“A Capitalistic War”

Making statements likely to prejudice recruiting, training, discipline and administration of his Majesty’s Forces to wit the following words, “This war is a capitalistic war. The King ought to be shot, the Queen ought to have her throat cut.”

This was the charge laid against James Lalor at his arrest by the Wagga Wagga Police on 10 August 1915.

James Lalor was originally from Ballarat in Victoria. He was married to Jane Armstrong and together they had seven children. In 1915, he was employed as an underground manager at the Bangadang Mine, near Adelong, having left his family in Melbourne.

Lalor spent the evening of 9 August 1915, a Monday, at the Royal Hotel in Wagga Wagga where he became involved in a heated argument about the war with Thomas Williams of Tumbarumba.

The Royal Hotel in the 1800s.
The Royal Hotel on the corner of Baylis and Forsyth Streets, c. 1905 [from the Tom Lennon Collection, RW1574/1560].
Williams claimed that Lalor had said, “This is a capitalists’ war – a rich man’s war. Half-a-dozen men started it; let them fight it out. The men who enlist are fools and English officers are all cowards. Kitchener and Methuen were cowards in the Boer War, and they didn’t win their commissions, they bought them. The King of England should be shot and the Queen should have her throat cut.”

Williams then apparently invited James to go outside “where he would deal with him,” but Lalor ran away.

The next day, Police Constable Johnson arrived at the Wagga Hotel (which is now the Astor) and arrested Lalor for disloyal utterances under the War Precautions Act.

Lalor came up before Mr CJB Helm, Police Magistrate, on 30 August 1915 at the Wagga Wagga Court. In giving his defence, Lalor stated that some years before he had received injuries to his head in a mining accident and the doctor had advised him never to drink spirits. However, in the last 12 months he had taken to drinking heavily and on the night of the incident he had been drinking a lot of whisky. He had no recollection of the argument or of what he might have said or done.

The Police Magistrate found him guilty of the charge but made allowances for the effects of the obvious injury to his head. He was fined £100 or six months imprisonment.  He was sent to Albury gaol.

The story of Lalor’s arrest was picked up by papers right across Australia and at some point, someone made the coincidental connection between James and Peter Lalor (of Eureka Stockade fame), presumably because of their surname, occupations and home state.

Newspaper heading, "Peter Lalor's Grandson in Trouble. Charged with Disloyalty."

However, the last remaining grandson of Peter Lalor, Dr Peter Lalor, soon wrote to “The Age,” denying the relationship, stating “I am the sole surviving grandson of Peter Lalor, my only brother having been killed in action four months ago at the Dardanelles.”

Despite the charges, James “did his bit” for the war. He presented himself for enlistment in the Australian Imperial Force on 1 March 1916 at the Melbourne Town Hall (presumably right after he was released from gaol). He was in France with the 58th Battalion for most of 1917 and returned to Australia in February 1918, discharged as medically unfit due to rheumatism and overage (he was in his late 40s or early 50s). His own son also enlisted at the age of 18 under his mother’s maiden name, and served at Gallipoli and in France.

The Police Charge Books

James Lalor’s story came to our attention while we were working on some other research in the Police Charge Books. CSU Regional Archives has a good collection of Police Charge Books from the Riverina and Murray districts which are available for research by the public.

A page from the Wagga Wagga Police Charge Book, 1915 [CSURA SA1519/11]
James Lalor’s entry in the Wagga Wagga Police Charge Book [SA1519/11]. Click on the image for a larger version.
The earliest Charge Book we hold is from the Wagga Wagga Police Station which dates back to 1898 (even though there has been a police presence here since July 1847). Unsurprisingly, the first charge recorded in this particular Charge Book was a man charged with drunkenness on Fitzmaurice Street. His name was Arthur Robinson, a 52 year old clerk who had been born in England. He was fined £1.

Page 1 of Wagga Wagga Police Charge Book, 1898 (SA1519/1).

Anyone who wishes to use the police charge books must remember that these records have an Access Restriction of 100 years. This means only those Charge Books dating from February 1916 and earlier are publicly available. Please see our “Guide to State Records – Law and Order” on our website for more detailed information.

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