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Brophy, Daniel (1832–1895)

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

Daniel Brophy (1832-1895), businessman, philanthropist and parliamentarian, was born on 13 November 1832 at Castlecomer, County Kilkenny, Ireland, the youngest son of William Brophy, farmer, and his wife Margaret, née Purcell. In the Irish rebellion of 1798 the family estates had been confiscated; his father escaped to Newfoundland but returned after fourteen years and regained some of his property. Daniel was educated in local schools including one run by Quakers. At 15 he went with his family to Quebec in a migrant ship whose passengers were decimated by fever. His mother died on the voyage and his father soon after landing. Daniel found work in a shipyard but did not like it and entered a grocery warehouse.

Attracted by the Victorian gold discoveries, he arrived at Melbourne in 1853. With four Irish friends he set off for Bendigo on foot. Water was scarce on the track and they worked at a quarry near Keilor until the winter rains began. The party was credited with the first discovery of payable gold at Taradale, but by 1855 they had moved to Ballarat. There Brophy proved himself a shrewd investor in many successful mining ventures. He started as the first sluice man in the Great Extended Mine and later became a director and chairman when it was renamed the Band of Hope and Albion; its total yield was about £3,000,000. Brophy also invested in a Ballarat hotel which he greatly enlarged and in landed property. An enthusiastic promoter of local industries, he became a director of the Phoenix Foundry Co. and of the Ballarat Woollen Mills. In his later years he was the senior partner of Brophy, Foley, Dowling & Co., auctioneers and finance agents.

In the early 1860s Brophy bought land at Bungaree, where he was elected to the Road Board and served as its chairman. He soon won wider repute when he took his produce to Ballarat and became an outstanding salesman at the Haymarket. From 1873 he represented Central ward in the Ballarat City Council; after serving as mayor in 1876-77 he was presented with a testimonial and plate worth £300. He was also appointed a member of the Ballarat Water Commission. A leading organizer of local charities, he was president of the boards of the Ballarat Hospital and the Orphan Asylum. As a member of the committee of Nazareth House he knew that many inmates could not pay and was also convinced that public bodies subscribed too little to benevolent asylums. Always in sympathy with the poor and under-privileged he constantly proposed their support and helped them personally, thereby winning popularity among such groups as the Chinese.

As a sincere Roman Catholic and Irish nationalist Brophy won high repute among his co-religionists. In 1868 he had a leading part in raising a fund to relieve political Irish prisoners sent to Western Australia. A strong opponent to secular education he sent his younger daughters to Loreto Abbey, founded by Mother Gonzaga Barry. In 1877 when he won one of the two seats for Ballarat East in the Victorian Legislative Assembly he showed his liberalism and strong belief in democratic institutions. His speeches were brief but very practical. He supported Graham Berry in reform of the Legislative Council and regretted his inability to vote with him on a general revenue tariff which exceeded his own strong preference for protection only of colonial industries. He also opposed duties on tobacco and beer which bore hardly on the working class. Brophy lost his seat in the 1880 elections and after his defeat visited the United States in search of farm machinery which he imported to Victoria. A constant supporter of home rule he attended a meeting of Irishmen in April 1882 when it was proposed to send an address of sympathy to their homeland on the centenary of Henry Grattan's (1746-1820) declaration of Irish independence. For signing this address Brophy and other Irish members were bitterly criticized in the Legislative Assembly. Unrepentant, Brophy denied any disloyalty or dishonesty and declared, 'What I think on the subject I shall keep thinking to the day of my death'. At the next general elections he lost his seat.

In 1888 Brophy was made a knight of the Order of St Gregory the Great by Pope Leo XIII 'for long and faithful services to the Church'. In 1889 he visited Ireland and in October at a meeting of the central branch of the Irish National League in Dublin reported on the successful visits of Irish politicians to Australia. He died at his home, Corner Ville, Sturt Street, Ballarat, on 10 May 1895 and was buried from St Patrick's Cathedral. In 1859 he had married Ellen Mary Berkery; he was survived by five of their ten children.

Select Bibliography

  • H. M. Humphreys (ed), Men of the Time in Australia: Victorian series, 2nd ed (Melb, 1882)
  • A. Sutherland et al, Victoria and its Metropolis, vol 2 (Melb, 1888)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Victoria), 1892-93, 4, 932
  • Argus (Melbourne), 11 May 1895.

Citation details

'Brophy, Daniel (1832–1895)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/brophy-daniel-3070/text4531, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 13 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

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