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Hurley, John (1844–1911)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

John Hurley (1844-1911), mining speculator and politician, was born on 2 June 1844 at Sydney, son of Farrell (Fergus) Hurley and his wife Catherine, née Critchley. His family moved to Maitland where he was educated. He became a digger and soon acquired an interest in various mines, including the Hill End mine. On 23 March 1867 he married Elizabeth Ann, née Letcher.

In 1871 Hurley became a justice of the peace and in 1872-74 represented Central Cumberland in the Legislative Assembly. He became a supporter, friend and creditor of (Sir) Henry Parkes. In the early 1870s Hurley was active in Protestant politics and was a founder and director of the Protestant Hall. He was a proprietor of a paper company at Liverpool but competition from Melbourne defeated it and on 1 July 1875 his estate was sequestrated. Granted his certificate of discharge in March 1876, he won Hartley in April and held the seat until 1880. An active legislator, he repeatedly attempted to carry a bill to limit usury and to ameliorate the disabilities of Dr Beer, an abortionist. A Freemason of the Irish Constitution and an active Orangeman, he carried in 1878 a resolution to open the Museum and Free Public Library on Sundays. For this and his involvement in a dubious licensing case he was attacked by the Protestant Standard and Rev. John McGibbon, whom he successfully sued for libel. Virulently anti-Catholic he tried in November 1879 to initiate a bill for inspecting 'all Convents, Nunneries or Monasteries'. His enemies often charged him with being a lapsed Catholic which he strenuously denied. He asked repeated questions in the House and 'never cared how much he endangered his own popularity, or whom he offended'.

In 1878 Hurley bought the Burrum coal-mines and in vain petitioned the Queensland government for concessions to build a railway from the mines to Maryborough. He visited England in January 1881 and in November 1883 was elected to the Queensland Legislative Assembly for Maryborough but in March 1884 was forced to resign through insolvency. He returned to New South Wales and failed as a sawmiller and mining speculator. In February 1886 his estate was again sequestrated. In the 1885 general election he had been defeated in both Hartley and Mudgee, but in February 1887 he won Hartley as a free trader although he did not get his certificate of discharge until October. In December 1888 as a share-broker he was again insolvent but the order was soon discharged. On 3 July 1890 he had to resign his seat because of bankruptcy but was re-elected on the 26th. About 1890 his wife died; on 22 April 1891 at Redfern he married Emma Wilson.

In 1892 Hurley was charged with Francis Abigail and other directors of the Australian Banking Co. with conspiracy to defraud the shareholders. Despite inability to fee a defence counsel he was acquitted but the episode was 'the most painful of his life'. In 1891 and 1894 he attempted to return to parliament and struggled to restore his finances. In 1893 he advertised himself as a 'mining agent' and manager of four companies. In December 1900 he failed to get his certificate of discharge but in 1901 won Hartley and in 1904-07 was chairman of the Public Works Committee. A justice of the peace he was a councillor of the Liberal and Reform Association and a director of the Randwick Orphan Asylum.

Generous and over-confident in the value of his mining interests, Hurley was admired for his 'rugged honesty, and independence, and fearless outspokenness'. He finally obtained his certificate of discharge in April 1911. He died on 10 December and was buried in the Anglican section of Waverley cemetery. He was survived by the ten children of his first wife, by one daughter of his second wife, and by his third wife Annie Elizabeth, née Garling, and their only son.

Select Bibliography

  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1873-74, 6, 54, 1879-80, 4, 910, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Queensland), 1878, 1, 269, 2, 493, 1879 (2nd session), 2, 1151, 1880, 2, 973
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 29 Oct 1877, 27 Mar 1878, 13 Jan, 13 Oct 1881, 19 May 1887, 20, 22-27 Aug, 2 Sept 1892, 11 Dec 1911
  • Echo (Sydney), 31 Jan, 3, 4 Feb 1879
  • Protestant Standard, 19 June, 27 Nov 1880
  • Bulletin, 22 Mar 1884, 23 Feb 1889, 12 July 1890
  • Town and Country Journal, 7 May 1887
  • Evening News (Sydney), 11 Dec 1911
  • Henry Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • insolvency files (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Hurley, John (1844–1911)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hurley-john-3827/text6073, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 14 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

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