MacQueen, William 'Billy', 1875-1908

William "Billy" MacQueen
William "Billy" MacQueen

A short biography of English anarchist William "Billy" MacQueen who was active in Leeds until emigrating to the US.

Submitted by Steven. on September 21, 2004

William 'Billy' MacQueen
Born 14 January 1875 – UK, died 1908 - UK

"Tall, energetic and a good speaker"- Julius Seltzer in Anarchist Voices, Paul Avrich (ed.)

William 'Billy' MacQueen was born on 14th January 1875 at 34 Charlotte Street, London W1. Son of Robert MacQueen, a painter, from a family of tailors originally from Scotland, William started in the painting trade before leaving home. He later worked as commercial traveller, and always used his going around the country in the job to do anarchist propaganda. He became an active anarchist in Manchester and Leeds at the end of the 1890s.

He was a good public speaker, especially in Burnley where his speeches on the market square worried the Social Democratic Federation, the Marxist group headed by Henry Hyndman. Anarcho-syndicalist Rudolf Rocker said that he was the best of the English speakers in Leeds and an "able and extremely likeable young man". He arranged meetings for the visiting American anarchist Emma Goldman in Leeds on her tour in 1895. He organised a massive and successful demonstration on 1 October 1899 in Leeds with nine speakers and a crowd of 2,000 in opposition to the Boer War. He was badly beaten and nearly lynched by a jingoist mob after his speech against the Boer War in 1900 at a following demonstration in Leeds.

He was the driving force behind the activity of the Leeds Anarchist Group. For a time he lived in a house with Solomon Ploschansky and Hanna Kiselevsky, both anarchists. He wrote articles for the anarchist paper Freedom and he edited an anarchist monthly in Leeds called the Free Commune (1898-1899) with an associate, Henry.

He became friends with Rudolf Grossmann (Pierre Ramus) the Austrian anarchist. Together with the anarchist Alf Barton of Manchester (see the libcom article on the struggle for free speech in Manchester) he brought out The Anarchist Newsletter in 1900 with a view to promote ' means of communication between the comrades ( 31st August 1900). He brought out Johann Most's Communist Anarchism (in German) in 1901. He continued to bring out pamphlets in Leeds under The Free Commune imprint, before moving to Hull, a centre for German anarchist refugees.

Unemployment and the persuasion of Most led to him to emigrate to the States and he became editor of the anarchist paper Liberty in Paterson and New York.(1902-3). He was imprisoned for 5 years as a result of agitation during the Paterson strike of 1902 with Luigi Galleani and Rudolf Grossmann when they all addressed a mass meeting.

They were all arrested for inciting a riot under the newly introduced Criminal Anarchy laws along with Johann Most. He jumped bail, but returned to face trial. He was released after 3 years on condition he left the US and never returned. His health broken, as a result of the appalling prison conditions, due to which he contracted TB, he returned to England, and died soon after at the age of 33 in 1908.

Nick Heath
With additional information and photograph provided by William's grandson, Bob, 2006


Kate Sharpley

12 years ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Kate Sharpley on April 11, 2012

The KSL blog has a piece in the pipeline on "The Free Commune" and Billy MacQueen:

We are beginning to think about scanning some of the material we hold in the KSL archives. What we want to do, though, is try to put what we scan into some kind of context and not just leave it floating around aimlessly on the “world wide web”. Anyhow – here’s a paper that interests us, The Free Commune from Leeds. It appears to have been published during 1898 and it re-invented itself as The Free Commune: A Quarterly Magazine in January 1899. KSL holds No. 3 of The Free Commune and No. 1 of the The Free Commune Magazine. (If you can send us other copies that would be a treat!!!)

You can read the rest at:
[edited to remove link to article until it's ready to go, edited again to put italic back for publication titles; and replacing link.]


12 years ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Steven. on April 10, 2012

Hey, that link just gives a "page not found" message.

But from the quote, that's great news that you are thinking about scanning material from your archives! If there is anything libcom can do to help let us know


3 years 5 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Battlescarred on November 13, 2020

ta, changed it.