The Sole Society, a Family History Society researching Sole, Saul, Sewell, Solley and similar names


Bootmaker, Trade Unionist and Politician

This article was originally published in the August 2012 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society


Robert Henry Solly was born on 9th September 1859 at Ellington, Kent, England the son of Stephen Solly, labourer, and his wife Eliza, née Sage.  He was employed as a local farm-hand when he was seven then took a job in a rope factory at Ramsgate before being apprenticed to a boot maker at Newcastle upon Tyne. In 1876, after he had completed his apprenticeship he emigrated with his brother  to Adelaide, Australia.


He worked as a station hand and a boot maker in Victoria before returning to Adelaide where he married Mary Graham at St Patrick's Catholic Church, West Terrace, on 12th September 1883. In 1885 they moved to Collingwood, Melbourne where Robert worked as a boot maker. He became prominent on its executive during the 1890s, a time of struggles with employers over mechanization, subdivision of labour and wage reductions. In 1901-04 he was the union's secretary; he also represented employees on the Victorian Boot Wages Board.


Robert Solly was a founding member of the Richmond branch of the Progressive Political League, which later became the Australian Labor Party and was the first Labor member of the Richmond City Council (1903-09). In June 1904 he entered the Victorian Legislative Assembly as special representative of the railway officers and held the position until November 1906. Following a number of unsuccessful bids for parliament he represented Carlton in the Victorian Legislative Assembly in 1908-32.


He was a member of six royal commissions, was on the board of trustees of the Exhibition Building and on the councils of the Working Men's College and the University of Melbourne.


The Australian Dictionary of Biography states that during his long term in parliament he was distinguished more by diligence and integrity than brilliance. Rather than deliver prepared speeches, he contributed to debate with spontaneous declarations on subjects that particularly moved him. Genial but quick-tempered, he was respected as a man of sincerity, loyalty and fairness, and admired as a self-educated. Throughout his career he worked to improve conditions for the working class. Consistent in his principles, he remained on the left of the labor movement. He died on 5th June 1932 at his Carlton home and was buried in the Melbourne general cemetery. One of his four children was Robert Henry Solly who became mayor of Melbourne in 1953.




Architect, Businessman, Lord Mayor


Robert Henry Solly was born on 14th December 1883 in Adelaide the oldest of seven children of the Robert Henry Saul described above.  He went to St Ignatius' School, Richmond, and then won a scholarship to St Patrick's College, East Melbourne, where he became a brilliant scholar and a champion athlete.  He married Victoria O’Brien, a machinist, at St Ignatius' Catholic Church, Richmond, on 15th November 1909.  They had at least two daughters.  He died on 2nd November 1968 in East Melbourne and was buried in Fawkner cemetery.


In 1901 he began work as a junior draughtsman in the office of I. G. Beaver, architect, he became principal draughtsman and then moved on to join Wunderlich Ltd in 1908 to take charge of its architectural department becoming sales manager and later a director.  In 1958 he was elected an honorary member of the Master Builders' Association of Victoria.


Robert Solly was elected to the Melbourne City Council in 1934 as an Independent candidate for Victoria Ward and served on the council till 1968. He held various positions and established the Olympic Civic Committee to prepare the city for the 1956 games first to be staged in the southern hemisphere as well as the first to be held outside Europe and North America.  On 31st August 1953 he was elected lord mayor.

The Australian Dictionary of Biography says of Henry Solly:


‘Of middle height and solid build, he exuded dignity with his erect carriage, silver hair, grave demeanour and measured tread. He was a fluent speaker whose mastery of language was unequalled by his fellow councillors. His reputation for poise and polish made him an appropriate choice to host the visit of Queen Elizabeth II in 1954.


…... a warm and generous man, deeply devoted to his family and always anxious to help the young. A smoker and moderate drinker, he had been a leader of his parish's 4-T Club ('teetotal till twenty-two') in his youth. He was a member of the Melbourne Cricket Club, the Fitzroy and Carlton football clubs, the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria and the Melbourne Swimming Club.’


St Patrick’s College, East Melbourne, where Robert Henry Solly studied between 1896-1900

St Patrick’s College, East Melbourne, where Robert Henry Solly studied between 1896-1900