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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hughes, John (1825–1885)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

John Hughes, c.1872

John Hughes, c.1872

State Library of New South Wales

John Hughes (1825-1885), grocer, property developer and Catholic benefactor, was born on 24 June 1825 at Drumshambo, Leitrim, Ireland, eldest son of six children of Thomas Hughes, grocer, and his wife Maria, née Cogan. The family arrived in Sydney as bounty immigrants in the Crusader on 15 January 1840. Educated from July to December that year at Sydney College under W. T. Cape, John was apprenticed to John Stirling, a grocer. After working for T. & R. Coveny, of Market Street, he obtained a position with Samuel Peek in George Street before going into business on his own about 1851 on the corner of Market and George streets. Prospering, he married Irish-born Susan Sharkey at St Mary's Catholic Cathedral on 2 July 1856. They were to have eight children.

Selling out his retail grocery in 1862 Hughes began as a wholesale merchant and importer, first in Clarence, later in York, Street. Again he was successful and in 1871 retired to attend to pastoral pursuits, purchasing Narromine station, near Dubbo, and other properties. He also invested in land and developed city business sites such as the warehouse he erected for Messrs Young & Lark in Castlereagh Street. In 1866 and 1871 he had been defeated in elections for the Fitzroy Ward in the Sydney Municipal Council. Selling his pastoral interests, in 1879-81 he and his family travelled in the United States of America and Europe.

Appointed a justice of the peace in 1867, Hughes attended zealously to his duties, sitting for many years as magistrate in the police courts of Sydney. He was both a pillar of the Catholic Church and a loyal citizen, in 1868 refusing to serve on the St Patrick's Day regatta committee with a man who had declined to toast the Queen's health. Hughes generously supported Catholic charities and was notable for his contribution, both as a committee-member and benefactor, to the rebuilding of St Mary's Cathedral, where he worshipped. The new building was dedicated in 1882. In addition he was largely responsible for bringing the Sisters of the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to Sydney that year, funding their establishment of a convent at Rose Bay. He also donated the site for St Canice's Church, Elizabeth Bay; marble altars for St Ignatius' College, Riverview, and St Columbkille's Church, Woolloomooloo; the baptismal font at St Patrick's Church and marble fonts in St Mary's Cathedral; and helped to establish scholarships in honour of Archbishop Vaughan at St Ignatius'.

Having purchased land at Elizabeth Bay in 1869, over the next five years Hughes built an elegant residence, which he named Kincoppal (Erse for sea-horse) after a rock formation in the harbour nearby. In 1882 the Pope appointed him knight of the Order of St Gregory; he was later promoted knight commander but before receiving the brief died at his home on 29 June 1885. Hughes was buried in Waverley cemetery after a requiem mass at St Mary's Cathedral. He was survived by his wife, two sons and four daughters, two of whom became Sisters of the Sacred Heart; Kincoppal was bequeathed to the elder, Maria (1858-1951). There in 1909 the order set up a school of which she became superior. Hughes's sons (Sir) Thomas and John and their descendants were prominent in law and politics in Sydney in the next century. After the Elizabeth Bay property was redeveloped, Kincoppal and Rose Bay convents of the Sacred Heart were amalgamated at Rose Bay in 1971.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Men of Mark, vol 1 (Syd, 1889)
  • P. Frost, The Kincoppal Story (Syd, 1973)
  • Votes & Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1868-69, 1, p 906
  • Sydney Gazette, 16 Jan 1840, p 2
  • Freeman’s Journal (Sydney), 4 July 1885, p 15
  • private information.

Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Hughes, John (1825–1885)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 24 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

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