1919 Fremantle Wharf riot

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1919 Fremantle Wharf riot
The Fremantle Wharf Crisis of 1919—Tom Edwards.png
Tom Edwards was killed in the riot
Date 4 May 1919
Location Fremantle Harbour
Participants Waterside Workers' Federation
Fremantle Lumpers Union
Western Australia Police
Deaths 1 – Tom Edwards
Coroner E.P. Dowley
Thomas Edwards' funeral cortege outside Fremantle Trades Hall[1]

The 1919 Fremantle Wharf riot, also known as the Battle of the Barricades,[1] arose out of a strike by stevedores in Fremantle, Western Australia in 1919.[2] The strike was called by the Waterside Workers' Federation (WWF) over the use of National Waterside Workers Union (NWWU) workers to unload the quarantined ship Dimboola, and escalated into fatal violence when WWF workers and supporters attempted to prevent NWWU members from carrying out the work.[3]


In 1917, the Fremantle Lumpers Union refused to load ships that they believed were destined to take supplies to Germany, then an enemy nation. This belief was denied by the government of the day (but was however later proven to be correct), and in response the shipowners and government brought in strike-breakers under the National Waterside Workers Union banner.[4] This was intended to be only for the job at hand, but the NWWU labour continued to be employed after the immediate need, and despite their willingness the WWF workers were prevented from returning to work for some time.[4]


On 4 May 1919, the WWF were blockading the wharf to prevent the NWWU workers from reaching the Dimboola.[5] The NWWU workers, however, arrived in boats down the river, accompanied by the recently appointed Western Australian Premier, Hal Colebatch.[3] In the fracas, Tom Edwards, a union worker, was attempting to assist the WWF president William Renton when he was struck on the head by a police baton. He died three days later at Fremantle Hospital.[4][6][7]


Thomas Clarke Edwards' funeral procession.

The funeral of Edwards at Fremantle Cemetery attracted a large crowd numbering into the thousands including fellow wharf workers and most members of the Western Australian parliamentary Labor Party.[8][9]

An inquest into the riot found that Edwards' death was accidental.[10]

A memorial fountain was sculpted by Pietro Porcelli in Edwards' honour.[11] It was located over time in a number of locations and is now found in Kings Square.[12]


  1. ^ a b "Funeral cortege of Thomas Edwards, Fremantle Trades Hall, 1919". 1919. Archived from the original on 15 May 2010. Retrieved 15 December 2016.
  2. ^ Ewers, John K. (1971). "12 The First World War and After". The Western Gateway. Fremantle City Council. p. 1919.
  3. ^ a b Beasley, Margo (26 March 1999). "A History of Struggle on the Wharves". Workers Online. Retrieved 20 November 2012.
  4. ^ a b c Australian Labor Federation (1920). Wikisource link to The Fremantle Wharf Crisis of 1919. Wikisource. 
  5. ^ "The West Australian". The West Australian. Perth. 5 May 1919. p. 4. Retrieved 22 July 2015 – via National Library of Australia. the editorial from the West Australian the following day
  6. ^ This incident was corroborated at the inquest by a man in no way connected with the Lumpers’ Union, Alphy Denic, who said that Renton and Edwards were struck at the same time, the latter whilst he had his arms around Renton, after assisting him to rise.
  7. ^ "Diary of a Labour Man: 1919".
  8. ^ "Burial of Thomas Edwards, An Imposing Funeral". The Daily News. 9 May 1919. Retrieved 21 November 2012.
  9. ^ "Funeral of the Late Mr. Thomas C. Edwards". The West Australian. 10 May 1919. Retrieved 21 November 2012.
  10. ^ "Lumpers v. Police – The Edwards Inquest". The Daily News. 6 June 1919. p. 4. Retrieved 21 November 2012.
  11. ^ Robertson, Iain J.M. (2012). Heritage from Below. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 201. ISBN 0754673561.
  12. ^ [1] Monument Australia listing

Further reading[edit]

  • "A Monster Procession. To Vindicate Free Speech. Westralian Worker.", Records of the Australian Labor Party WA Branch, John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library, p. 8, 9 May 1919, JCPML00984/31