Working Men's Clubs


WA Guesdon, a benefactor of working men's clubs (AOT, PH30/1/4738)

Working Men's Clubs originated in England where in the early nineteenth century middle-class missionaries preached rational recreation to the working classes and advocated spending leisure time in ordered, disciplined and improving educational ways. In 1864 the first such club in Australia was formed in Hobart Town by William Robert Giblin, who hoped to develop 'a common brotherhood' among members. He encouraged their use of educational facilities such as lectures, classes and the library, but entertainment and games billiards above all proved more popular and helped the club survive. A co-operative store and a penny savings bank added to the attractions. Drinking, gambling and swearing were prohibited.

In 1865 the Launceston Working Men's Club was founded by the Rev Francis Hales, who marvelled at the 'moral and intellectual improvement' among members. He thought that the club bridged class division. Later, working men's clubs were formed in suburbs such as South Hobart and in various country districts. The Hobart and Launceston clubs benefited from the generosity of WA Guesdon, who donated funds for clubrooms. But both clubs teetered on the brink of dissolution because membership was low. Working men disliked the condescending tone of the founders and preferred the atmosphere of the pub, where they could get a drink or other counter-attractions. Sometime in the twentieth century drinking and gambling became entrenched in club life, and the recent change of name to workers' clubs was an attempt to broaden the membership base.

Further reading: S Petrow, Going to the mechanics, Launceston, 1998; and 'Leisure for the toilers', THRAPP 49/2, 2002.

Stefan Petrow