Throughout the late nineteenth century, Ipswich was Queensland’s leading provincial industrial centre, with the town and its surrounding district containing the colony’s main railway workshops and the vast bulk of its coal mines. Reflecting this industrial base, organised labour in Ipswich secured some notable achievements. Trade unionism established a presence in the railway workshops as early as 1865, while the coal mining electorate of Bundamba was the first in Queensland to elect a ‘labour’ member of parliament, Thomas Glassey, in 1888. These early achievements were, however, more apparent than real. Throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century, social and political power in Ipswich continued to reside with a small number of ruling families who were able to successfully resist any challenges to their authority. This paper will explore the reasons for this elite’s domination of an Ipswich society where the bonds of locality proved stronger than any sense of class identity.