As World War I raged and Prime Minister William Morris Hughes urged Australia to vote for conscription, a young police constable named George Duncan was murdered in Australia’s first political assassination. The only policeman in the western New South Wales town of Tottenham, in September 1916 Duncan was felled by a volley of rifle fire. Within months three local members of the Industrial Workers of the World, commonly known as the IWW or ‘Wobblies’, were tried for his murder and two were executed.
Murder in Tottenham: Australian’s first political assassination looks at the local politics behind the strikes of the 1890s leading up to the Great Strike of 1917 when workers resisted parliamentary workplace reforms. This book explains the appeal of the IWW and why some members took up arms. We see the struggles of local agitators who carried their revolutionary flag across Australasia and North America. The response to the murder and the executions accentuated the split within the Labor movement, the actions in Tottenham infiltrating the national conscription debate.
Never in Australian history has a person been executed after ‘turning King’s evidence’ or becoming a witness for the Crown. The whole affair was the most politicised and polarising example of capital punishment in Australia since Ned Kelly.
About the author
Dr Rowan Day teaches history and politics at Western Sydney University. He grew up on a farm in western NSW and has long had an interest in the history of the Australian bush. More generally, his research interests include Australian social, political and economic history, and contemporary international relations.