Pit Boy to Privy Councillor (15.05.1922)
The Wonderful story of “Mabon”
The Right Hon William Abraham (Mabon) passed away at his residence at Ton Pentre at 9 o’clock last evening.
Mabon had been in indifferent health or a long time past, and a fortnight ago he was laid aside by severe bronchial trouble and pleurisy, complications to which he succumbed. The end had been expected for some days past, as the veteran leader, who was in his 80th year, was rapidly losing strength, and the end came peacefully just as twilight was deepening into night.
The Right Hon. William Abraham (Mabon) was born at Cwmavon in June 1842, and after receiving the rudiments of education in the village school started to work as a door-boy as the local colliery at the age of ten. At the age of 19 he married the daughter of Mr David William, the village blacksmith, and by her he had 12 children.
After serving a brief period at the Waenarlwydd Tin Works he went back to the mine and continued active work underground until he was 30 years of age.
When he was 31 years of age he became a miners’ agent bur before this he was busily disseminated in South Wales his views on democratic trade unionism and the necessity of welding the then existing small unions into one great organisation representing the whole coalfield.
A great strike in 1875 resulted in the defeat of the men and the cutting short of the careers of all his colleagues. At the close of the strike he was elected vice-president of the Amalgamated Society of Miners and the chairman of the workmen’s side of the South Wales and Monmouthshire Sliding Scale Committee, a position he held until the Conciliation Board was formed, when he was again chosen the chairman of the workmen’s side.
For many years Mabon remained a staunch advocate of the sliding scale principle of regulating wages; a system that was inaugurated in the coalfield after the 1875 strike, but in the end became a convert to a system of Conciliation Boards adopted by the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain, to which body the South Wales miners were now affiliated. Mabon was elected the first president of the South Wales Miners’ Federation.
It was in 1885 that Mabon entered Parliament when Glamorgan, at the result of the passing of the Re-distribution Act, was split up into the five constituencies. Mabon was elected Labour representative for the Rhondda in opposition to the last Mr Fred L. Davis, the nominee of the Rhondda Liberal Association.
Musician and Preacher
Mabon figured largely in Welsh life generally, as a preacher, a lecturer and singer, and he was one of the most popular conductors of the National Eisteddfod of the past generation.
As a lecturer and lay preacher his services were sought for throughout the Principality. A few years ago he was the recipient of a national testimonial being presented with a solid silver salver and a cheque for £1,760.
When the various associations of South Wales miners amalgamated into one Federation Mabon, as already stated, was chosen its president, and occupied that position until he retired in 1912.
He was also the treasurer of the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain, and took a prominent part in the settlement of the South Wales strike on 1898, and the national strike in 1912.
In 1910 Mr Abraham was sworn in as one of his Majesty’s Privy Councillors. When he retired from the presidency of the Miners’ Federation Mabon was appointed an honorary member of the Executive Council, and occasionally attended the meetings, but in recent years he had quietly enjoyed a well-earned retirement at Llantwit Major and at Pentre.
The University of Wales conferred upon him the degree of LL.D. in 1918
Mabon Dead 15.05.1922
A Great Welsh Personality
Patriot’s Remarkable Career
From pit-boy to Privy Councillor
The Right Hon. W. Abraham (Mabon), the veteran Welsh miners’ leader, died on Sunday night at his residence at Pentre.
Mabo had been in failing health for some months past, but of late his illness had taken a more serious turn, and during the last two weeks he was confined to his bed. Dr W.E Thomas, of Llysygraig, Pentre, was in daily attendance but latterly the patients’ condition had been regarded as hopeless, as he was suffering from severe bronchial trouble and pleurisy. His passing away at nine o’clock on Sunday night was not unexpected.
Many visitors had called upon the veteran miners’ leader during his illness, including Col. David Davies, M.P., the Right Hon. Thomas Richards, P.C., Sir Walter Nicholas, Col. D. Watts Morgan, D.S.O., C.B.E., M.P., J.P., and a host of other old-time associates in the industrial life of the Principality, Mabon leaves three children.
The Right Hon. William Abraham (Mabon), was well described as a national institution, and it was difficult for his generation to realise, on the occasion of his retirement from the presidency of the South Wales Miners’ Federation, that Mabon had formally severed his active connection with the organised Welsh miners. In the narrow sense of the word, he belonged exclusively to no party or creed, and his picturesque personality was an asset of rare value to the Welsh nation.
As in the case with many a man who has come to from large in the public horizon. Mabon was a man of humble parentage, and of practically no education in his early life. He was born in Cwmavon, in the Afan Valley, in 1842, and received but a smattering of education at the village school, for he was but nine years of age where he had to quit the seminary for the coal mine, where he commenced to earn his livelihood as a “tapper” and door-boy. From that date onwards, with the exception of a brief parenthetic change when working at the tin and copper works in the neighbourhood of his nativity, he was always identified in some direction or other with Welsh mining.
Mabon continued as a miner until he was thirty years ago. At that time there was no form of organisation amongst the miners, and as a young man he set it before himself as an ambition of his life to get the miners thoroughly organised. True, the Welsh miners were connected fitfully with some institution or other, but Mabon felt the urgent need of close organisation on proper lines, and when the opportunity on proper lines, and when the opportunity presented itself he lost no time in endeavouring to achieve the end which he had in view.
The opportunity came in connection with the great strike of 1871, and this was the turning point in the history of the miners’ organisation in Wales. Mabon naturally took a prominent part on this struggle; and he was first appointed as a paid miners’ agent on January 1 1873, after having previously served in the capacity of a lodge secretary for a twelvemonth Though he was then the youngest, he was admittedly the ablest of the eight miners’ leaders.
Four years later South Wales was again the venue of a prolonged and disastrous struggle between the coal-owners and the workmen. All of his colleagues succumbed in the struggle, and in 1876 Mabon was left alone as the only surviving miners’ agent, and for three dozen years he continued to be the acknowledge leader of the Welsh Miners.
It was however uphill work. For six months after the 1875 strike Mabon, to use his own words, “tramped from centre to centre” trying to bring about something like cohesion to the scattered forces of the miners. In 1877 he removed from Gowerton to the Rhondda at the request of the men at the latter place, and commenced organising the old Cambrian Miners’ Association, which became the parent of what afterwards described as the most powerful Trade Union existent.
Another great strike, that of 1898, brought about another revolution, and with this industrial calamity there came to an end of the Cambrian organisation and the advent of the Miners’ Federation, mainly through Mr W. Brace, who succeeded Mabon as president, seconded by Mr Ben Davies, miners’ agent, Pontypridd.
In the meantime the old sliding-scale became the regulator of the men’s wages, and during the whole period of its existence, form its formation in 1875 until the end came in 1898, Mabon continued to be the vice-president of the joint committee, and many were the intellectual duels that took place between him and the astute, able and accomplished representatives of the owners. During these 23 years he served under the late David Davis, of Maesyffynon, and subsequently under the late Lord Merthyr (then Sir William Thomas Lewis).
When the Conciliation Board was formed Mabon again occupied the chair on the workmen’s side, while on the owners’ side the chair was successively occupied by the late Mr Archibald Hood, Mr William Jenkins, Mr Edward Jones, and the late Mr F.L. Davies, while during the illness of the last-mentioned this position was filled by the late Mr W.J. Heppell.
With the M.F.G.B.
Mabon was likewise honoured by being called upon to fill important offices in connection with the Miners Federation of Great Britain. He was first a vice-president, and on the death of the late Mr Pickard, with characteristic generosity he refrained from contesting the presidency with the late Mr Enoch Edwards, preferring to be content with his old position of vice-president, so that this chief post should be conferred on his old friend and colleague. That the national organisation valued Mabon’s service was indicated by the fact that as a mark of appreciation he was appointed treasurer of that very important body, and he was consequently for many years and ex-officio member of the executive committee of the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain.
A dogged fighter and a diplomat.
Mabon’s Parliamentary career dated back to 1885, when he defeated the late Mr F.L. Davies, one of the most popular colliery owners in the country, by a majority of 876. So unassailable was his position that at the three subsequent general elections he was returned unopposed, and on each occasion when the seat was contested his majorities ran into thousands, his majority of 8,966 in the general election of January 1916, constituting a record.
As a Parliamentarian Mabon won for himself the respect and esteem of all parties, and this notwithstanding that he was dogged lighter who did not seem to know when he was defeated It was, however, due to his consummate diplomacy and tact that he was one of the few men who could fight to the bitter, and without the introduction of personal acerbities into the conflicts, however fierce they might be waged Much of his success both as a Parliamentarian and a leader of men was attributable to subtle diplomacy, his innate gentlemanly instincts and his profound knowledge of human nature, and particularly the Welsh people.
Nearest approach to office
Mabon always disclaimed having ever striven to become a distinguished politician or to seek office. His nearest approach to office, according to his own version of the incident, was when he was sent for by the late Sir William Harcourt with the view of discussing the probabilities of his being appointed to one of the Under-Secretary-ships of State for the Home Office. Always ready to sink his own personal ambitions for the sake of those when he thought had prior claim, he felt it his duty to place himself on one side and advance the claims of his friend and comrade Mr Thomas Burt, whose death only recently took place at a ripe old age.
Avowedly, the miners of South Wales had always the first claim upon him, and it was in their interests that he laboured most specifically during the whole of his busy life. And it must be not forgotten that his was a practical exemplification of “the strenuous life.” He combined in himself for some considerable time the Parliamentary representative of the Rhondda, the chief agent of the Rhondda (No 1) District of Miners (in the work of which he was fortunately ably assisted by his colleague, Mr D. Watts Morgan, who succeeded him in office), president of the South Wales Miners’ Federation, vice-president, and subsequently treasure of the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain, chairman of the workmen’s side of the Welsh Coal Trade Board, county magistrate, Methodist preacher, public lecturer, political speaker, and member of numerous House of Commons Committees and Royal Commissions, particularly that on accidents in mines, of which he was perhaps the most active member. He certainly did not find hang heavily of his hands.
Defeat of the old school
Mabon in the course of his devoted life oftentimes had to experience what it was to be under a “cloud.” His popularity would wane, but the Welsh miners invariably found out that Mabon’s leadership was sound in the end. It was not until the Cambrian strike that he failed to away the multitude, particularly in his own district. At that time, however, a dead set was made on the older leaders, and Mabon became the victim of a good deal of injustice and misrepresentations. He then got to realise to the full the bitterness and ingratitude. His was a most sensitive nature, and, consequently, he felt all the more keenly the rebuffs which he met at the hands of those whom he loved and served so faithfully and well.
But if the miners spurned him, honours were not withheld from him. In 1905 he was the recipient of a public testimonial which was an ascribed for by all classes of the community. He was made a member of the Privy Council in January 1911, and henceforth mainly at the suggestion of the ‘Western Mail,’ he was generally styled as the Right Honourable Mabon. In 1918 the Welsh University conferred upon Mabon the degree LL.D.
His failing health, which was brought about to a very great extent by the onslaughts made upon him by the young and ambitious leaders who were listened to by a large section of the men, induced him to relinquish the post of president of the South Wales Miners’ Federation in 1912. The conference on that occasion paid hi the compliment of retaining his seat on the Welsh Executive Council. Though he continued to take a deep interest in the general course of events, particularly those having reference to the mining community, he took very little active part in the moulding of the policy of the federation from that date. His place and his counsel, however, will be sorely missed, especially by those who were capable of realising the value of his rare judgement and ripe experience.
Mabon was not only a fervent Welshman, but he was a patriot in the widest sense of the word. When therefore, the world was startled by the outbreak of the Great War. Mabon emerged from his seclusion and one more appeared on the public platform. Although he was the in a enfeebled state, he attended the meeting addressed by Mr Austin Chamberlain in Mid-Rhondda to appeal for Kitchener’s recruits, and ‘a’ remarkably successful gathering was concluded by Mabon leading the enthusiastic audience with the singing of “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau” and he sang the Welsh National Anthem in a way which few others could. Before compulsory enlistment Mabon repeatedly appeared on the platform and lent the whole weight of his influence in the direction of doing all that was possible to win the war. And his appeals for recruits did not fall of deaf ears, for the miners enlisted in such numbers that it was found necessary to order a halt, otherwise the production of the necessary coal would have been jeopardised. His service to his country in this connection was a fitting close to Mabon’s public career. He however, continued to retain his seat in Parliament.
“Be the day never so long,
The bell at last doth toll for evensong”
And Mabon had at last to relinquish his seat in Parliament. This was in 1920, and he spent the remaining few years, in complete retirement.