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Meagher, James Anthony (Jim) (1894–1975)

by Martha Rutledge

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

James Anthony (Jim) Meagher (1894-1975), solicitor and raconteur, was born on 10 June 1894 in Dublin, son of Philip Meagher, grocer, and his wife Mary, née Maher. Educated at Clongowes Wood College, Kildare, and at University College, Dublin (B.A., 1914; LL.B., 1916, National University of Ireland), Jim won the Solicitors' Apprentices' Debating Society's silver medal for oratory. He was admitted as a solicitor of the Supreme Court in Ireland on 7 December 1916 and practised in a partnership in Westmoreland Street. A classicist and fluent linguist, he moved in literary circles and signed reviews with his initials, becoming known to his intimates as 'Jam'. Meagher spent a good deal of time on the Continent, including six months in Prague where he taught Esperanto. Frequenting Paris, he was one of the admirers surrounding James Joyce, who once punned about his absence: Malhereusement, jam est marmalade. At the Holy Cross Church, Glasgow, Scotland, on 25 March 1926 Meagher married Angelina (Angela) Valentine Kemp with Catholic rites.

Problems within the partnership led him to emigrate to New South Wales. Admitted as a solicitor by the Supreme Court on 28 October 1926, he practised at Tamworth, Sydney (1930) and Tumut (1931) before settling at 107 Liverpool Street, Sydney, in December 1931. He took A. R. De Coek into partnership in 1933. Meagher's most lucrative clients included the madam Tilly Devine, as well as Kings Cross prostitutes and criminals. His wit enlivened the courts. On one occasion, two bruised and battered prostitutes sued each other for assault. The magistrate, unable to decide who was at fault, said in exasperation to the opposing solicitors: 'Surely this can be settled outside the court?' 'With respect', replied Meagher, 'in view of my client's appearance, I don't think she could possibly go another round!' He appeared for Fergan O'Sullivan—formerly H. V. Evatt's press secretary—before the royal commission on espionage in 1954. As honorary solicitor for the Fellowship of Australian Writers he saved D'Arcy Niland from having to pay most of a literary prize in taxation. Meagher enjoyed the company of women, and was among the first to employ female articled clerks.

Often the centre of an animated and laughing group, he loved to converse (and lecture) in 'his soft Dublin accent' on his favourite subjects—Joyce, W. B. Yeats, George Moore, and their Dublin. Some people claimed that Jimmy Doyle in Joyce's story, 'After the Race', in Dubliners (London, 1914) was based on Meagher, but the tale had previously appeared on 17 December 1904 in the Irish Homestead. A familiar figure at Pakie's Club, Meagher belonged to the Kabeiroi of the University of Sydney and regularly invited young admirers to dine at the Millions Club. He took part in the Australian Broadcasting Commission's radio programmes, 'Spotlight on Literature' and 'Quality Street', and later as a panellist on its television programme, 'Would You Believe?'

Through his love of books, Meagher met writers who became his friends. Angela was a splendid cook. At Neutral Bay they held regular Sunday evening 'at-homes', attended by—among others—Constance Robertson, Sydney Tomholt, Frank Dalby Davison, Flora Eldershaw and Marjorie Barnard. The only visitor permitted to sit in his favourite wing-chair was Miles Franklin. Meagher loved the stage and helped May Hollinworth to establish the Metropolitan Theatre (1946). He was president (1959-60) of the English Association, and a founding council-member (1954-75) and president (1957-58) of the Aisling Society of Sydney which was established to promote Irish culture. His own writings were few: he contributed occasionally to Southerly and Meanjin, and in 1966 published a translation in rhyming couplets of Ovid's The Art of Love.

Meagher's varied interests included golf, playing chess with Cecil Purdy and Gregory Koshnitsky, and bridge with Lionel Murphy, solving crossword puzzles and 'fighting the odds'. Knowledgeable about Japanese prints, he was asked by James Lawson to authenticate signatures on pieces for sale. Meagher was 'short and portly', with smooth, pale hair. A vain man, he wore 'dark and very well tailored suits', a buttonhole and a monocle, and carried a cane or tightly-furled umbrella. His liberal-mindedness did not extend to his family, whom he expected to behave with Victorian propriety. He moved to Double Bay and, after retiring in 1974, acted as a consultant. Survived by his wife, daughter and younger son, he died on 23 July 1975 at Calvary Hospital, Kogarah, and was cremated. His diaries were deliberately destroyed.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Keesing, Riding the Elephant (Syd, 1988)
  • Southerly, Dec 1975, p 441
  • Clongowes Wood College, Kildare, Ireland, Clongownian, 1976, p 153
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 2 Sept, 2, 3 Oct 1954, 22 Aug 1966
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Meagher, James Anthony (Jim) (1894–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/meagher-james-anthony-jim-11098/text19757, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 17 June 2019.

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

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