2011 ASSLH conference – ‘By tomorrow I may be flying’: Patrick Hodgens Hickey


‘By Tomorrow I May Be Flying’: Patrick Hodgens Hickey, a case study in Transnational Labour Biography

 Peter Clayworth



Patrick Hodgens Hickey (1882-1930) was one of the key players in the ‘Red Fed’ period of New Zealand labour history, from 1907 to 1913. His life story had a broader geographical sweep that reveals much about transnational labour history. Hickey’s life as a worker and unionist spanned three different countries; New Zealand, the USA, and Australia. He also moved through an occupational transition from worker on the family farm, to labourer, miner, union official, journalist, printer and hotel manager. He was born into a family of small farmers in Nelson, New Zealand. He worked as an itinerant labourer and miner in the USA, where he became a socialist and a ‘revolutionist’. Hickey was a miner, labour activist and Red Fed leader in New Zealand from 1907 to 1915. He was an anti-conscription campaigner and union official in Victoria, Australia during the Great War and a Trans-Tasman labour journalist, unionist and Labour Party candidate in the 1920s.

The current paper examines the difficulties and rewards arising from an attempt to reconstruct the mobile life of a worker and activist as he worked through different, but interconnected, countries. Comparison with the lives of contemporary workers and labour activists shows that his migration between countries was in fact a common working class experience. The paper touches on Hickey’s transition through various occupations and the impact this had on his class identity and political orientation. It argues that confining a study to only one country in which Hickey lived retards any greater understanding of his life, ideas and impact on the labour movement.

Peter Clayworth comes from a family of mechanics in Nelson, New Zealand. Showing no talent in his family’s traditional occupation, he found his true calling studying history at the University of Otago. There he completed a PhD on theories of pre-European New Zealand settlement. Peter has worked as a researcher for the Waitangi Tribunal, as a historian for the Department of Conservation and as a free lance researcher. He is currently employed as a writer for Te Ara the encyclopedia of New Zealand. He is a committee member of the Labour History Project and is working on a biography of fellow Nelsonian, labour activist Patrick Hodgens Hickey.


`I have made up my mind to stay here for a few months, but as a wage-­earner I am not sure of anything and by tomorrow may be flying over the desert 500 miles away’1
Patrick Hodgens Hickey-­-­transient worker, transnational labour activist

Patrick Hodgens Hickey (1882-­1930) was one of the most prominent activists in the revolutionary industrial labour movement that gave birth to the New Zealand Federation of Labour, the ‘Red Feds’. In the years from 1907 to 1913, arguably the most turbulent era in New Zealand’s industrial history, Hickey was widely regarded as the epitome of militant unionism. During his youthful travels in the American West he passionately adopted revolutionary industrial syndicalism. Hickey brought this message back to the ‘land without strikes’, directly challenging the Arbitration Act, guardian of New Zealand’s industrial peace since the 1890s. He played a leading role in the Blackball strike of 1908 and in organising the New Zealand Federation of Miners, the union peak body that evolved into the New Zealand Federation of Labour. Hickey campaigned for the Socialist Party, later one of the founding parties of the New Zealand Labour Party. He was instrumental in turning the Maoriland Worker into a broad left newspaper spreading the industrial unionist message. Hickey’s fundraising was a key to prolonging the bitter 1912 Waihi miners’ strike. In 1913 he led the United Federation of Labour in the disastrous Great Strike, despite his own reservations regarding the timing and purpose of the dispute.2

Hickey’s role in the Red Fed period was his most significant contribution to New Zealand labour history, but his life had a geographical sweep well beyond his birthplace. Hickey was a rarity among early twentieth-­century New Zealand labour leaders in being locally born. Patrick Hodgens Hickey was from a family of Irish Catholic immigrants, who were small farmers on the outskirts of Nelson. Pat made two extended trips to the United States of America, in 1900 and again from 1903 to 1906. In America he worked as an itinerant labourer, mill worker, smelter worker and miner. Between his American sojourns, Hickey worked at the Denniston coal mine, on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Both American journeys were linked to Hickey’s attempts to visit his father’s homeland of County Cavan, Ireland, in search of a supposed family inheritance.3

In 1903 Hickey reached Cavan, only to find there was no inheritance. He then crossed the Atlantic to the USA, where he remained until 1906. In 1905, while working in the Bingham Canyon copper-­mine in Utah, he joined the militant Western Federation of Miners. Hickey became a union activist, adopting the WFM’s beliefs in class war and revolutionary syndicalism. He also joined the Socialist Party of America, led at that time by the charismatic Eugene V. Debs. These American experiences were the root of Hickey’s enthusiasm for revolutionary industrial unionism. By his own account he returned to New Zealand in 1906 armed with his membership cards for the WFM and the Socialist Party, along with a determination to stir up class struggle in his homeland.4

Hickey was a leader in the heightened period of class struggle from 1907, coming to a watershed with the defeat of the 1913 strike. This led to a period of crisis for Hickey. In the strike’s aftermath his union-­organising job disappeared and he was subjected to employer blacklisting. In 1911 Pat had married fellow socialist Rose Rogers of Blackball; by 1913 the couple had a young son to support. Now Hickey struggled to feed his family and continue with union activism. Pat was strongly opposed to the Great War and appalled by the splits it caused within the labour movement. Fearing the introduction of conscription, in late 1915 he left New Zealand for Australia, where he was soon afterwards joined by his family. Based in Victoria, Hickey eventually found work as a union official and was heavily involved in the successful anti-­conscription campaigns of 1916 and 1917. He also became active in the Victorian Socialist Party and the Victorian branch of the Labor Party. Despite his own sympathies with syndicalism, Hickey became bitterly critical of the Industrial Workers of the World and what he saw as its disruptive tactics.5

Returning to New Zealand in 1920, Hickey took up the role of editor of the Maoriland Worker. His time as editor was a turbulent one; including a sedition charge for publishing a pro-­Sinn Fein pamphlet. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Wellington, then quit the Maoriland Worker in 1921, after a dispute over staffing. He took charge of the printery at Trades Hall in Auckland, then moved into more union organising jobs and several unsuccessful electoral campaigns for local bodies and parliamentary seats. It appears that worker apathy over recruiting campaigns for the Alliance of Labour peak body, combined with the poor showing of the Labour Party in the 1925 election, and his own failure to win the Invercargill seat, led to disillusionment with the New Zealand political and industrial scene. The Hickeys left for Australia in early 1926 and went into the hotel-­keeping business. By 1928 Pat had renewed his activism within the Victorian Labor Party. In 1929 he was selected by the party as candidate for the safe Labor seat of Dandenong. Shortly before the elections Hickey received a head injury, leading to his hospitalisation and death in January 1930.6

There is a limited amount of biographical material published on Pat Hickey. Hickey was a great storyteller and by his forties he was regarded as something of a historian for the labour movement. His own booklet Red Fed Memoirs, written in the mid 1920s, outlines the history of the Red Feds, but its autobiographical details are confined to the period from 1907 to 1913. Erik Olssen’s classic work of labour history, The Red Feds, concentrates on 1908-­13, but gives some details of Hickey’s travels. Hickey’s entry in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, also written by Olssen, focusses on the Red Fed era. Hickey’s activities outside New Zealand receive little attention, with the years from 1914 to 1930 summarised in one paragraph. The nationalistic parameters of a dictionary of biography may well explain the content of this article.7

Hickey’s transnational life is dealt with in more detail by Francis Shor’s paper ‘Left Labor Agitators in the Pacific Rim of the Early Twentieth Century’. Shor considers Hickey as a travelling activist, comparing him with his contemporary, the Canadian Wobbly J. B. (John Benjamin) King. Shor pays some attention to Hickey’s time in the USA, analyses his role in the Red Feds, and gives considerable detail on his activities in Australia during the Great War.  As he looks at the role of migratory agitators during a specific historical period, Shor gives little detail on Hickey’s life after 1920.8 The most complete biography of Pat Hickey is an unpublished manuscript, written in the early 1970s by his great-­ nephew, John Weir, and held in Christchurch’s Macmillan-­Brown Library. Weir also concentrates on the Red Fed period, but devotes a chapter to Hickey’s life before 1907 and a concluding chapter on the years after 1913.9

Transnational biography-­ problems and rewards

In attempting to write a transnational biography a number of difficulties arise; mainly problems of time and expense not involved when concentrating on a subject’s life in one country. The modern researcher can find widely scattered research material through the internet, but it still remains necessary at times to look at paper held inside buildings. Some records may only be accessible in the country of origin. The internet makes it easier to make oral-­history contacts, but does not necessarily remove the need for face-­to-­face interviews. There is the argument that to gain a good grasp of a subject’s experiences, the researcher really should visit the sites of those events. Field work may not be essential, but it does greatly enhance the writer’s understanding.10

Strewn with difficulties though it is, transnational biography provides insights that can only be obtained by looking beyond one country. As Deacon, Russell and Woollacott have pointed out, ‘Lives elude national boundaries; yet biography, the telling of life stories, has often been pressed into the service of nation, downplaying its fleeting acknowledgement of lives lived in motion’.11 Pat Hickey lived a mobile life, crossing borders, changing occupations and class status, encountering and developing ideas through his experiences. The nature of his travelling changed as he evolved from an unattached, apolitical and unskilled young worker into an experienced and skilled worker and a committed labour activist. As an older man his activities and travels were limited by having a family to support and by the fact that his notoriety as a radical restricted the type of work he could obtain. It is clear that in both activism and paid employment Hickey, ‘drew emotional energy, ideological conviction or practical understanding from eclectic transnational experience’.12

Hickey’s life also fits into the international phenomenon Jonathon Hyslop has referred to as the ‘Imperial Working Class’. This Anglophone, white working class spread across, moved between and linked up the supposedly ‘white colonies’ of the British Empire in the early twentieth century. Hickey was one of the labour activists who formed an important minority strand among the wider culture of mobile, interconnected workers. As Hickey’s life illustrates, this flow of workers and activists did not stay confined to the British Empire but also moved into and out of the USA.13

The roles of mobile activists in the USA, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand have been examined by a number of scholars in highly regarded works.14 Some scholars, such as Hyslop writing on Keir Hardie, Schneer on Ben Tillett and James Bennett in his work on the trans-­Tasman labour movement, have looked beyond national boundaries.15 Generally though, while authors acknowledge the mobile, transnational nature of workers in general and of activists in particular, the events examined in their works still largely stop ‘at the waters edge’.16 Following the lives of people such as Pat Hickey may provide an effective way of studying early twentieth century transnational phenomena, including the mobility of workers and syndicalist inspired industrial activism. As Caleb McDaniel has argued, ‘Biographies might perhaps be the ripest field of transnational history of all, since they escape the confines of the nation-­state in ways that sweeping comparative histories or diplomatic histories cannot’.17

The mobility of early twentieth century Anglophone labour leaders is demonstrated by the world travels of Keir Hardie, Tom Mann and Ben Tillett, and the trans-­Atlantic activism of James Connolly and James Larkin. Locally we have the strong Australian contingent among New Zealand’s Red Feds, including Harry Scott Bennett, R. S. Ross, Robert Semple, Paddy Webb, Harry Holland and Michael Joseph Savage. There was a North American input into New Zealand activism from H. M. Fitzgerald, J. B. King, W. T. Mills, and William and Annie Balderstone, as well as from Pat Hickey. A number of significant activists crossed from New Zealand to Australia, including Chris Watson, first Labor prime minister of Australia, Bob Heffron, the Waihi striker who became Labor premier of New South Wales, the IWW activists J. B. King and Tom Barker, and of course Hickey himself.18 Transnational biographies were not solely the preserve of men in the labour movement, as shown by the lives of such activists as Emma Goldman, Ettie Rout and Aileen Garmson.19

The only thing was to see the wide world’-­ itinerant life in the early 1900s

‘I thought the only thing to do was to see the wide world. I have seen it now and it is of no use to me, mostly hard knocks and tough surroundings’.20

Pat Hickey spent much of his relatively short life in processes of transition. He lived for substantial periods in three different countries, New Zealand, the USA and Australia. Within each of these places he moved around constantly, whether in search of work, or in his roles as union organiser and socialist activist. As a worker, Hickey also went through processes of transition, both in occupation and class position. These changes found expression in his changing attitudes to union organisation and political activity. To gain an understanding of the changes in Hickey’s working life, union activities and political roles, the biographer must follow his trail through the world he lived in.

As the child of rural Irish Catholic immigrants Pat Hickey, was not from a trade union background. His earliest work experience was helping his parents on their backblocks farm at the junction of the Motueka and Wangapeka Rivers. In 1890, following his father’s death in a tree-­felling accident, the family moved to a small farm at Foxhill. This area was also in rural Nelson, but on the railway line and near a number of small towns. Pat, his mother, brothers and sisters all had to work hard to maintain a family without an adult male breadwinner. Hickey was clever at school; his mother insisted he stay on at primary school for two non-­ compulsory extra years. His earliest paid jobs were a brief stint at an insurance firm, followed by labouring work at a local sawmill. Neither of these jobs appear to have been unionised.21

Leaving New Zealand in 1900, Hickey got no further than western states of the USA. Inexperienced and unskilled, he was caught up in a cycle of low-­paid, itinerant work. He travelled by ‘train beating’, riding the rails as a hobo, a common form of transport for itinerant workers. He learned mine and smelter work from taking on the lowliest starting positions. While not members of any union, he and his companions refused to scab during strikes.22 Returning to New Zealand, Hickey used the underground experience and skills gained in America to get a job as a trucker in the Denniston mines. Workers had to be members of the local miners’ union, but disputes were dealt with through the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act. Hickey paid his dues but was more interested in ‘having a good time’ than in union activities.23

On his second visit to the USA, in 1903-­06, Hickey was in a more privileged position regarding work. In Ohio he worked as a railway clerk and then as a foreman over a group of Italian labourers. In the northern California mines he got a job as the ‘sampler’ in one of the copper smelters. He regarded this technical job testing the copper as ‘an easy time.’ It is clear that his literacy and command of English helped him get such jobs. Hickey was now more confident and able to employ his ‘gift of the gab’ to good stead. He convinced the Aleutian Mining and Livestock Co. to employ him on an Aleutian Island expedition, due to his ‘expertise’ in cattle ranching. While his ranching skills were dubious, Hickey had built up considerable experience and ability as a miner. This enabled him to look for and to take up better mining jobs as he travelled the West. It is not clear when Hickey first became a union member, but his career as a union activist began at Bingham Canyon in Utah with his election to his first union position.24

Back in New Zealand, Hickey worked as a coalminer. His experience and skills meant he now worked as a hewer, the best-­paid job with the highest status in the mine. His outspoken socialist activism offended both employers and moderate union leaders, leading to his dismissal and blacklisting from a number of West Coast mines. From 1909 onwards Hickey’s main occupations were as a paid organiser, agitator and journalist, working for unions and union peak bodies. He does not appear to have looked for or carried out mining work after 1909.25 Pat was forced by union collapses and employer blacklisting to spend a brief period labouring on public works at Waitomo, in 1915.26

In 1916 Hickey moved to Melbourne, where he worked for a time as a clerk at the office of the Department of Defence. There is a rich irony in this, given that he left New Zealand to avoid the introduction of conscription. By August 1916 Hickey was an organiser with the Victorian Railways Union and very active in the anti-­conscription campaign. He also became an activist for the Labor Party, although it is not clear whether this position was voluntary, paid, or part of his union organiser job. After a brief period, in 1919, working for the Queensland Railways Union, Hickey returned to New Zealand in 1920.27 Until 1925 his jobs included editor of the Maoriland Worker, printer at the Auckland Trades Hall, and organiser for the union peak body the Alliance of Labour. The Hickeys departed again for Australia in early 1926, frustrated by the New Zealand labour movement’s lack of progress, and ran hotels in various parts of Victoria. Hickey had been about to stand for the safe Victorian Labor seat of Dandenong, a move that was stymied by his death in January 1930.28

The Ambiguity of Identity-­ Ireland, Australia and New Zealand

The remainder of this paper examines aspects of Hickey’s early travels to gain insights into his life and the transnational phenomena he lived through. I have concentrated on his early years as, at the time of writing, it is the period I have worked on in most detail. Further research into Hickey’s later years should also give us greater understanding of the trans-­Tasman labour world of the 1910s and 1920s.

Hickey’s records of his travels give important clues to his sense of identity. He was determined to visit Ireland, but not for romantic or patriotic reasons. His primary motive was pragmatic: to find the inheritance his father supposedly left in County Cavan. Hickey’s letters portray a slightly bemused visitor to ‘the old country’, well aware that he was vastly better off than his poor Irish cousins. He enjoyed their company and hospitality, but was appalled by the poverty and dirt of Dublin and the Cavan countryside. Irish beliefs in witches and faeries fascinated him, but he regarded them as ridiculous superstitions. The Irish acknowledged him as a relative, but called him a ‘foreigner.’ To his annoyance they also assumed he was a gentleman. They called him sir and raised their hats to him, perhaps because he was comparatively well dressed and spoke in a strange manner. Hickey noted that they often could not understand him, saying he spoke too fast, perhaps an early indication of the New Zealand accent.29 He had been brought up a confirmed Fenian, but despite seeing appalling poverty in Ireland he was not moved to adopt Irish nationalism as a major cause. His American experiences convinced him that the class war should be his primary struggle. Before adopting revolutionary syndicalism, Hickey did not display any great animosity towards the British Empire. In 1900, just before setting on his first series of travels, he had unsuccessfully tried to volunteer for the South African War.30

Hickey’s Irish Catholic background proved to be an asset in his travels. By the early twentieth century the Irish diaspora effectively created a network of foremen and workers of Irish descent throughout New Zealand, Australia and the USA. Hickey wrote that on his first stint underground, at the Grub Gulch mine in California, the boss, who was of Irish extraction, gave him all the best jobs.31 On his second trip, his New York Irish relatives offered him accommodation and work. He decided instead to move on, as the city was immobilised by a strike. In Youngstown, Ohio, Hickey was looked after by two brewers called Gorman and Gallagher, who gave him a place to stay and showed him around the town.32 The Irish connection also worked well for Hickey in the coal mines of Denniston, on New Zealand’s West Coast, where he noted that the underground manager, along with a lot of the bosses and men, were Catholics.33

In the records of his early travels Hickey did not refer to himself as either Irish or British. He generally described himself as New Zealander, but it is interesting that sometimes he was happy to describe himself as Australian. When a Tasmanian mining engineer was hired for a Californian mine, Hickey happily pointed out to ‘boasting Americans…that us Australians can give them points at anything’.34 He noted of two Australian companions in San Francisco, ‘you know there is an affinity between all those born under the Southern Cross’.35 When working in the quick-­silver mine in New Idria, California, in 1900, Hickey’s boss was an Australian. He got on well with this foreman, who seemed more interested in yarning than in making sure he was doing his work.36

At times Hickey expressed pride in a distinct New Zealand identity. While in Australia he was pleased to hear New Zealand lauded as ‘the most progressive colony’, and Richard Seddon as ‘one of the ablest statesmen that the colonies has produced’.37 Hickey was not the only New Zealander travelling the world in the 1900s; in California he ran into one of his schoolmates from Foxhill, now globetrotting as a sailor.38 Hickey’s last job in the USA was working in a northern Californian mine, where the foreman was a New Zealand mining engineer, Jock Neill, son of the health reformer Grace Neill. Jock Neill actively recruited Hickey to work for him on the strength of his New Zealand origins.39

Hickey appears to have seen himself as a New Zealander, but this identity was flexible rather than a hard nationalist label. Though a strong supporter of Irish Home Rule, the pre-­militant Pat Hickey did not reject citizenship of the British Empire. He acknowledged his strong Irish Catholic background, but does not seem to have described himself as ‘Irish.’ His New Zealand identity was able to be both distinct and, when appropriate, part of the larger identity of ‘Australian’. Given that Australian Federation did not occur until 1901, it is not surprising that Hickey had this view of Australian and New Zealand identity. As his later life and activities reflect, the ‘Tasman World’ lived on long after 1901 for working people and unionists.

‘Crowded with foreigners of all descriptions’ -­  confronting ethnic diversity

Hickey’s travels exposed him to a wide range of people from many ethnic backgrounds. He wrote of a smelter job in Northern California: ‘Where I am working there are 7 men; their nationalities are as follows: Scotch boss, 1 Austrian, 1 Swede, 1 Russian, 1 Irishman, 1 American, 1 Italian, and, lastly 1 New Zealander. Of the total only 4 speak English’.40   In one of his earliest American mining jobs about half the miners were Mexicans who spoke only Spanish.41 Hickey’s attitudes at this time were probably little different from those of contemporary white, Anglophone workers. Rather than any sense of shared working-­class internationalism, Hickey identified with those who were ‘white’, or more specifically, not ‘foreign’. This charmed circle included British, Irish, Americans and Australians and two English-­speaking Germans he met in Melbourne.42

Hickey was often critical of ‘foreigners.’ He spent extra money to sail second-­ class on the voyage from Cork to New York, because ‘as you know the steerage is crowded with foreigners of all descriptions’.43 On the voyage from Australia to Britain, Hickey wrote that the Italians who made up half the passengers on board were ‘the most disreputable lot I have ever seen.’44 The Italians in the work gang he supervised in Ohio were ‘lazy Dagoes’.45 He left a job at a quick-­silver mine at Oat Hill, California, because most of the workers there were Chinese and he ‘could not stand the Chows’.46 In the Aleutian Islands, Hickey acted the part of the ‘great white explorer’, and did not seem greatly concerned over what impact mining or cattle ranching might have on the indigenous people.47

Despite these early attitudes it seems Hickey’s experiences with a wide range of peoples may have in later years led him to a greater sympathy with ‘foreigners’ and a wider vision of socialist internationalism. At the Unity Conference of July 1913 a number of unionists spoke in favour of military training to defend New Zealand against the ‘the yellow races’, particularly the Japanese. Speaking in opposition, Hickey noted that he had met many Japanese fishermen in Alaska at the time of the Russo-­Japanese War. He had witnessed Japanese riots against the whites, but blamed the violence on the white refusal to accept Japanese as equals, including refusing to allow them into unions.48

Hickey was occasionally prepared to reconsider his prejudices in the light of personal experience. From Utah in 1905, he wrote, ‘I have seen enough of this world to be broad-­minded to respect a man no matter what may be his nature or creed; but the Mormons are an exception to the rule I hate them individually and as a class’. Yet five months later, while mining in Northern California, he was sharing a cabin with a Utah Mormon workmate, ‘not a bad sort of fellow’.49

Becoming a union man-­ Hickey’s path to Revolutionary Industrial Unionism

Hickey’s conversion to revolutionary syndicalism can be traced to his time at Bingham Canyon with the Western Federation of Miners. From 1894 to 1904 the WFM had been involved in a series of industrial conflicts with employers involving armed violence on both sides. The bitter lessons of class conflict led the WFM to support the creation of an organisation to unite the entire working class in opposition to capital. They were a leading group in setting up the IWW, through a series of meetings in Chicago in 1905. This occurred at the very time Hickey was becoming involved with the WFM in Utah.50

In the early 1900s New Zealand’s unionised work force had a protective structure in the form of the Arbitration Act, along with labour’s alliance with the Liberal Government. The majority of the workforce were actually non-­unionised and outside the Act. There was, nevertheless, still the concept in New Zealand that, through protective legislation and social pressure, government and society acted as mediators between employers and workers. When Hickey returned to New Zealand in 1906 there had been no major strikes since the early 1890s.51

Hickey’s experiences in the USA exposed him to the harsher aspects of capitalism and class struggle. He was part of a system unbridled by a protective state or civil society; it was the era of the ‘robber barons’ and violent industrial struggles. In 1900 he could not work in the Colorado mines, as all the miners’ unions had gone on strike. Hickey described the strikes of 1900 in Colorado without supporting or condemning them, almost as though industrial disputes were acts of nature, like the ferocious winter.52 Hickey and his comrades were not union members, but refused to work in any mines undergoing strikes. He wrote: ‘Owing to the strike in Colorado work was to be had very easily if a fellow liked to go “scabbing” but as it is no game we did not take it on’.53

Refusing a job was not a lightly taken decision for hard-­up workers. Hickey recorded that he sometimes went for two days without eating while travelling in the Western winter.54 The roots of Hickey’s later union militancy may be found in an earlier combination of valuing mateship, the determination to protect his own working conditions and the refusal to undermine the struggles of organised workers.

In New York, during June 1903, Hickey saw the city paralysed by a major strike. He witnessed the ‘Colorado Mine Wars’ of 1903, with the occupation of mining towns by the State Militia and the governor’s imposition of martial law. Hickey worked with and talked to the veterans of America’s class war. At Bingham Canyon he would have met WFM activists who were veterans of years of violent conflict with employers. At the Carnegie steel mill in Youngstown Ohio, he talked to workers who had been through the bloody Homestead strike of 1892. These experiences laid the ground work, preparing him to adopt the revolutionary syndicalist creed.55

Hickey’s own attitude to comradeship and to rights at work also predisposed him to support the struggle for workers’ rights. On both of his journeys he was not travelling as the isolated ‘man alone’. On his first American odyssey his companion for nine months was an Englishman called Wright. The two men supported each other through illness and poverty, occasionally joining with other itinerants to travel for a time in a supportive group.56 In 1904, Hickey travelled with Jack MacDonald, a man he appears to have met on his 1900 trip. Hickey and ‘Mac’ worked in the northern Californian mines and journeyed together through Oregon, Washington and the Aleutian islands.57 Throughout his travels Hickey and his companions were always trying to maintain a degree of agency in their work situations. During the 1900 trip, despite poverty and their desperate need for work, Hickey and his companions only took jobs with conditions they considered acceptable. Hickey refused to apply for at least one smelter job because ‘the work is of such a killing nature that the men do not last at it’.58 He and his companions worked for only seven hours at a coal mine in Aspen, Wyoming, before quitting due to poor food and an abusive boss. At New Castle, Colorado, the boss offered them work once he ascertained they were not union members. They refused to take the job on finding the mine was full of gas and arsenic.59


This paper has argued that a transnational approach is the most effective way to examine a mobile life such as that of Patrick Hodgens Hickey. The study of Hickey’s early travels sheds light on the period when he was an unknown itinerant worker, rather than a renowned or notorious labour agitator. Hickey’s accounts give us an idea of the experiences that led him to commit himself to revolutionary industrial unionism. At the same time these accounts give us a rare view of the life of itinerant workers, along with clues to issues such as national identity, the defining of ethnicity and the identification of other groups as outsiders. A similar study of the later years of Hickey’s life may reveal similar insights into the trans-­Tasman labour world of the 1910s and 1920s. The consideration of the broader geographical sweep of a subject’s life allows us not only to follow their transition through time and geography, but also to see how changes in experience, occupation and class position may change situations and views. The broader geographical approach also allows us to see people as international players, caught up in wider movements and events, yet acting as agents of change and transmission as they move through the world. This was the case with the activists of the late-­nineteenth and early-­twentieth centuries, who were building a transnational labour movement. The biography of a mobile life may be as valuable for what it tells us about such transnational phenomena, as for what it can tell us about an individual life.



1   Patrick Hodgens Hickey to Mary Ann Hickey, 15 August 1905, MS-­Papers-­3663, Alexander Turnbull Library (ATL.)
2   P. H. Hickey, “Red” Fed Memoirs (Wellington: New Zealand Worker Print, 1925); E. Olssen, The Red Feds: Revolutionary Industrial Unionism and the New Zealand Federation of Labour, 1908-­1913 (Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1988); L. Richardson, Coal, Class and Community: the United Mine Workers of New Zealand, 1880-­1960 (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1995); B. Gustafson, Labour’s Path to Political Independence: the origins and establishment of the New Zealand Labour Party, 1900-­19 (Wellington: Oxford University Press, 1980); B. Wood, The Great ’08: The Blackball coal miners’ strike, 27 February-­13 May 1908 (Greymouth: B. Wood, 2008). The 1908 Blackball strike and Pat Hickey’s role in it is also dealt with in Eric Beardsley’s novel, Blackball ’08 (Auckland: Collins, 1984).
3   J. E. Weir, `The “Red” Feds: P. H. Hickey and the Red Federation of Labour’, unpublished manuscript, c.1970, MS 119, John Weir Papers, Acc 664, Macmillan-­Brown Library, University of Canterbury, 25-­50. This paper, along with my wider research on Pat Hickey, would not have been possible without the invaluable help of the Hodgens and Hickey families. John Weir has given me permission to use material from his unpublished manuscript on the life of Pat Hickey. Eileen Thawley has given me access to a great deal of family material, including transcripts of Pat Hickey’s correspondence to his family covering the period from 1900 to 1927. John and Eileen, who are the children of Pat’s niece Eileen Weir (nee Smith), have also passed on to me a great deal of family oral history. Pat Hickey’s grand-­daughter, Noelene McNair, has given me access to and permission to use the journal Pat Hickey wrote of his 1900 journey through the USA.
4   Ibid., 33-­9. P. H. Hickey to Margaret Jane Hickey, 4 April 1903, transcript from Eileen Thawley private collection. The transcripts were typed from the originals by Eileen Thawley. Hickey, “Red” Fed Memoirs, 6.
5   Weir, ‘Red Feds’, 151-­2, 321-­68. Francis Shor, ‘Left Labor Agitators in the Pacific Rim of the early twentieth century’, International Labor and Working Class History, no. 67, April 2005, 154-­7. P. H. Hickey, Solidarity or Sectionalism?: A plea for unity (Brisbane: Australian Workers’ Union, Queensland Branch, Literature Committee, 1918.
6   Weir, ‘”Red” Feds’, 350-­66. Hickey apparently developed a blood clot on the brain after a head injury from the heavy trap door of a hotel cellar. He received the injury in July 1929 and died from complications on 25 January 1930. Ibid., 366-­7.
7   Hickey, “Red” Fed Memoirs; Olssen, Red Feds, see in particular 2-­4; E Olssen, ‘Hickey, Patrick Hodgens’, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 1-­Sep-­10:  http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/biographies/3h22/1
8   Shor, ‘Left Labor Agitators’.
 Weir, ‘”Red” Feds’ This document is based in part on a wide range of private papers unavailable to Olssen and Shor.
10  For a discussion that covers these issues in approaching trans-­national history see Tim Lacey, `The Promises and Perils of Transnational History’, http://us-­intellectual-­history.blogspot.com/2008/11/promise-­and-­perils-­of-­transnational.html Downloaded 3 April 2011.
11   A. Woollacott, D. Deacon, P. Russell, ‘Introduction,’ in A. Woollacott, D. Deacon, P. Russell (eds.), Transnational Lives: Studies in Global Modernity, 1700-­present (Cambridge: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 2.
12   Ibid.
13   J. Hyslop, ‘The Imperial Working Class Makes Itself ‘White’: White Labourism in Britain, Australia and South Africa Before the First World War, Journal of Historical Sociology, vol.12, no.4, 1999, 398-­421.
14   See for example, D. J. Bercuson, Fools and Wisemen (Toronto /New York, McGraw-­Hill Ryerson, 1978); A. R. McCormack, Reformers, Rebels, and Revolutionaries : the Western Canadian radical movement, 1899-­1919 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1977); W. Visser, ‘Exporting Trade Unionism and Labour Politics: The British Influence on the Early South African Labour Movement,’ New Contree, 49, April 2005, 145-­62; L. van der Walt, ‘Bakunin’s heirs in South Africa: race and revolutionary syndicalism from the IWW to the International Socialist League, 1910-­21’, Politikan, vol.31, no.1, May 2004, 67-­89; Olssen, Red Feds; V. Burgmann, Revolutionary Industrial Unionism: The Industrial Workers of the World in Australia (Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 1995).
15   J. Hyslop, ‘The World Voyage of Keir Hardie: Indian Nationalism, Zulu Insurgency and the British Labour Diaspora, 1907-­1908’, Journal of Global History, 1, 2006, 343-­62; J. Schneer, Ben Tillett: Portrait of a Labour Leader (London: Croom Helm, 1982); J. Bennett, Rats and Revolutionaries: The Labour Movement in Australia and New Zealand 1890-­1940 (Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2004).
16   J. H. M. Laslett, ‘Linking the Old World with the New: Recent studies of  labor migration, race and political protest in America and the British Empire’, Labor History, vol.46, no.2, 2005, 189.
17   C. McDaniel, Comments in ‘“Forget the Founding Fathers” a Symposium’, Cliopatria: A 
Group Blog, http://hnn.us/blogs/entries/12291.html Downloaded 3 April 2011. An example of a labour ‘biography’ that serves this transnational purpose is Eric Fry’s interview with Tom Barker, published as E. C. Fry, Tom Barker and the IWW (Canberra: Australian Society for the Study of Labour History (ASSLH), 1965).
18   Olssen, Red Feds, Burgmann, Revolutionary Industrial Unionism, 69-­71, H. Roth and J. Hammond, Toil and Trouble: the Struggle for a Better Life in New Zealand (Auckland: Methuen, 1981), 60-­1, Hyslop, ‘The World Voyage of Keir Hardie’; D. C. Greaves, The Life and Times of James Connolly (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1972); B. Gustafson, From the Cradle to the Grave: a biography of Michael Joseph Savage (Auckland: Reed Methuen, 1986); C. Hickey, ‘“His tap root was stronger and more tenacious than most of us”: Robert Semple, an Australian New Zealander’, Labour History, no.95, November 2008, 169-­84; P. Clayworth, ‘Prophets from Across the Pacific: the influence of Canadian agitators on New Zealand labour militancy in the early twentieth century’ http://redruffians.tumblr.com/post/2682342488/prophets-­from-­across-­the-­pacific-­the-­influence-­of
19   E. Goldman, Living My Life (New York: Knopf, 1931); J. Tolerton, Ettie: a biography of Ettie Rout (Auckland: Penguin, 1992); S. Starky, ‘Garmson, Aileen Anna Maria’, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 1-­Sep-­10  http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/biogra phies/2g1/1
20   P. H. Hickey to M. J. Hickey, 21 May 1905, cited in Weir, ‘”Red” Feds’, 47. This appears to be a quote from a letter that is now missing.
21   Weir, ‘”Red” Feds’, 24-­8. John Weir, pers. comm., Eileen Thawley, pers comm. In the 1896 exams Hickey narrowly missed out on winning a scholarship to attend secondary school: see ‘Scholarship Examinations,’ Nelson Evening Mail, 28 December 1896, 2.
22   P. H. Hickey to M. J. Hickey, 1 August 1900, 11 September 1900, 19 May 1901, transcripts
Thawley collection. P. H. Hickey journal, 1900-­1903, copy in possession of the author of this paper, courtesy of Noelene McNair. See in particular 24-­5, 31.
23   P. H. Hickey to M. J. Hickey, 21 September 1901 to 6 March 1902, transcripts Thawley collection. Hickey journal, 1900-­1903, 90-­2; Hickey, “Red” Fed Memoirs, 6.
24   P. H. Hickey to M. J. Hickey, 31 July 1903, 17 December 1903, 11 June 1904, transcripts Thawley collection. P. H. Hickey to M. A. Hickey, 15 August 1905, MS-­Papers-­3663, ATL.
25   Weir, ‘”Red” Feds’; Olssen, Red Feds.
26   P. H. Hickey to M. A. Hickey [undated] 1915, transcripts Thawley collection.
27   Weir, ‘”Red” Feds’, 332-­50. P. H. Hickey to M. J. Hickey [?] November 1915 to 27 May 1919, transcripts Thawley collection. P. H. Hickey biographical material, H. Roth collection, MS-­Papers-­6164-­035, ATL.
28   Weir, ‘”Red” Feds’, 350-­67. P. H. Hickey to E. Hickey, 24 January 1927, transcripts Thawley collection. P. H. Hickey biographical material, H. Roth collection, MS-­Papers-­6164-­035, ATL.
29   P. H. Hickey to M. J. Hickey, 3 April 1903 to 6 May 1903, P. H. Hickey to J. Hickey 4 April 1903, 20 April 1903, transcripts Thawley collection. P. H. Hickey to M. A. Hickey, 4 April 1903, 20 April 1903, MS-­Papers-­3663, ATL. P. H. Hickey Journal 1903-­1906, John Weir papers Acc no. 664, 32-­5, 72-­6.
30   Nelson Evening Mail, 27 January 1900, 2; The Colonist, 29 January 1900, 2.
31   P. H. Hickey to M. J. Hickey, 11 September 1900, transcripts Thawley collection.
32   P. H. Hickey to M. J. Hickey, 24 June 1903;? P.H. Hickey to J. Hickey, 27 June 1903, transcripts Thawley collection.
33   P. H. Hickey to M. J. Hickey, 2 Feb 1902, transcripts Thawley collection.
34   P. H. Hickey to M. J. Hickey, 17 Feb 1904, transcripts Thawley collection.
35   P. H. Hickey to M. J. Hickey, 20 November 1905, transcripts Thawley collection.
36   P. H. Hickey to M. J. Hickey, 11 September 1900.
37   P. H. Hickey Journal 1903-­1906, 30-­1.
38   P. H. Hickey to M. J. Hickey, 11 September 1900, 19 May 1901, transcripts Thawley collection.
39   P. H. Hickey to M. J. Hickey, 2 January 1906.
40   P. H. Hickey to J. Hickey, 7 December 1903, transcripts Thawley collection.
41   P. H. Hickey to M. J. Hickey, 11 September 1900.
42   P. H. Hickey Journal 1900-­1903, 5-­6.
43   P. H. Hickey to M. A. Hickey, 28 May 1903, MS-­Papers-­3663, ATL.
44   P. H. Hickey Journal 1903-­1906, 10-­11.
45   P. H. Hickey to M. J. Hickey, 31 July 1903.
46   P. H. Hickey Journal 1900-­1903, 78.
47   For example P. H. Hickey to M. J. Hickey, 11 June 1904.
48   Report of Proceedings of the Unity Congress, July 1st to 10th 1913, establishing the United Federation of Labor and the Social Democratic Party, Pam 1913 UNI 3684, 88-­9. It appears that Hickey was also a strong advocate of a Labour alliance with Maori in the 1920s, although this subject needs further investigation. See for example, New Zealand Worker, 29 April 1925, 1.
49   P. H. Hickey to M. A. Hickey, 15 August 1905, MS-­Papers-­3663, ATL. P. H. Hickey to M. J. Hickey, 2 January 1906.
50   On the WFM and the birth of the IWW see V. H. Jensen, Heritage of Conflict: labor relations in the nonferrous metals industry up to 1930 (New York: Greenwood Press, 1950), M. Wyman, Hard Rock Epic : western miners and the industrial revolution, 1860-­1910 (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1979); M. Dubofsky, We Shall Be All : a history of the Industrial Workers of the World (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000).
51   J. Holt, Compulsory Arbitration in New Zealand: the first forty years (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1986), 33-­91.
52   P. H. Hickey to M. J. Hickey, 19 May 1901.
53   P. H. Hickey Journal 1900-­1903, 31.
54   P. H. Hickey to M. J. Hickey, 19 May 1901.
55   P. H. Hickey to M. J. Hickey, 19 May 1901, 24 June 1903;? P.H. Hickey to J. Hickey, 15 November 1903; Nelson Evening Mail, 31 December 1907, 2.
56   P. H. Hickey Journal 1900-­1903. See in particular 22-­3,26-­7, 36-­7, 45-­50, 54-­5, 84-­5.
57   P. H. Hickey to M. J. Hickey, 11 March 1904 to 11 June 1904, transcripts Thawley collection. P. H. Hickey to M. J. Hickey, 30 August 1904, John Weir papers, Acc 664, MBL.
58   P. H. Hickey Journal 1900-­1903, 34.
59   Ibid., 24, 45-­6.