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Half block model carried by shipwright George Brown in the first Eight-Hour Day parade

Date: c 1870
Overall: Height: 137 mm, width: 120 mm, depth: 725 mm
Medium: Wood, paint, metal
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from Allen George Brown
Object Name: Half block model
Object No: 00036250
Place Manufactured:Sydney

User Terms

    This half block model was carried by shipwright George Brown in the first eight-hour day parade in Sydney to demonstrate the types of productive endeavours working people could pursue with the increased leisure of an eight-hour working day.
    SignificanceThis model not only shows shipbuilding techniques of the mid-19th century but is an important and rare example of the material culture of the eight-hour day parades - a highly significant feature of trade union history and the history of industrial relations during the nineteenth century.
    HistoryShip builder's half block models were produced to demonstrate the shape of a vessel and were constructed by joining a series of planks together. Builders then used the model as a reference when cutting and fitting timbers for the full scale vessel.

    George Brown was a shipwright working in Berry's Bay and living in Ferry Lane in the Rocks. He was born on 16 September 1842 and died on 16 August 1888. He carried this ship model in the first eight hour day parade in Sydney, apparently to demonstrate the productive endeavours working people could pursue during their increased leisure time as a result of the introduction of the eight-hour day. Much of the opposition to the eight-hour day centred on the idea that if working men were given more free time they would resort to more drinking.

    The Australian gold rushes of the 1850s had attracted many skilled tradesmen to Australia. Some of these had been active in the chartist movement in Europe, and subsequently became prominent in agitation for better working conditions in the Australian colonies. Prior to the establishment of an eight hour day many Australian workers were averaging a minimum 60 hour working week.

    With the building boom of the gold rushes, the demand for skilled tradesmen was great. In 1855, the Stonemasons' Society in Sydney issued an ultimatum to employers that after six months, masons would only work for eight hours a day. Stonemasons working on the Holy Trinity Church (the Garrison Church in The Rocks) and the Mariners' Church on George Street, decided not to wait, went on strike, and won an eight-hour day agreement. They celebrated with a victory dinner on 1 October 1855.

    When the six-month ultimatum expired in February 1856, stonemasons generally in Sydney agitated for a reduction of working hours. Although opposed by employers, a two-week strike on the construction of Tooth's Brewery on Parramatta Road proved effective, and stonemasons in general won an eight-hour day by early March 1856, although with a reduction in wages to match.

    Agitation was also occurring in Melbourne among craft unions. Stonemasons working on Melbourne University organized to down tools on 21 April 1856 and with other members of the building trade, marched to Parliament House. The government agreed that workers employed on public works be granted an eight-hour day with no loss of pay and stonemasons celebrated with a holiday and procession on Monday 12 May 1856.

    By 1858 the eight-hour day was firmly established in the building industry and by 1860 the eight-hour day was widespread, although it took much longer in certain industries. From 1879 the eight-hour day campaign was celebrated with a public holiday in Victoria.

    The Eight Hour Day march and parade, which began on April 21, 1856, continued until 1951 in Melbourne. In capital cities and towns across Australia eight hour day marches became early and important celebrations of industrial relations victories for workers. The achievement of the eight hour day has been described as one of the great successes of the Australian working class during the nineteenth century. It also led to the birth of the Trade Union movement across the country.

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    Web title: Half block model carried by shipwright George Brown in the first Eight-Hour Day parade

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