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Early in his life, 'Billy' Trenwith showed talents in boxing, debating and public speaking, but he died an unpopular man.

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William Trenwith

National Library of Australia

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William Trenwith (1846–1925)

Trade-unionist and federalist

Trenwith was born in Tasmania of convict parents. He did not go
to school, but learnt to read and box at night school while he was working as a bootmaker. In 1868 he moved to Melbourne and became strong supporter of the democratic reform movement.
He organised the Melbourne bootmakers into a trade union, with himself as its leader, and sometimes used his boxing skills to get
his way.

He became a leader of all Melbourne workers in trade unions as president of the Trades Tall Council. In the 1890s he was the first leader of the Labor Party in parliament, but he said the new party must work with the old democratic reformers.

Trenwith was elected to the 1897–98 Federal Convention, as
the only Labor delegate. Though he thought state governments should look after pensions, he voted to give this power to the Commonwealth, to make workers more likely to vote 'Yes'. The Labor Party campaigned for a 'No' vote because it said the constitution was undemocratic. It was therefore important for the cause of Federation that Trenwith campaigned the other way.