‘The most eventful episode in my life, apart from those of a political and public character, took place in the years 1884-85, when with my wife and three children, all under four years of age, and a younger brother who was not eleven, I emigrated to Australia.’ So wrote English politician George Lansbury, grandfather of the actress Angela Lansbury, in 1930.
Believing that upon arrival their lives would improve dramatically, the Lansbury group endured an uncomfortable sea voyage in the Duke of Devonshire, a converted cargo vessel. Some forty-five years after the event, Lansbury described his first reaction upon arrival at Queen’s Wharf, ‘When we landed on the quay outside the emigrants depot we realised without a word from anyone that we were not being landed amid the pleasant surroundings we had well imagined…I can see the emigrants depot now with its bare walls and no furniture, and hear the officials talking in a rather hectoring manner. There was no food for us; in fact, only discomforts.’
Other articles written by Lansbury tell of his search for decent employment. The family moved to Fortitude Valley, renting what he described as a ‘humpy’ swarming with cockroaches and black beetles for 10 shillings per week. Lansbury worked at stone breaking in a quarry at Albion, farm labouring at Harrisville, preparing the cricket pitch at the Exhibition Grounds and parcel delivery for Bryce’s Carrying until, concerned for the health of his family, he accepted £100 from his father-in-law to cover the costs of returning to England.
Such an impact on George Lansbury did the experience of a year in south-east Queensland have that he returned to Britain a self-confessed rebel, feminist and promoter of social justice. He campaigned initially about the ways in which immigration was promoted. Lansbury became a socialist in the 1890s. Before the First World War he served in the British parliament (1910-12), campaigned for women’s suffrage and helped establish the Daily Herald newspaper. He focused on local government issues during the 1920s, returning to the British parliament as First Commissioner of Works (1929-31) in the Labour Government. In the 1930s and until his death in May 1940, Lansbury promoted disarmament.
- Western Star and Roma Advertiser, 29 January 1930, p. 4.
- Worker, 22 February 1922, p. 19.
- US Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ggbain-36844
- Queensland State Archives, Immigration Indexes, Assisted Immigrants 1848-1912