Born in Ramsgate, New South Wales, to Stephen Solly and Eliza Sage, he received no formal education and worked on a farm and a rope factory. At the age of ten he moved to Newcastle to work in the boot trade, and travelled to South Australia when he was seventeen. After a year in Adelaide he travelled back to New South Wales via Victoria, where he worked as a station hand.
In 1904 he was elected to the Victorian Legislative Assembly as the Labor member for Railway Officers, resigning in 1906 to run for the House of Representatives.
Having been unsuccessful, he returned to the Assembly via a by-election for the seat of Carlton and served until his death at Carlton in 1932.