Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Leahy, John (1854–1909)

by M. French

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

John Leahy (1854-1909), politician, was born on 15 July 1854 at Schull, Cork, Ireland, eldest son of Patrick Leahy, farmer, and his wife Mary, née Coghlan. Educated at local schools, in 1875 he migrated to Queensland where he was said to have worked as a rural labourer, then acted as postmaster at Windorah before settling at Thargomindah in 1883. There on 11 February 1886 he married Annie Colbert.

Employed by the Bulloo Divisional Board, of which he was a member in 1889-93, he also held a partnership in a cordial manufactory, became part-owner of the Thargomindah Herald established by his younger brother Patrick James in 1884, and was proprietor of the Royal Hotel in 1886-89. Secretary of the school of arts in 1886, he was president of the hospital in 1895, the year he and his brother were prominent in making Thargomindah the first town in Queensland with a reticulated artesian water supply. In 1886 John represented Bulloo in a delegation to parliament over crown lands. He has been accredited with originating the system of land classification introduced in 1901.

Succeeding his friend John Donaldson as member for Bulloo in 1893, he entered parliament as an Independent and promptly led the opposition to Sir Thomas McIlwraith's railway border tax. In 1899 he engineered a back-bench revolt against Premier (Sir) James Dickson in favour of (Sir) Robert Philp. He was rewarded by appointment as secretary for railways and public works from 1 February 1901 to 17 September 1903 and was vilified by Labor for his retrenchment policies in the great drought.

On 23 July 1907 Leahy (Opposition), George Jackson (Ministerialist) and W. J. Maughan (Labor) were nominated for the Speakership. After an inconclusive ballot the Kidstonites threw their weight behind Leahy in return for Jackson's election as chairman of committees. At first bitterly resented by Labor, Speaker Leahy soon gained the respect of all sides for his measured handling of procedures, especially during the constitutional crisis over electoral reform in November 1907.

Leahy was widely read with a preference for didactic poetry. He attempted by repartee and satire to cast himself as a trenchant parliamentary critic, but he was an ineffective debater and his contributions, mainly on western lands, finances and local government, were delivered in a torrent of words, with tangled diction and in a rich brogue. In essence, he was a strong party numbers man, a follower rather than a leader, uncompromising and opinionated with little personal appeal until redeemed by the Speakership.

Popularly known as 'Bulloo', Leahy died suddenly of haematemesis at New Farm, Brisbane, on 20 January 1909 following a bout of influenza and was buried in the Roman Catholic section of Toowong cemetery after a state funeral. His wife, son and four daughters survived him.

Leahy had held directorships in the Queensland Meat Export Agency Co. and the Australian Estates & Mortgage Co., executive positions in the Queensland Woolbrokers' Association, the Queensland Irish Association, the National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland and the Brisbane Chamber of Commerce. On his death his partners James Forsyth and Philp bought Leahy's interest in Thylungra station.

His brother Patrick James (1860-1927) developed grazing, mercantile and newspaper interests, was member for Warrego for nearly six years from 1902, for three months from November 1907 was secretary for public works and mines in the Philp ministry, and was a member of the Legislative Council in 1912-22. Another brother, Daniel Vincent, was a barrister in Brisbane.

Select Bibliography

  • Alcazar Press, Queensland, 1900 (Brisb, nd)
  • C. A. Bernays, Queensland Politics During Sixty (1859-1919) Years (Brisb, nd, 1919?)
  • A. L. Petrie, Reminiscences (Brisb, 1926)
  • D. J. Murphy and R. B. Joyce (eds), Queensland Political Portraits 1859-1952 (Brisb, 1978)
  • Centenary, Bulloo Shire, Thargomindah 1880-1980 (Thargomindah, 1980)
  • Commercial Publishing Co. of Sydney, Ltd, Annual Review of Queensland, Dec 1902, p 286
  • Pastoralists' Review, 15 Feb 1909
  • Brisbane Courier, 2 Nov 1895, 18 Mar, 24 July 1907, 21, 22, 23 Jan 1909
  • Catholic Press, 7 Oct 1907.

Citation details

M. French, 'Leahy, John (1854–1909)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/leahy-john-7133/text12309, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 26 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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