The ‘assault’ on Sgt. McCristal by the New Guard

Timothy William McCristal was born in Belligen in 1881 to John and Mary McCristal. He grew up in that locality, working as a timbergetter, and joined the volunteer militia known as the Irish Rifles for 12 months. In March 1901 he enlisted in the 2nd Battalion NSW Mounted Rifles, and went as a trooper to fight in the South African War under the command of Lt Col H B Lassetter. While there he was part of the force that capture the supply convoy of Gen de la Rey in June 1901 and in October of that year they captured 1000 prisoners in the Transvaal. [1]

Following his discharge, he returned to Sydney where he married Kathleen Carney in 1903 and in 1906 they had a son, Clifford Leonard. By then he was a tram conductor living in Camperdown. Shortly afterwards they returned to the Manning where he was farming at Raleigh near Bellingen.

In September 1907 he brought (and then dropped) criminal charges for assault against his neighbour John McNally. At the State election that same year he stood for Labor in the seat of Raleigh and polled 8.6%. His election platform advocated for the abolition of the position of Governor and the removal of the Upper House. The Worker described him as “an energetic and untiring worker for Labor principles.” [2]

His wife, Kathleen, died in 1910 and he went to Sydney to work on the docks. At the October 1910 State election he stood as the Social Democrat candidate in the seat of Pyrmont. By way of digression Jock Garden was a Baptist preacher in Maclean in 1909 and unsuccessfully stood as a Labor candidate for Raleigh in the 1910 State election.

Along with William Morris Hughes he led a major strike of dock workers in September 1913. Arising from his activities in that strike he unsuccessfully sued The Evening News for calling him a ‘socialistic gentleman’.

Upon the outbreak of World War I he enlisted in August 1914, completing the form under ‘religion’ by saying “Free Thinker.” Being amongst the first to enlist he was sent to Gallipolli where on 12 May 1915 a bomb went off severely damaging both his legs. He was sent to hospital in Egypt and then medically retired to Australia. Hearing from his sister that there was criticism of Australian soldiers on the home front, for not fighting seriously, he wrote to his sister (Mrs Alf Best) extolling the fighting prowess of Australia and saying “Germany has to be smashed even if half our manhood die in doing it.” [3]

Upon his return to Australia he was appointed (following written representations by the Prime Minister, William Morris Hughes) to the position of recruiting sergeant. He quit this role by October 1916 because he felt that he had a conflict of interest in opposing conscription. He became the President of the Sydney Wharf labourers Union. On 15 August 1917 he was addressing some 2000 people as one of the Domain speakers when, amongst other things he said:

“All Kings, Governors, bosses and Parliamentarians are parasites, fattening on the backs of the workers. These parasites will not suffer in wages or wealth through this strike. Now men, what would you do to a bug or flea if you were to find one on your back or in your shirt …. We have to destroy the parasites.”

He was arrested and successfully charged with sedition. One of his character witnesses was the Anglican Dean of Sydney who said that he was “a legal and straight man that he had known for 18 months.” He served his time in gaol for this conviction. [4]

By 1922 he was engaged in a bitter battle with William Morris Hughes for control of the Waterside Workers Federation and he won. As part of his tactics he self published a tract attacking Hughes as a landlord who evicted a tenant in 1911.

In 1925 he unsuccessfully stood as a Labor candidate in the seat of Ryde.

In 1921 he married Ethel Florence Mackay Davis. She obtained a decree nisi of dissolution of marriage on the grounds of desertion in 1932.

This brings us to the incident in 1933. McCristal had purchased the former station master’s house in Copeland Road Beecroft. The current war memorials are located where the yard of the house would have been. He rented the house to James Isaac and Agnes Newland Pearsall for 10 shilling a week. The bank had foreclosed for his default in paying interest. McCristal had met Mr Pearsall at a Labor branch meeting. McCristal was living in Hannah Street Maroubra (again by digression when Garden was assaulted in 1932 he was living in Maroubra) and attended regularly at Beecroft to care for his bees. The Pearsall’s said that he regularly stayed three nights a week and shared their evening meal (which was sometimes only bread and dripping) and they understood that he had agreed to pay for this. Mr Pearsall was a carpenter but was out of work and they were living on the dole.

An incident escalated. Pearsall denied calling McCristal a bludger who lived under an assumed name with a woman in Epping. He did not deny calling McCristal a ‘Communist’ and that he responded how he would ‘get the New Guard to tar and feather him.’ McCristal hit him across the head. He was attended to by Dr A C Holt who inserted 3 stitches. He brought charges of assault. When arrested McCristal telephoned Jock Garden at Trades Hall who both immediately spoke with Clive Evatt to arrange for legal representation and went surety for bail.

In court Pearsall appeared ‘swathed in bandages’ and the Magistrate had to remind the parties ‘this is a court of law and not of politics’. McCristal asked the barrister to define what he meant by the term ‘Communist’ and so the barrister reframed his question as are you a person:

“who seeks to upset the existing law and order by violent means and is disloyal to the King and belongs to an organisation which has these ends in view and stirs up disloyalty” to which McCristal replied “no”.

McCristal also denied that he had attacked the King and Queen “in a speech on a recent occasion” and described himself as a “Domain Speaker.”

The Magistrate threw out all charges. [5]

Interestingly, in March 1933 McCristal was campaigning in Taree and described in some detail how one night in Beecroft 8 New Guardsmen came to his home threatening to assault him and they ran away after he produced a revolver. No record of such an attack (as a digression it is remarkably similar to that on Jock Garden) can be found. [6]

Also in 1933 he remarried a third time to Fanny Hughes.

Between 1909 and 1962 McCristal (or Sergeant McCristal as he asked to be called) contested 20 different elections. 11 of these were for State Parliament and 9 for the Federal House of Representatives. In these elections he stood 7 times as an independent, 5 as a candidate for the Republican Party (that he helped found), 3 for the Australian Labor Party, 2 for Independent Socialist Labor and once for the Independent Labor Party.

In 1952 he attended the funeral for Sir William Morris Hughes and said that Hughes “had contributed much to Labor’s cause and had been a great Australian.”

Sergeant McCristal died on 27 June 1963. The Manning River Times headed his obituary “One of the State’s storming political petrels” and said “his habit of giving anyone a piece of his mind had in trouble both in and out of the army.” [7]

On 25 June 1967 Fanny, now living in Epsworth House Wetherill Street Leichhardt wrote asking for her late husband’s Gallipoli medal that had never been forwarded to him.

1.         For much biographical information see P Hopper “Sgt T W McCristal: passionate soldier, socialist and Republican” Sabretache (2014) vol 55 pp19-25.

2.         25 July 1907 p15

3.         Raleigh Sun 22 October 1915

4.         Sydney Morning Herald 15 November 1917

5.         1933 Electoral Roll; Sydney Morning Herald 22 January 1932 p 5; The Argus 11 February 1932 p 6; Sydney Morning Herald 5 February 1932 p 7; The Sun 21 January 1932 p 21 and 4 February 1932 p 22

6.         The Kyogle Examiner 3 March 1933 p 3.

7.         Manning River Times 10 July 1963.