Sunday, July 27, 2008

Aussie terrorism, 1890s style

Today according to Australian Eastern Standard Time when this item was posted
1893 Australia: Next door to William McNamara's first bookshop at 238 Castlereagh St, Sydney, Larry Petrie (Larry De Petrie; Laurence Petrie; pictured) ran a Labour Bureau to help unemployed men find work. After telling Ernie Lane he was off to blow up a non-union ship, the American anarchist booked a passage on the SS Aramac.

On board at midnight on Thursday, July 27 near the entrance to Moreton Bay, Queensland, about seven nautical miles south of Point Lookout, there was a tremendous explosion in the forecabin.

"The funny thing was" said Petrie some years later, "that the moment the bomb went off my first and only thought was to save people's lives."

Luckily, no one was killed, but two women nearby were slightly injured as a bolt of flame rose through the roof of the cabin. Petrie's presence on deck immediately afterwards, especially since the companionway was blocked with debris, aroused suspicion, his 'fake' name did also, and he was arrested as soon as the ship berthed and charged with attempted murder, but the case never went to court. The reason for this appears to be that Petrie's barrister, Marshall Lyle, a radical himself who was engaged by Arthur Rae, Ernest Lane and others to defend the American, uncovered an attempt by the police to persuade a witness to perjure himself and claim that Petrie bought explosives from him. The Attorney-General seemed to be more concerned about how it would look if all that came out, than if a crazy anarchist like Petrie was on the loose, so Petrie was released after months of half-starvation and half-torture in prison.

Some of the significance of this explosion can be seen from the uses to which it was put. The Sydney Morning Herald editorialized on August 4, 1893 that:

"… The Aramac explosion makes the eighth trouble on board ship within almost as many days. The Burrumbeet and the Sydney dynamite incidents … then came an extra-ordinary accident between the Ellingamite and the Guiding Star, the latter vessel foundering … Next the wreck … of the steamer Hilda … and the blow up of the barque Argo in Sydney Harbour are occurrences the origin of which continue to be regarded by many persons with grave misgivings; and latterly the sinking of the steamer Franklin at Townsville, and the accident to the Corea. Such a chapter of maritime disasters is probably unparalleled in Australian shipping history within the same short period."

Petrie and Knights of Labor
Scottish-born Larry Petrie (1859 - March, 1901) was a good-looking man with a big moustache who worked as a casual labourer. A co-founder of the Melbourne Anarchist Club in 1886 and the Social Democratic League in 1889. He also tried to get a Six-Hours Movement going to demand a six-hour working day, and formed a small branch of the American organisation, Knights of Labor, a Freemason-like radical sect which had been brought to Australia by WW Lyght. Henry Lawson joined, as did William Lane, George Black, WHT McNamara and others. An anarchist by temperament and persuasion, although he didn't use the term of himself, Petrie became Australian Workers' Union (AWU) Secretary-Organiser in Sydney.

At some time before the Aramac incident, Petrie lost his arm. Verity Burgmann (In Our Time: Socialism and the Rise of Labor, 1885 - 1905, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1985, p. 30) says it was so badly broken in a confrontation with a non-unionist in a shearing shed at Wagga Wagga, NSW, that it had to be amputated. Another version has it that Petrie was injured while shunting metal trucks for W Loud of Albert Park, Melbourne, and very nearly had his mangled leg amputated as well.

"(He) used to sing in a good, baritone voice 'The Marseillaise' to gather a good crowd around him … Raising his only arm when he sang 'to arms, my citizens' was always good for a laugh ... "

One day in March, 1901, while he was working as a general watchman at the railway station at Villarrica, Paraguay following his extreme disillusionment with William Lane and his New Australia disaster, Petrie jumped onto the line to push a child out of the path of an oncoming train and was himself killed. His body was claimed by another refugee from New Australia, Rose Cadogan (Rose Summerfield).

Petrie's bombing attempt at Sydney's main docks
In her old age, poet Dame Mary Gilmore told the National Times, May 6 - 11, 1974 of an earlier unsuccessful attempt of Petrie's to blow up Circular Quay, the main dock area of Sydney. No date is given, but it's probably 1892.

Petrie had left a bomb in a drain at the Quay, and some of his associates decided to remove it. While Mary Cameron (as she was before marrying William Gilmore) watched out for police, with great trepidation the diminutive Member of NSW Parliament Arthur Rae (1860 - 1943) crawled up the drain and removed the bomb, having volunteered to do so because at 5 feet tall he was the smallest person in the clandestine operation. Rae was Vice President of the AWU and one of the founders of the Australian Labor Party. In 1891 he was one of the first 36 Labor members elected to Parliament; he was later a Senator in the Australian Parliament (1910 - '14, 1918 - '35). Alongside Artie Rae and Mary at this extraordinary occurrence was Chris Watson (1867 - 1941), third Prime Minister of Australia and the first Labor PM (1904) ...

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