years old.

 

First employment

There is some uncertainty about Matthew Charlton’s first employment at Lambton Colliery. Some reports state that he began work at the pit-top, then progressed to an underground job as a wheeler, before moving to a job at the coal face.

Other reports state that he began work as a “trapper”, an underground job for boys operating the ventilation trap doors.

A newspaper report of an accident at Richmond Main colliery in January 1935 describes the trapper’s job …

Trappers in a colliery are the youths who are in charge of the doors which are placed in underground workings as part of the ventilation system, and their chief duty is to open the doors to permit the passage of skips – the small trucks in which coal is brought from the working face to the surface.
A trapper boy in a Pennsylvania coal mine in 1911. Photo by Lewis Wickes Hnes. US Library of Congress item LC-DIG-nclc-01109.

A trapper boy in a Pennsylvania coal mine in 1911. Photo by Lewis Wickes Hines. US Library of Congress item LC-DIG-nclc-01109.

Time in Western Australia

Although he lived most of his life in Lambton, in 1896 Matthew Charlton moved to Western Australia, following his older brother Edward to the Kalgoorlie goldfields where he worked for two years. It was here that he first took an interest in union politics.

Grave site at Sandgate Cemetery

Grave site of Matthew Charlton, M.H.R, in Sandgate Cemetery.

Grave site of Matthew Charlton, M.H.R, in Sandgate Cemetery.

headstone

The great building ordinance kerfuffle of 1911

Matthew Charlton was involved in one of the biggest controversies in the history of Lambton Council. It seems that he had engaged builders to make an addition to his home without gaining the necessary council approval. The council then decided to make an example of Mr. Charlton, and also a Mr. Gibbs, and prosecute them for violating the building ordinance. In the ensuing public discontent over this action a vote of no confidence in the council was passed at a public meeting, and seven of the nine aldermen resigned from council. Four of the resigning aldermen immediately put themselves forward as candidates in the ensuing by-election, with three of them being re-elected, along with four new aldermen.

Article Date Event DateNotes
8 May 1911
6 May 1911
A public meeting of ratepayers condemns Lambton Council's actions in prosecuting Mr. Charlton and Mr. Gibbs, and passes a motion of no confidence in the Mayor and aldermen.
12 May 1911
11 May 1911
A special meeting of Lambton Council, with about a hundred residents present, dealing with council's prosecution of Matthew Charlton for a violation of the building ordinance.
3 Jun 1911Nominations of aldermen for the extraordinary election, due to the recent resignation of seven of the aldermen, owing to a public meeting protesting against the administration of the building ordinance in the case of Mr. Matthew Charlton, M.H.R., and Mr. H. Gibbs.
12 Jun 1911Results of by-election after seven aldermen resigned over the building ordinance dispute.
27 Nov 1912Letter from Matthew Charlton to Lambton Council protesting their actions against him regarding alleged breaches of building ordinances.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
7 Dec 1903Matthew Charlton elected as the new member for Waratah. His former union colleague Mr. Curley's prediction that Charlton would "rise to a very high position" in Parliament proved to be accurate.
18 Nov 1905"Mr. Matthew Charlton, M.P., has had erected for him a handsome, villa residence at the corner of Hill and Grainger streets."
15 Apr 1910
13 Apr 1910
Matthew Charlton elected as the new Labour member for the Federal seat of Hunter, with a majority of over 4000.
30 Sep 1921
29 Sep 1921
Matthew Charlton appointed as deputy leader of the Opposition in the Federal Parliament. Due to the poor health of the leader Mr Tudor, Charlton is in effect the acting leader of the opposition.
26 Jan 1922
25 Jan 1922
Matthew Charlton appointed as leader of the Opposition in the Federal Parliament following the death of the former leader, Mr. Tudor
20 Feb 1924Building permit granted to Percy Charlton (son of Matthew Charlton M.H.R.) for a cottage in Chilcott-street, cost £397.
11 Oct 1925Editorial including some biographical information on Matthew Charlton, in the lead up to the November 1925 Federal election.
30 Mar 1928
29 Mar 1928
Matthew Charlton resigns as leader of the Opposition in the Federal Parliament, but stays on as a private member.
22 Sep 1928Summary of the life of Matthew Charlton on his resignation from the Federal Parliament.
26 Sep 1928A look back on the life of Matthew Charlton on his retirement from Parliament.
17 Nov 1934In the nomination list for the 1934 Lambton council election, Matthew Charlton is shown as residing in High Street, with an occupation of "Retired".
14 Mar 1936
15 Mar 1936
Recollections of Matthew Charlton on the occasion of his 70th birthday.
9 Feb 1937Matthew Charlton delivers an address at Newcastle Town Hall to the Newcastle and Hunter District Historical Society on the subejct of "The History of Lambton."
20 Nov 1937In the nomination list for the 1937 Lambton council election, Matthew Charlton is shown as residing in Chilcott Street, with an occupation of "Retired". In December 1937 the Greater Newcastle Act to merge local councils was passed, so this election for Lambton Council aldermen never took place.
13 Jul 1938
12 Jul 1938
Death of Edward Charlton, brother of Matthew Charlton.
14 Mar 1939
15 Mar 1939
Matthew Charlton's 73rd birthday.
23 Mar 1941At his divorce hearing, Percy Charlton is assisted by his father Matthew. Reading between the lines and connecting the dots it seems that after Percy's wife left him and returned to Sydney, Percy's parents Matthew and Martha moved from their High St house to live with Percy in his Chilcott St house.
8 Dec 1948
8 Dec 1948
Death of Matthew Charlton, reported in The Newcastle Sun.
Warning! This article contains a number of factual errors!
  • Charlton was opposition leader 1922-28 (not 1920-26)
  • he started work in the Lambton colliery (not Waratah colliery)
  • he entered politics in 1903 (not 1902)
  • he served two full terms and one partial term in the NSW parliament (not one)
9 Dec 1948
8 Dec 1948
Death of Matthew Charlton, reported in Newcastle Morning Herald.
9 Dec 1948Funeral notices for Matthew Charlton. From these we learn that he was living in 21 Chilcott St at the time of his death, and that he had been patron of a number of community groups including, Lambton Mechanics' Institute, Lambton Welfare Committee, and Lambton Bowling Club.

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