Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Coningham, Arthur (1863–1939)

by Bede Nairn

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Arthur Coningham (1863-1939), cricketer and notoriety, was born on 14 July 1863 at Emerald Hill, Melbourne, son of William Coningham, brass-finisher, and his wife Jane Ann, née Wilson, both English-born. He became an all-round athlete, excelling at football, pedestrianism, rowing, pigeon-shooting and, especially, cricket—as a left-arm fast medium bowler.

Coningham played for the Melbourne Cricket Club and in December 1884 went to Queensland and represented it in 3 games from February 1885 to January 1889; between December 1892 and February 1895 he played 3 times for Queensland and twice for New South Wales. In 1894-95 he represented Queensland in 2 games and, from February 1896 to December 1898, New South Wales in 7. In March 1896 he was in Australia's 2nd XI, against the 1st XI. In all his intercolonial games Coningham scored 510 runs at 17 and took 60 wickets at 23.46. A member of the Australian team that toured England in 1893, he did not play in a Test match, but in other games he scored 260 runs at 12.8 and took 38 wickets at 25.6. His only Test match was against England at Melbourne, 29 December 1894 to 3 January 1895: his match figures were 13 runs and 2 wickets for 76.

Coningham claimed to have been a 'chemist', but in the late 1890s he had difficulty earning a living—one unreliable source was gambling at billiards. Brash and excitable, he was of medium build and sandy; he sported a handlebar moustache. On the day he left on the English tour, 11 March 1893, in St Matthew's Anglican Church, Bondi, Sydney, he married English-born Alice Stamford Dowling (d.1959), a Catholic. In November 1896 insolvency proceedings revealed that in September he had failed as a tobacconist at Waverley and was then 'managing a shop' at Glebe; released from bankruptcy in July next year, in 1899 he was a bookmaker.

In that year Coningham sued for divorce, naming Fr D. F. O'Haran, administrator of St Mary's Cathedral, as co-respondent, and claiming £5000 damages from him. At the hearing in December 1900, amid clamorous scenes inside the court and outside, Coningham conducted his own case; his wife admitted adultery and O'Haran denied it. The jury disagreed. Meanwhile the case had exacerbated entrenched colonial forces of bigotry and sectarianism; by March 1901, when it was reheard, Rev. W. M. Dill Macky had rallied support, including a revolver, for Coningham, and several Catholics, notably W. P. Crick, had organized aid for O'Haran. Dan Green headed an undercover operation which, with Crick's help as postmaster-general, exposed collusion between Coningham and his wife. Their denials, against an uproarious public background, nation-wide, compounded the confusion. The jury found against Coningham.

He took his family to New Zealand and worked as a book salesman. In November 1903 at Westport he was sentenced to six months gaol for fraudulent conversion of £6.3s. He was an agent in Wellington from 1906 and on 24 January 1912 his wife divorced him for adultery. It is not known when he returned to Australia, but he was admitted to Gladesville Mental Hospital, Sydney, on 2 November 1937, died there on 13 June 1939 and was buried in the Anglican section of Rookwood cemetery. Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham, R.A.F., born in Brisbane on 19 January 1895, killed in an air crash near the Azores on 30 January 1948, was his son.

Select Bibliography

  • C. P. Moody, Australian Cricket and Cricketers (Melb, 1894)
  • The Celebrated Divorce Case, Coningham v. Coningham (Syd, 1901)
  • ‘Zero’, The Secret History of the Coningham Case (Syd, 1901)
  • C. Pearl, Wild Men of Sydney (Lond, 1958)
  • Boomerang (Brisbane), 7 Mar 1891
  • Catholic Press (Sydney), 22 Dec 1900, 13 Apr 1901
  • Evening Post (New Zealand), 4 Nov 1903, 25 July 1959
  • Bulletin, 12 Nov 1903
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 15 June 1939.

Citation details

Bede Nairn, 'Coningham, Arthur (1863–1939)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/coningham-arthur-5749/text9737, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 21 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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