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Donohoe, James Joseph (Jim) (1860–1925)

by Chris Cunneen

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

James Joseph Donohoe (c.1860-1925), horse trainer, was born in Cavan, Ireland, son of Patrick Donohoe, farmer, and his wife Mary, née Smith. About 1870, probably with a brother, he came to South Australia. For a time he was in Melbourne, but by 1885 was a coach and cab proprietor in Sydney. On 15 February 1887 at St Francis Xavier Catholic Church, Wollongong, he married Catherine McDonough, Australian-born of Irish parents. After moving around the city and Redfern areas, by 1894 the Donohoes were in Kensington, heartland of Sydney's horse-racing, living for many years near a side-entrance to Randwick racecourse. Racing was decidedly their game.

Jim Donohoe's stamping-grounds were not the upper echelons of the sport, however, but the pony tracks, where he was closely associated with John Wren and (Sir) James Joynton Smith. Also connected with trotting, he had been prominent in the Sydney Driving Park. When Joynton Smith set out to establish a new racecourse at Zetland, he choose Donohoe, 'as loyal a soul as ever lived', to supervise its building, and thereafter to be its manager. Victoria Park opened on 15 January 1908, the most modern of the pony tracks.

A big man, with a genial Irish nature, Donohoe was a popular figure on racecourses in Sydney, and also in Melbourne where he was a frequent visitor for important meetings. Barely literate, but no prodigal, he was a shrewd gambler, and his wife invested windfalls in semi-detached cottages. Survived by her and by five sons, John Aloysius (1888-1967), James (1891-1959), William Patrick (1894-1954), Francis Patrick (1898-1973) and Charles Joseph (1902-1973), Donohoe died of cancer at his home in Doncaster Avenue on 19 February 1925, and was buried in Waverley cemetery after a requiem Mass. Among the mourners were Wren, who had come especially from Melbourne, and Joynton Smith.

William Patrick was born on 26 March 1894 at Surry Hills. Educated at the convent school, Kensington, he began work in 1908 at Joynton Smith's Arcadia Hotel. In 1910 he became a clerk at Victoria Park. John, like his father a trainer, won the Chelmsford Stakes in 1915 with Garlin, owned by Wren. James junior, later chairman of stewards for the Australian Jockey Club, became stipendiary steward at Victoria Park, where, in January 1923, Bill was appointed secretary. The two youngest brothers received the better education, at Christian Brothers' College, Waverley. Frank served articles and was admitted as a solicitor on 30 October 1930. Charles, a leading tennis player, became a caterer. Meanwhile, Bill had become a director of Stadiums Ltd in 1928 and manager of Canterbury velodrome in 1929. In 1933 he was managing director of the former, and brought such boxers as Archie Moore to Sydney. Bill was also managing director of Victoria Park (until it was sold for a motor vehicle factory) and of the Arcadia and Carrington hotel companies. In 1950 he was a director of “Truth” and “Sportsman” Ltd. Frank, Wren's friend and legal representative in Sydney, was a director of Stadiums Ltd, Smiths Newspapers Ltd and Australian Cyanamid, chairman of Comeng Holdings Ltd, and, with Bill, a trustee of Joynton Smith's will.

In 1952 the Donohoes pulled off a spectacular and profitable coup, when Prelate, part-owned by Frank and trained by John, won four races in a row, culminating in the Doncaster. Survived by two daughters of his marriage on 6 March 1926 to Elizabeth Josephine Dwyer, Bill died at Kensington of heart disease on 6 August 1954. One of Frank's sons was mayor of Woollahra in 1980. In three generations the Donohoes had progressed, via the race track and the boxing ring, from battling Irish migrants to wealthy respectability. They were those rarest of mortals—racehorse fanciers who won.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Joynton Smith, My Life Story (Syd, 1927)
  • Parliamentary Papers (New South Wales), 1923, 3, p 1333
  • Referee (Sydney), 22 Jan 1908, 3 Jan 1923, 25 Feb 1925
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22 Feb 1925, 7 Aug 1954
  • private information.

Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Donohoe, James Joseph (Jim) (1860–1925)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/donohoe-james-joseph-jim-5997/text10239, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 13 December 2018.

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

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