Edward Rennix (‘Ted’) Larkin was a well-known sporting identity who became the first Labor Member for Willoughby in the NSW Legislative Assembly at the December 1913 election. He was born at North Lambton, NSW, on 21 September 1880 to William Joseph Larkin, a quarryman and his wife Mary Ann, née Rennix. The Larkin family moved to Camperdown in Sydney where the young Ted Larkin was schooled at St Benedict’s Broadway, run by the Marist Brothers. For his last two years of senior schooling, Ted won a scholarship to board at St Joseph’s College, Hunters Hill, where he played in the college’s 1896 first rugby XV.
On leaving school, Larkin initially worked in journalism before joining the Metropolitan Police Force in 1903 as a foot-constable, being promoted to first-constable in 1905. Nevertheless, he maintained an active sporting involvement, particularly in cricket, swimming and rugby union. In 1903 he was captain of the Endeavour Rugby Club at Newtown and made his representative debut for New South Wales against Queensland and then the touring New Zealand side before being selected for Australia in the first test of 1903 at Sydney against the All Blacks on 15 August.1
Ted Larkin knew and sympathised with a number of the senior rugby union players who in 1906 and 1907 became discontented with the administration of the New South Wales Rugby Union, over rejection of compensation payments for injuries and lost wages. The breakaway Rugby League was established in 1908, but the financial failure of the 1908-09 Kangaroo tour of Great Britain and claims of mismanagement by the League’s founding fathers James Joseph Giltinan, cricketer Victor Trumper and Labor politician Henry Hoyle, the future of the pioneer was soon in jeopardy. Larkin was appointed the first full-time secretary of NSW Rugby League in June 1909 and played a key role in building the code. Larking persuaded convinced the Catholic education hierarchy and the Marist Brothers in particular to adopt rugby league as their winter sporting game and under his guidance, the code became the dominant winter sport in Sydney.2
A gifted public speaker, Larkin had developed a strong sense of social justice during his years in the police force and read widely on social issues.3 With the Labor Party forming the NSW Government in 1910, albeit with a slender majority, and its popularity on the rise under its new leader, William Holman, Larkin was endorsed as the Labor Party candidate for the new seat of Willoughby in December 1913 state election. The area was formerly within the Lane Cove seat and the former member for that seat, David Fell, was retiring at this election, bringing forward a rush of candidates to succeed him. The Liberal Party selected Mr G G Flemming as its candidate, but the selection was controversial and Sir William McMillan and a former parliamentarian Mr E M Clark stood as ‘Independent Liberal’ candidates, while Mr E M Carrington stood for George Beeby’s National Progressive Party. Thus, the Willoughby seat attracted wide coverage in the media of the day.4
At the first ballot for Willoughby on 6 December, Larkin received 3805 to Flemming’s 2777, with Sir William McMillan polling 1951 votes, Carrington 212 and Clark 197; which meant that Larkin and Flemming faced off in a second ballot on Saturday 13 December. The situation resulted in a crisis meeting of Liberal Party supporters at the Arcade, Crows Nest, to try and unite the factions within the party. It was to no avail and Larkin won the second ballot with 51.6% of the vote. The result brought an excited response by Labor supporters, who arranged a torchlight procession from Crows Nest up Lane Cove Road led by a brass band with Ted Larkin held aloft by several men. Unfortunately “a number of women and several men hissed the new member” when the poll was declared.5
Across the state, the second ballots brought a decisive electoral victory for the Labor Party. William Holman became New South Wales’ second Labor Premier with a substantial majority and a mandate for significant social and economic reforms. Larkin was the first Labor Member of the NSW Parliament elected from the north side of the harbour. He was appointed as the government representative on the board of Royal North Shore Hospital and was vocal in his support for proposal to build a bridge across Sydney Harbour.6
Larkin enlisted within ten days of the declaration of World War I, joining C Company of the 1st Battalion, 1st Brigade (New South Wales) of the First Australian Imperial Force‘s 1st Division. Larkin publicly stated that he felt it was his duty to enlist “to set an example to go and set an example to those, like himself, belonged to great athletic organisations”.7 The battalion left Australia in October 1914, arriving in Egypt on 2 December.
Larkin’s brother Martin also embarked on the Transport A19 for Egypt where Ted, now a sergeant, was active in promoting games of rugby league amongst the troops.
The battalion landed at Anzac Cove at dawn on 25 April 1915 as part of the second and third waves. It took part in the desperate struggle for the dominating hill known as Baby 700. The Turks wrested control of the hill and counter-attacked to drive the Australians out.
That afternoon Ted Larkin died in a hail of machine gun fire. Some sources state: “Wounded and dying he lay, yet when the stretcher-bearers came to carry him in, he waved them on, saying ‘There’s plenty worse than me out there’. Later they found him dead”.8 His brother, Martin (aged 35), also died there that day, Neither body was recovered until the burial Armistice of 24 May but there is no known grave for either of the Larkin brothers, who are listed on the ANZAC Memorial at Pine Ridge on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Ted and Martin Larkin were both awarded posthumously the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.9
Confirmation of Larkin’s death didn’t reach Australia until June, whereupon a requiem mass was celebrated at St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney attended by many distinguished citizens including the Premier and the Governor of New South Wales.
Edward Larkin was one of only two serving members of any Australian parliament to fall in World War I, the other being Lt-Colonel George Braund, Member for Armidale in NSW. On 30 November 1915, in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, the Speaker unveiled a commemorative tablet in honour of Lieutenant-Colonel George Braund and Sergeant Edward Rennix Larkin, Member for Willoughby who both fell at Gallipoli. The plaque reads:
In time of Peace they readily asserted the rights of citizenship. In time of War they fiercely protected them.
The 1915 Sydney Rugby League City Cup grand final was held as a testimonial for Ted Larkin’s widow and sons and raised £171. The St Joseph’s College Old Boys’ Union set up the Sergeant Larkin Bursary to help finance his sons fees at the College. The family eventually declined the offer, but the bursary has survived to this day as the Old Boys’ Bursary.
1 Chris Cunneen, ‘Larkin, Edward Rennix (1880-1915)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 9, Melbourne University Press, 1983.
2 Cunneen, Chris, The best ever Australian Sports Writing. Australia: Black Inc., 2000, p. 321.
3 Chris Cunneen, ADB, 1983, as above.
4 Western Herald (Bourke), Wednesday 3 December 1913, p2, Willoughby
5 Sydney Morning Herald, 9 December 1913, p10, ‘The Willoughby Seat’; The Bathurst Times, Monday 15 December 1913, p2, ;Labor Victory’; Sydney Morning Herald, Tuesday 16 December 1913, p2, ‘Decisive Labor Victory’.
6 Sydney Morning Herald, Tuesday 16 December 1913, as above; Friday 19 December 1913, p13, ‘New Politicians: E GLarkin’.
7 Sydney Morning Herald, 25 September 1915, p18, Letter George Black
8 Heads, Ian and Middleton, David (2008), A Centenary of Rugby League, MacMillan Sydney, quoting the war memoir, Imperishable Anzacs by Harold Cavill; C E W Bean, The Story of Anzac (Syd, 1921, 1924)
9 Sydney Morning Herald, 26 June 1915, p10, Sergeant Larkin MLA, ‘Requiem Mass at St Mary’s’