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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Mahony, Daniel James (1878–1944)

by Thomas A. Darragh

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

Daniel James Mahony (1878-1944), scientist, was born on 25 March 1878 in East Melbourne, son of Irish-born Daniel Mahony, formerly mayor of Fitzroy, and his wife Catherine, née Finnigan. Educated at Downside School, Somerset, England, and Xavier College, Melbourne, he entered Ormond College at the University of Melbourne in 1898 and graduated B.Sc. (1904) and M.Sc. (1906), specializing in geology under Professors J. W. Gregory and E. W. Skeats. During Gregory's absences in 1902-04 he demonstrated in geology, and in 1912 deputized at the University of Adelaide for (Sir) Douglas Mawson during his Antarctic expedition.

One of the first specialists with a higher degree in the Mines Department of Victoria, Mahony was temporarily appointed in 1906 to the vacancy caused by the resignation of (Sir) Albert Kitson, as petrologist. He was permanently appointed on 23 February 1915. His major contribution to petrology was his study with H. J. Grayson of the Mount Elephant and Camperdown district (Memoirs of the Geological Survey of Victoria, no.9). As editor of departmental publications he completed several bibliographies, which remain unpublished but for the one accompanying biographical sketches of the founders of the Geological Survey of Victoria, published in 1910.

Mahony went to England in 1915, enlisted as second lieutenant in the Royal Artillery and saw service on the Western Front until 1919. He was promoted acting captain in August 1917. Following discharge, he spent some months in petrological research at Sedgwick Museum, Cambridge, and resumed duty in Melbourne in March 1920.

On 14 April 1931 Mahony became director of the National Museum of Victoria following the retirement of J. A. Kershaw. He fostered research and scholarship in the museum by encouraging the existing staff, depleted through government cutbacks in the Depression, by pressing for new appointments and the filling of long-standing vacancies, and by re-establishing publication of the Memoirs of the National Museum of Victoria. He initiated use of honorary staff to assist in the work of the museum. Mahony actively promoted its public image with a new display programme, following modern American methods demonstrated in Australia in 1937, for which he raised funds from private individuals and through a grant from the Carnegie Corporation; he also made a personal benefaction.

In 1937 Mahony was one of the founders of the Art Galleries and Museums Association of Australia and New Zealand and was elected first president. A member of the Royal Society of Victoria from 1901, he was president in 1939-40. In addition to his geological interests on which he contributed several scientific papers and reports, Mahony was keenly interested in Australian ethnology, particularly the question of the antiquity of man in Australia on which he published major papers.

Mahony was a quiet, unassuming bachelor, with a kindly nature and a keen sense of humour; his enthusiasm for the museum transformed it from a gloomy place to one of enlightenment and entertainment. He retired on 31 July 1944, and had been residing in the Melbourne Club when he died of peritonitis complicating diverticulitis on 27 September 1944. He was buried in Melbourne general cemetery. A memorial plaque, subscribed to by forty-one friends, was unveiled in the museum in May 1945.

Select Bibliography

  • R. T. M. Pescott, Collections of a Century (Melb, 1954)
  • Wild Life (Melbourne), 6, no 11, Nov 1944, p 323, 348
  • Victorian Naturalist, 61, no 8, Dec 1944, p 148
  • Royal Society of Victoria, Proceedings, 57 (1945)
  • Memoirs of the National Museum of Victoria, 14, no 2, 1946
  • Herald (Melbourne), 10 Mar 1931, 27 Sept 1944
  • Argus (Melbourne), 28 Sept 1944.

Citation details

Thomas A. Darragh, 'Mahony, Daniel James (1878–1944)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 1 October 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 10

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