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My Union Right or Wrong.
A history of the Ship Painters and Dockers Union 1900-1932
By Issy Wyner


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Joseph Creighton

JOSEPH CREIGHTON was one of the early active members of the Union who was for a time popular with the members and was elected to various positions including that of President of the Union. While the originating meetings of the reformed Union were generally chaired by Ald.W.Williams, Creighton was the Vice President and acted as chairman on occasions when Williams was not present. He was later, in 1900, elected as President, with Sam Boyd as Vice President, Robert Wilson, Secretary and Robert Mahony as Assistant Secretary.

Creighton was outspoken on union affairs, generally attending meetings and speaking on matters up for discussion. In October, he was involved in a strike at Mort’s Dock and at a Union meeting

Mr.Creighton reported that he had an interview with the delegate of the Seamen & Firemen Union about a strike on Warrimoo & told him that none of our men would do any work to the inside of the ship but they would do the work on the outside as it was the Dock work & they could not break there agreement with the Dock company. He also reported having waited on Mr. Armstead with the Executive officers concerning sailors employed painting sailingship……

Moved by Mr.Creighton & seconded by Mr. Ellis that a deputation wait on Mr.Christie & explain the case to him. Deputation to consist of Mr. Everry, Mr.York and the mover. Carried…..

Discussion ensued on men waiting after Four o’clock & remaining in the Paint Shop who had no work to go to. Left to By-law Committee.

Moved Mr.Creighton & seconded that a Committee be appointed to draw up by-laws. The Committee to consist of the following Mr. Nash, Mr. Condon, Mr.Vale, Mr. J. Moore, Mr.Buchanan, Mr.Green & Mr. Creighton. carried. (Minutes, 22/10/1900)

In the half-yearly elections, in January, 1901, Creighton, without any explanation, tendered his resignation as President and George Dulstone was elected in his place. (Minutes, 14/1/1901.) Possibly indicative of Creighton’s reasons for resigning, appeared in the April meeting when he and Gibson moved

That a vote of censure be passed on the Secretary for his maladministration of funds of this Union in as much as he did pay out of the funds of this Union the sum of nine shillings to the nine members that attended the Contingent Fund Committee meeting to draw up rules to govern same. (Mr. Creighton originally moved a vote of censure on the officers but withdrew it as the Secretary said it did not affect them.) A lot of discussion ensued on this matter & the Secretary explained that he paid the money according to By-law No.6 & also stated that the members that received the shilling each gave half to the contingent fund to start it. A division was then taken on the motion when it was lost by 30 to 2, the mover not voting & seconder voting against the motion. (Minutes, 9/4/1901)

At the same meeting, the Committee set up to prepare rules for a "Contingent Fund" reported. Although Creighton had been elected as one of the committee, he found himself in opposition to some of the proposals. His views on some rules were more reasonable and compassionate, but were not accepted,

Mr.Creighton suggested that a fixed sum should be decided on as some members may receive more than others if decided by vote. On being put to the meeting Rule No.3 was adopted.

Moved & seconded that Rule No.4 be adopted.

Mr. Tarlington objected to the latter part of this Rule dealing with drunkenness. Mr. Creighton also objected & stated that it did not matter what caused the sickness the member should be entitled to benefits. Rule 4 was adopted on being put to the meeting. (Minutes, 9/4/1901)

At the half-yearly meeting, Creighton reported as one of a deputation which had approached the Minister about shipping companies

which used the Government Dock at Cockatoo Island but paid less than the minimum wage and that

the Minister assured the deputation that he would insert a clause in the contract to lessees of the Docks that would compel them to pay the minimum wage. Mr. Creighton also pointed out to the Minister that the men employed at scraping, painting, etc., at Cockatoo did not belong to our Union. The Minister explained that he would not like to force men into a union but he would give our Union a fair share of the work there & would cause a letter to be sent to our Secretary when work was to be done there….The deputation consisted of Mr. Thrower & Mr. Worley President & Secretary of the Labor Council respectively and Mr. Jos Creighton. (Minutes, 17/6/1901)

On that occasion, the half-yearly election of officers resulted in Creighton being elected as vice President.

Creighton’s attitude at times was difficult to fathom. While he supported action, including strike action, for men to gain increases in wages, he, nevertheless, placed himself in opposition to other claims for higher wages. In the case of chargehands, who complained that as those in charge of jobs, they should receive some recompense for the responsibility, Creighton took a stand against a move in that direction.

Mr. Creighton raised a point of order that according to our Rules we had no power to demand a higher rate of wages for a few of its members. (Minutes, 29/7/1901).

The President accepted the point and ruled the motion to seek an increase, by one of the chargehands, out of order.

His popularity amongst members and his constant attendance at meetings, brought him the Presidency in the election of officers for the first six months of 1902. George Dulstone, also an active and regular attender at meetings was elected as Vice President and Frederick Anning continued to be elected as Assistant Secretary.

His popularity was extremely high when, as President in 1903, Creighton accepted a motion, of which notice had been given by Jno McKew,

That the sum of five pounds be donated to the President Mr Jos Creighton & in doing so he referred to the length of time the President had occupied the chair & that his services should be recognised in some manner.

Mr. Liaubon seconded the motion …. & while he was referring to the good work done by the President we should not forget the Vice President & he would like to see the sum of £2.2.0 voted to the Vice President.

An amendment moved by Mr.J. Vale & seconded by Mr. J.Tarlington that the sum of £2.2.0 Two guineas be voted to the President…. said… he did not move the amendment with any idea of animosity whatsoever but simply….as he considered we were not in a position to vote away these large sums of money.

On being put to the meeting the amendment was defeated and the motion carried "almost unanimously". Creighton then thanked the members and

In replying …. gave a brief resume of the inauguration of the Union & stated that if both motion & amendment had been defeated he would have worked just as hard for the union & it was not the monetary value he placed on the vote but the manner in which it had been carried showed him that he had the respect & confidence of the members & he hoped it would be an incentive to the younger members to work for the different offices in the Union.(Minutes, 12/1/1902)

The Management Committee met some three months later and amongst other matters considered what appeared to be the first breach between Creighton and the Union, although he continued to chair meetings. Without giving any specifics, the minutes record

That the charge against Jos Creighton for breach of By-Law 3 be dismissed & that this Committee recommend to the Union that the Presidents case be tried under Rule 12 by the Union for misconduct. (Minutes, 6/3/1902)

Rule 12 dealt with the "Resignation of Officers" but simply provided for filling a vacant position and "should any Officer be absent for Three Successive Meetings his office may be declared vacant except such absence be caused through illness…." By-Law 3 was not spelled out and a copy of the By-laws in that period was not available. Nor did the Minutes contain any record of Creighton’s "misconduct".

When the Committee’s recommendation came before a general meeting, the minutes simply noted

The evidence before the Management Committee was read as was also the recommendation. Moved by Mr.Wilson & seconded that Mr.Creighton leave the room

Amendment moved by W. Daley & seconded that the case be no further heard. A great amount of discussion took place on this matter & on being put to the meeting the amendment was carried. (Minutes 23/3/1903)

Creighton’s unexplained, seemingly out-of-character behaviour on that occasion in March, suggestive of a turn against the Union (or its officials), was matched by a further incident in May when

Moved Jos Veil, seconded Green That Mr Creighton be asked to leave the room on account of his disorderly conduct. Motion not put….

….Attention was called at this stage to the conduct of Mr Creighton & it was moved by Mr Vale & seconded by Mr Ostler that the fine of five shillings be imposed on him for disorderly conduct.

Amendment moved by Mr Brennan & seconded by Mr Davis That no further action be taken in reference to Mr Creighton.

On being put to the meeting the motion was carried. (Minutes, 11/5/1903.)

But while imposition of a fine rather than a stronger penalty, may have indicated that Creighton still commanded strong support in the Union, shortly after the meeting took note once more of his apparent unruly behaviour

Moved by Mr Tarlington & seconded that Mr Creighton be called upon to give an explanation of his conduct at the next meeting. Carried. (Minutes, 11/5/1903)

Still without any record on what caused Creighton to behave in a manner which brought the calls for action against him, he tendered his resignation as President at a Summons Meeting on 1st June, 1903, and this was accepted by a vote of 39 to 3 after some debate on the matter. Still no reasons were given.

At the half-yearly meeting, H.Wilson was elected President, and Creighton requested "privilege to bring a matter before the union". On being granted, he asked that the matter of his being fined 5/- at an earlier meeting be referred to the Management Committee for reconsideration. Instead, however, the meeting decided that the fine be "remitted". (Minutes, 29/6/1903.)

Still able to command some respect, later in the year he put forward a proposal with regard to funerals, which was adopted:

That in future a member’s death be advertised in the papers & the Secretary to attend the funeral, the cost to be paid by the Union. (Minutes, 19/10/1903)

But, from early in 1904, his popularity headed downwards. On 1st February, 1904, the Management Committee was called together for the urgent attention of what the President described as

A very grave matter & one in which the Union’s existence was at stake & he hoped we would be able to arrive at some understanding to counteract the evil.

Thus began the saga of Joseph Creighton, one-time President of the Union on whom the Union had lavished its praises and a special presentation. But also, one who had been in trouble for some time with the union, leading to a fine, and suggestive of a downhill slide in his attitude towards the Union.

The case was that Mort's Dock & Engineering Co. had altered the existing conditions by sub-letting contracts, inasmuch as they had sub-let a contract to one of our members, Jos Creighton to scrape decks of ship Miltenburn

The Committee then considered the matter & decided to recommend the following to the Union

1st The necessity of taking stringent steps to put down the pernicious system of sub-letting contracts.

  1. by enforcing a penalty not exceeding ten shillings for each offence against any of our members working for a sub-contractor
  2. the expulsion from the Union of any member or members taking a sub-contract

The Committee instructed the Secretary to write to Mr Franki against the alteration of existing conditions

They further instructed the Secretary to summons Jos Creighton to attend the next meeting of the Union & explain his reasons for working against the best interests of the Union inasmuch as he endeavoured to alter existing conditions after we had entered into a two-year Industrial Agreement such agreement being made the Common Rule.

The Committee also decided to call a Special Meeting for Monday 8th February to consider their report.

At the Special Meeting, the President, Mr.E.Tarlington, called on the Secretary, Bob Mahony, to present the report from the Management Committee and he made it plain

that the introduction of this system was an alteration of existing conditions inasmuch as it was the introduction of the piece work system in lieu of the time system……

Several members spoke against the introduction of this system & it finally being put to the meeting the Committee’s recommendations were carried unanimously.

Joseph Creighton having been summoned to attend to explain his attitude in reference to working against the best interests of the Union, was then called on for his explanation. He stated that the Union should leave this matter over until he had decided a case which he intended to take against the Secretary in the Court & he would make no further statement.

The Secretary stated that he waited on Mr. Christie in reference to men employed on ship Miltenburn & asked him if he was guaranteeing the 10½d per hour. He said he was giving no guarantee as he was only responsible to one man viz Jos Creighton he having taken the contract for the job.

The Secretary then waited on the men that were employed by Creighton & told the conditions they were working under. George Johnstone stated that he would not work under the conditions. E.Richards stated that the Foreman painter stated that he would guarantee him 10½d per hour. Went with Richards to the Foreman & asked him if he guaranteed Richards 10½d per hour. He stated he would not as Creighton had a contract & he was the responsible person.

The Secretary also stated that he had waited on Mr Franki & protested against the alteration of existing conditions by him. Mr Franki claimed that he had a perfect right to give a sub-contract to any person & he intended to take legal advice in reference to the matter. He further said that this man had made repeated applications for a contract & he had given him one. It was pointed out to Mr Franki that if it was right for him to give the deck of the ship to one man, it was equally right for him to cut the deck up in sections & give the work out on the same principle & if we agreed to this proposal would be agreeing to piece work & would be assisting to break the Agreement.

Mr Creighton stated that he had paid the men 10½d per hour & if he had not taken the job, the men would have lost it. The job had been taken to give the men work. He said he would leave the matter with the Union to decide & proceeded to explain what he had done for the Union & criticised the action of the Secretary in the matter & said the Secretary had no business to interfere with him…..

Moved by Mr Creighton that his explanation was satisfactory, fell through for want of a seconder.

It was further stated that Mr Creighton had stated that he intended to break up the Union. Also that he had endeavoured to get a petition signed by the old men to work for a lesser rate & that he intended to make the younger members poor & bring them down as they had done so to him…..

Moved by Mr H Reynolds & seconded by Mr W Corbett That Jos Creighton’s explanation is unsatisfactory. Carried by 69 to 1.

Moved by Mr F Baker & seconded by Mr W Corbett That Jos Creighton be expelled from this Union for his action in working against the best interests of the Union. Carried 46 to9.

(Minutes, 8/2/1904)

Creighton’s expulsion for breaking down of a vital condition of employment and his consequent hostility towards the Union, did not end with the expulsion, but undoubtedly inflamed his desire for revenge. His next step was noted in a special meeting of the Management Committee which, the President announced, had been convened as the result of a letter received from the Registrar of the Arbitration Court, calling on the Union to show cause why it should not be"cancelled". The letter spelled out that action was proposed through the union expelling one of its members.

Affidavits were also enclosed by Jos Creighton, Jas Patterson & Thos Sloan. In their affidavits they set out that it was the usual custom for our members to take sub-contracts & to work under similar conditions as was worked on ship Miltonburn.

Joseph Creightons affidavit also set out that he had taken the job from the Captain of the ship & the men employed were his co-partners & the money was shared equally amongst them.

The Committee then considered the case & felt strongly that the men should be proceeded against for perjury.

They then instructed the Secretary to place the case in the hands of our Solicitors & file the necessary affidavit in reply.

They further instructed the Secretary to call a Summons Meeting if after he had seen the Solicitors he thought it necessary. (Minutes, 21/10/1904)

The Creighton saga gathered momentum when the matter was reported to a meeting in October. Mahony stated that he had forwarded all the necessary paperwork to the solicitors, Brown and Beeby, including a letter from one of the plaintiff members employed by Creighton (E.Richards) declaring

That if the Secretary cancelled his work in the future, proceedings will be taken & requesting members to be notified at the next summons meeting.

Mahony also had spoken to the lawyers about Creighton’s application for deregistration of the Union and the lawyers had asked him to bring the three men employed by Creighton to their office. He and the President had then approached Richards who point blank refused even if he was paid for any lost time from work. On approaching O’Shaughnessy, he agreed to sign an affidavit that he was employed by Creighton at 10½d. per hour. The third man involved, George Johnston agreed to put off his trip to Lawson in order to attend the solicitors’ offices and sign the necessary papers. With the three men present at the Union meeting, questions were fired at them. Richards, in particular, made accusations against Mahony which Mahony denied, of having the Foreman take him off the contract work. Richards also claimed that he was paid for his work by some mysterious person named F.Holman. The meeting debated and questioned and considered prosecution proceedings against the men for perjury. In the end, the matter was left with the Management Committee to deal with and report back to another meeting. (Minutes, 31/10/1904)

In December, Mahony reported on attending Court on three occasions over the Cancellation case, after which the Registrar reserved his decision. The Registrar had written to two members to give evidence, but one was not called and the other, B.Ellis, gave evidence supportive of the Union. Four other witnesses were called by the Union.

On 16th December, 1904, the Registrar handed down his decision (see Appendix 6(b)). This was later reported to the Management Committee through a letter from the Solicitors which also advised the Union on the course it should adopt. The Committee then decided that Mahony should get advice from the Solicitors on the possibility of a perjury case against Creighton and the others. It then decided

That they deeply deplore the action of the registrar inasmuch as he did receive a private communication from Creighton while he the registrar occupied a Judicial position and on the representation made in such communication he did allow Creighton to give further evidence being simply a contradiction of his previous statement. (Minutes, 21/12/1904)

At the last meeting of the year, the Committee’s deliberations on the Creighton case were reported in full including the Solicitors’ advice that the best course for the Union to pursue was to readmit Creighton as a member of the Union.

Moved by Mr.E.Talbot & seconded by Mr. Brennan that we adopt the advice of our solicitors & reinstate Creighton as a member & pointed out that if the case went to Court we in all probability would lose the case as the Registrar stated in his Judgment that the grounds we had expelled Creighton for were not sufficient & the Court was not likely to go behind their Officers.

Mr.Tarlington opposed the motion and stated that we ought to fight the matter as according to the Registrar’s own statement we had proved our case. The registrar had also received a letter from Creighton & on the strength of the letter he had allowed Creighton to be sworn again & contradict his previous statement…..….

Mr.Finlayson also opposed the motion.

Mr. H.Walker said the case narrowed itself down to the fact whether the reason we expelled Creighton was sufficient in itself.

The Secretary pointed out the fact that if we took the case into Court we could not produce any fresh evidence & we would be confined down to the resolution that expelled Creighton & after the Registrar’s Judgment & the advice of the Solicitors we had no other course open only to reinstate Creighton……

Talbot’s motion, on being put to a vote was carried by 32 votes to, 2. (Minutes, 28/12/1904)

The Acting Industrial Registrar, possibly getting wind of some rearguard action by the Union, wrote to advise that it should readmit Creighton unconditionally. (Minutes, 9/1/1905) On the 6th February, 1905, the meeting received a letter from Creighton in which "he accepted our offer to re-instate him as a member". But in March, the meeting carried a motion to remind him of his arrears in Union dues.

On 10th October, 1910, the Secretary reported the death of Joseph Creighton.

He was the first President of the Union and had taken a prominent part in the union for a number of years.

With that brief word of recognition, the meeting stood in silence for one minute on his passing.

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