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Meagher, John (1836–1920)

by Bruce Pennay

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

John Meagher (1836-1920), storekeeper and politician, was born on 8 December 1836 at Kilrush, Clare, Ireland, son of Roger Meagher, fisherman and coastguard, and his wife Catherine, née Mahoney. He arrived in Sydney about 1863 and at St Mary's Cathedral married Mary Ann Byrne (d.1895), housekeeper, on 19 September 1864. That year he moved to Bathurst where he was employed by Edmund Webb who later became a commercial and political rival.

Meagher opened his own store at Bathurst in 1867, followed by branches at Hill End, Trunkey, Locksley and Dirty Swamp. Large stores were later established at Temora, West Wyalong, Barmedman, Forbes, Cootamundra, Parkes and Yass. He imported drapery, grocery, ironmongery, wines and spirits and furniture. By extending customer credit on the advice of their store-managers John Meagher & Co. assisted the development of the central and south-western districts of New South Wales.

A justice of the peace from 1878, Meagher was active in local politics as a Protectionist and in 1885 was defeated by (Sir) Francis Suttor for the Legislative Assembly seat of Bathurst. In 1888 he sponsored the local celebrations for the centenary of the foundation of the colony and invited William Astley to Bathurst as organizer. In 1896 he was a vice-president of the committee that sponsored the People's Federal Convention at Bathurst and entertained in his home (Sir) Edmund Barton, Cardinal Moran and many leading Federationists.

Nominated to the Legislative Council in 1900, Meagher proposed the building of the Temora-Wyalong railway line and was a vocal advocate of state aid for Catholic schools. He identified himself closely with the Irish Home Rule movement and frequently visited Ireland, making his last visit in 1919-20. He was prominent in greeting Irish delegates to Australia such as John and William Redmond, John Dillon and Michael Davitt. Close personal friendships developed between Meagher, his family and William Redmond. In 1916 Meagher deplored 'the ruthless execution of the leaders' of the Easter rebellion in Dublin and strongly opposed conscription. In a letter to the Daily Telegraph on 23 November 1917 he defended Archbishop Mannix from allegations of sedition made by Judge Heydon.

Meagher was a devout Catholic, a daily communicant throughout his life, a generous donor to Catholic Orders and organizations, notably to the Sisters of Mercy when they were building their novitiate and establishing an orphanage at Bathurst, and to St Stanislaus' College. In December 1903 he was appointed knight commander in the papal Order of St Gregory the Great. A 'sterling, big-hearted Irishman', he continued to champion Irish-Catholic causes through years when sectarianism was a familiar tension.

Meagher died on 26 August 1920 in St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney, and was buried in the family vault in Bathurst cemetery. Predeceased by his only daughter who had become a religious of the Sacré Coeur order, he was survived by five of his seven sons. His estate was valued for probate at £44,737.

Select Bibliography

  • M. G. Meagher, John Meagher 1836-1920 (Cootamundra, NSW, priv print, 1981)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Legislative Council, New South Wales), 1920, p 550
  • Freeman's Journal (Sydney), 12 Sept 1896, 9 June 1907
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25 July 1898, 22 June 1918, 27 Aug 1920
  • Catholic Press, 9 June 1900, 13 Nov 1902, 24 Aug 1905, 2 May 1907, 2 Sept 1920
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 3 Mar 1911, 13 Dec 1912, 12 Apr, 6, 16 May, 10 Aug, 26 Sept 1916, 17, 23 Nov 1917, 9, 15 Mar 1920
  • B. J. Pennay, Political Concerns of Bathurst 1885-1910 (M.A. thesis, Macquarie University, 1974)
  • private information.

Citation details

Bruce Pennay, 'Meagher, John (1836–1920)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/meagher-john-7545/text13163, published in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 3 September 2014.

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

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