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Leahy, John Jeremiah (1875–1959)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

John Jeremiah Leahy (1875-1959), grazier, stock-dealer and racehorse owner, was born on 19 May 1875 at Gundaroo, New South Wales, fourth child and youngest son of native-born parents Jeremiah Leahy, butcher and farmer, and his first wife Eliza, née Reynolds (d.1887). While being educated at nearby Mugwill Public School, Leahy raised and sold turkeys to a travelling buyer. He left school at 14, worked for his father, carted firewood and travelled the district with a draught stallion, serving farmers' mares. In 1910 Leahy set up as a stock-dealer and grazier. Helped at first by his brother Daniel, he soon owned a considerable amount of land around Gunning, including Keswick. At St Francis's Catholic Church, Gunning, on 7 May 1913 he married Mary Elizabeth Grovenor; they were to have nine children.

J. J. Leahy assembled a pastoral empire which rivalled that of A. B. Triggs, and his numerous stock and land deals became legendary. He owned or leased one hundred or more properties in all, mainly in central and western New South Wales. Although he was a cattleman from the mid-1930s, his wool clip was reputedly one of the largest in Australia. The stations he owned at various times included Cultowa, 212,000 acres (85,794 ha) on the Darling River near Wilcannia, Oxley, 50,000 acres (20,235 ha) at the head of the Macquarie Marshes, Burra, 20,000 acres (8094 ha) at Tumbarumba, and—in Queensland—Mount Sturgeon, 706 sq. miles (1828 km²) near Hughenden, and Oban, 1100 sq. miles (2850 km²) at Dajarra.

His operations followed a strategic plan, centred on his favourite property, Manna Park, near Condobolin, New South Wales. Experience taught him that frontage country was not always the best: thus much of his fattening country was back from the rivers, with depots near a railhead for rapid movement of fat or store stock. Leahy also had a stock depot with an airstrip at Lansvale, opposite Warwick Farm racecourse. He mostly sold his stations bare, and bought them on a walk-in walk-out basis.

Essentially a 'hands on' man, Leahy travelled vast distances, first by horse and rail, and later by car and aeroplane. His passion for efficiency demanded that a fleet of cars was always on hand, and he was one of the first to use aircraft extensively, enabling him to assess the state of the country. He owned numerous aeroplanes, among them two converted World War I Bristol fighters; he retained the services of a pilot, but invariably did his own navigation. By 1940 he was flying about 50,000 miles (80,467 km) a year and was one of the biggest suppliers of prime stock to the Sydney and Melbourne markets. A ready innovator, he used wire-netting on a large scale to rabbit-proof his runs.

Leahy was a member of the Australian Jockey Club and other sporting bodies, and a keen follower of the ring, but his main recreation was breeding and racing thoroughbreds. He owned the Ardsley and Woodlands (Bundilla) studs near Bathurst. Among his horses, Speciality won the Doncaster Handicap (1921) and Metropolitan Stakes (1922), and Akuna the Sydney Cup in 1935. His large number of brood mares included Sarcherie (which he bred). Sarcherie came second in the Melbourne Cup in 1934 and 1935, and third in 1937 (after winning the Doncaster). In 1927 Leahy had visited England—where he watched racing from the Royal enclosure at Ascot—Ireland and Europe.

A big man physically and in outlook, Leahy was always well dressed, but lived quietly and unostentatiously. He was honest, well respected and shrewd. Buying for cash and selling on terms, he never had a mortgage. He helped many to get a start in the pastoral industry, and was a benefactor of Lewisham Hospital and St Ignatius' College, Riverview, Sydney. Although he had country homes at Bathurst and Forbes, the family lived at Wellbeck, Strathfield, until 1942, and then at Roseville Chase. In 1953 his wife sued him for alimony pending her suit for judicial separation, and Leahy sued two of his sons for £44,000 in payment for stock and plant. Survived by his wife, five of his seven sons and one of his two daughters, Leahy died on 2 June 1959 at Roseville and was buried in Forbes cemetery. His son William Charles was killed in September 1945 while serving with the Royal Australian Air Force.

Select Bibliography

  • Pastoral Review, 14 Apr 1925, 16 Aug 1926, 16 May 1928, 16 Aug, 16 Dec 1937, 17 July 1959
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Apr 1935, 30 Aug 1937, 24 Nov 1939, 27, 28 May, 23, 24, 26, 27, 30 June 1953
  • private information.

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Leahy, John Jeremiah (1875–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/leahy-john-jeremiah-10800/text19153, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 15 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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