William Lane

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For other people named William Lane, see William Lane (disambiguation).
William Lane
William Lane.jpg
Born (1861-09-06)6 September 1861
Bristol, England
Died 26 August 1917(1917-08-26) (aged 55)
Auckland, New Zealand
Known for Journalism, political advocacy

William Lane (6 September 1861 – 26 August 1917) was a radical journalist, advocate of Australian labour politics and a utopian.[1]

Early life[edit]

Lane was born in Bristol, England, eldest son of Edward Lane, from Ireland a Protestant Master Gardener, and his English wife Caroline, née Hall.[1] When Lane was born his father was earning a miserable wage, but later his circumstances improved and he became an employer. The boy was educated at Bristol Grammar School and showed ability, but he was sent early to work as an office boy. Lane's mother died when he was 14 years of age, and at age 16 he migrated to Canada, then to the United States, where he worked first as a printer, then as a reporter for the Detroit Free Press (1881), there meeting his future wife Ann MacGuire. In 1885 they migrated to Brisbane, Australia, where Lane immediately got work as a feature writer for the weekly newspaper Queensland Figaro, then as a columnist for the newspapers Brisbane Courier and Evening Telegraph, using a number of pseudonyms ("Lucinda Sharpe", which some consider to be the work of Annie Lane, William Wilcher and "Sketcher").

A lifelong abstainer from alcohol, in 1886 he created an Australia-wide sensation by spending a night in the Brisbane lock-up disguised as a drunk, and subsequently reporting the conditions of the cells as "Henry Harris". Lane's father was a drunk who impoverished the family.[1]

With the growth of the 7-2 labour movement, "Sketcher"'s columns, especially his "Labour Notes" in the Evening Telegraph, increasingly promoted labourist philosophy, and Lane himself attended meetings supporting all manner of popular causes, speaking with his "American twang" against repressive laws and practices and Chinese immigrants.

After becoming the de facto editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, Lane departed during November 1887 to found the weekly The Boomerang, "a live newspaper, racy, of the soil", in which pro-worker themes and lurid racism were brought to a fever-pitch by both "Sketcher" and "Lucinda Sharpe". He became a powerful supporter of Emma Miller and Women's suffrage. A strong proponent of Henry George's Single Tax Movement, Lane became increasingly committed to a radically alternative society, and ended his relationship with the Boomerang due to its private ownership.

In May 1890 he began the community-funded Brisbane weekly The Worker, the rhetoric of which became increasingly threatening towards the employers, the government, and the British Empire itself. The defeat of the 1891 Australian shearers' strike convinced Lane that there would be no real social change without a completely new society, and The Worker became increasingly devoted to his New Australia utopian idea.

The Workingman's Paradise, an allegorical novel written in sympathy with the shearers involved in the 1891 Shearer's Strike, was published under his pseudonym John Miller in early 1892. In the novel Lane articulated the belief that anarchism is the noblest social philosophy of all. Through the novel's philosopher and main protagonist he relates his belief that society may have to experience a period of State socialism to achieve the ideal of Communist anarchism. Mary Gilmore, later a celebrated Australian writer, said in one of her letters "the whole book is true and of historical value as Lane transcribed our conversations as well as those of others".

New Australia Colony[edit]

Main article: New Australia

Contriving a division among Australian labour activists between the permanently disaffected and those who later formed the Australian Labor Party, Lane refused the Queensland Government's offer of a grant of land on which to create a utopian settlement, and began an Australia-wide campaign for the creation of a new society elsewhere on the globe, peopled by rugged and sober Australian bushmen and their proud wives.

Eventually Paraguay was decided upon, and Lane and his family and hundreds of acolytes (238 total) from New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia departed Mort Bay in Sydney in the ship Royal Tar on 1 July 1893.[2][3]

New Australia soon had its crisis, brought on by the issues of interracial relationships (Lane singled out the Guarani as racially taboo) and alcohol. Lane's dictatorial manner soon alienated many in the community, and by the time the second boatload of utopians arrived from Adelaide in 1894, Lane had left with a core of devotees to form a new colony nearby named Cosme.[4][5]

Eventually Lane became disillusioned with the process, and returned to Australia in 1899.

Later life[edit]

Lane then went with his family to New Zealand. After initial melancholia, he soon refound his old verve as a pseudonymous feature writer from 1900 for the newspaper New Zealand Herald ("Tohunga"), only this time as ultra-conservative and pro-Empire. He had strong racial antipathy toward East Asians, and during World War I he developed extreme anti-German sentiments. He died on 26 August 1917 in Auckland, New Zealand, having been editor of the Herald from 1913 to 1917, much admired, having lost one son Charles at a cricket match in Cosme in Paraguay, and another Donald on the first day of the ANZAC landings (25 April 1915) on the beaches of Gallipoli.


  1. ^ a b c *Gavin Souter (1983). "Lane, William (1861–1917)". Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9. MUP. pp. 658–659. Retrieved 27 April 2007. 
  2. ^ "Places You Can No Longer Go: New Australia - Atlas Obscura". Atlas Obscura. 
  3. ^ National Treasures from Australia's Great Libraries. National Library Australia. 2005-01-01. ISBN 9780642276209. 
  4. ^ McLeod, Allan, 'An account of William Lane's Cosme settlement in Paraguay' published in the Windsor and Richmond Gazette (NSW) on 27 May 1927 see [1]
  5. ^ "1893 The New Australia Colony Collection: Australia's migration history timeline". www.migrationheritage.nsw.gov.au. NSW Migration Heritage Centre. Retrieved 2016-03-25. 
  • Gavin Souter's account of Lane and New Australia in his A Peculiar People
  • Peter Bruce's thesis (Univ Sydney) The Journalistic Career of William Lane.
  • Larry Petrie (1859–1901) – Australian Revolutionist? by Bob James
  • Whitehead, Anne (1997) Paradise Mislaid — in Search of the Australian Tribe of Paraguay University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia
  • Serle, Percival (1949). "Lane, William". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson. Retrieved 7 September 2009. 

External links[edit]