Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Fegan, John Lionel (1862–1932)

by L. E. Fredman

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

John Lionel Fegan (1862?-1932), coalminer and politician, was born at Chelmsford, Essex, England, son of John Lionel Fegan, labourer, and his wife Alice Maud, née Hazel. He began work in coal-mines in Lancashire and on 3 February 1883 at Eccleston he married Ann Saggerson. Arriving in New South Wales alone about 1886 he worked briefly in several northern mines before moving to the Wickham and Bullock Island (Carrington) colliery, where he became check inspector and delegate for his lodge.

In 1891 Fegan, representing Newcastle, was one of the first Labor members elected to the Legislative Assembly; he was a free trader in a protectionist district. Refusing to take the solidarity pledge, he lost Labor Electoral League endorsement and was returned for Wickham in 1894 as an independent. That year he secured and chaired a select committee on working of collieries and in 1897 served on the royal commission on city railway extension. He joined Labor in supporting (Sir) George Reid's free trade ministry and shared their criticism of the Federation bills and the government's lack of interest in industrial reform. In August 1899 he was involved in the defeat of Reid, moving the key amendment, in the form of censure for the payment to J. C. Nield.

Fegan was thus an appropriate choice as secretary for mines and agriculture in W. Lyne's government. He carried the Miners' Accident Relief Act and an Act limiting the hours worked in mines to eight. After Lyne became Federal minister for home affairs, he offered the post of under-secretary in his department to Fegan, who resigned his portfolio in March but was prevented from accepting the post by opposition in the Federal cabinet and from Reid. Later Fegan served as minister without portfolio in the See government in 1903-04 and under T. Waddell as minister of public instruction and for labour and industry from June to August 1904. He had recognized the declining importance of the fiscal issue, and from 1901 held his seat as a Progressive until he was defeated in 1907 after 'fusion' with the Liberals. After several abortive efforts he re-entered parliament in 1920, as one of the five members elected—he was the only Nationalist to represent Newcastle. He was defeated in 1922 and 1925.

In his youth Fegan had sung to waiting audiences during Gladstone's Midlothian campaign and so participated in one of British liberalism's great triumphs. A prominent Methodist lay-preacher and temperance advocate, he was grand chief templar in New South Wales of the International Order of Good Templars in 1902-04. Elected to Wickham Municipal Council in 1917, he was mayor in 1924 and 1931; he was a member of the Newcastle Board of Health in 1909-32 and the (Royal) Newcastle Hospital Board, superintendent and secretary of the Newcastle and Northumberland Benevolent Society and served on other local bodies. In a wider sphere he was chairman of the New South Wales Miners' Accident Relief Board in 1901-10, a trustee of the Public Library of New South Wales in 1903-12 and a member of the State Children's Relief Board from 1908.

Fegan died on 29 December 1932 at his home at Wickham and was buried in Sandgate cemetery. He was survived by a daughter, and by his second wife Edith Louisa, née Edwards, whom he had married on 27 October 1897 at Newtown, Sydney; they had no children. Fegan concealed his first marriage and two children for many years. His son Donald later lived with his father and stepmother, enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and was killed in action at Gallipoli.

Select Bibliography

  • A. B. Piddington, Worshipful Masters (Syd, 1929)
  • H. V. Evatt, Australian Labour Leader: The Story of W.A. Holman and the Labour Movement (Syd, 1940)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1896, 3, p 621
  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 1899, p 1076
  • Newcastle Morning Herald, 17 June 1891, 5 July 1894, 8 Sept 1899, 30 Dec 1932
  • Methodist (Sydney), 14 June 1933.

Citation details

L. E. Fredman, 'Fegan, John Lionel (1862–1932)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fegan-john-lionel-6151/text10561, published in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 2 September 2014.

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

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