Thursday 21 September 2023

Working Life in the 1890's Pt 2


Hello everyone, here is a bit more about working life in the 1890's.

By around the 1830's there were those in England who had started to question the harsh working conditions in 1824 the right to form a trade unions but of course the government and employers resisted the concept. In 1834 six Dorsetshire farm labourers known as the “Tolpuddle Martyrs” were transported to New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land for “swearing illegal oaths”. They formed a Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers to guard against reduce wages. The Martyrs never returned to England.

Another group called the Chartists who were active during the 1830-1840's called for a workers charter so that conditions such as pay, number of working hours and workplaces would be improved. The also wanted Parliamentary representation, demanding payment of members of parliament to enable working people to stand for election. Payment for members was finally introduced in between the 1880-1890's.

It was during the 1840's the Australian colonies experienced their first economic depression and work was scarce. As is usual in such times workers are less likely to demand better conditions or pay just wanting to have some kind of work on almost any terms.

The discovery of gold in New South Wales and Victoria during the 1850's changed the balance of employee-employer relations. This time saw many town workers downing their tools and heading for the goldfields. This meant workers were in better bargaining position to demand shorter working hours.

It was around this time that the push for an eight hour working day had begun. Dr Thomas Embling a Victorian medical practitioner and parliamentarian is credited with the saying “Eight hours labour, eight hours recreation and eight hours rest”. In the British working class folklore the concept was credited to King Alfred the Great and was widely accepted goal by British Unionist in the early 19th century. In societies where most workers toiled from dawn to dusk, from Monday to Saturday night talk about a Utopian concept.

More next week.


  1. Interesting read Jo-Anne, some of it I recalled after reading it.

  2. Some unions are making stands over here right now. They had been weakened over time but seem to be getting stronger again! :)

  3. I loved this history lesson, Jo-Anne. Looking forward to more!

  4. The Chartists I did know, the Martyrs I didn't.


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