Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Monahan, Thomas (1812–1889)

by Suzanne G. Mellor

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

Thomas Monahan (1812-1889), businessman, was born in Dublin, son of John Monahan, farmer, and his wife Elizabeth, née Dunn. After schooling he worked as an assistant at Kildare Hospital for seven years and left with written recommendations from local notables. As a coachman he was given a free passage in the North Britain which sailed from Kingstown in August 1839 with 285 migrants. Twenty died of typhus on the voyage and on arrival at Sydney the ship was quarantined on 14 December; when the last of the migrants were released on 1 February 1840, six more adults and four children had died. Monahan, who had worked hard during the epidemic, was given a testimonial by the ship's surgeon and appointed a hospital attendant in Sydney. On 22 February 1841 at St Mary's Church he married Mary Timms, a bounty immigrant who had arrived at Sydney in 1832, aged 25. Soon afterwards they sailed for Melbourne.

Monahan's first transaction was to buy the Flinders Street building where the Port Phillip Club held its inaugural dinner on 17 March 1841. The club soon ran short of funds and approached the Melbourne Club for amalgamation in February 1843. Many members joined their former rival and the Port Phillip Club was closed by mid-1843 but Monahan retained the stables for some years. In 1845 he built the Queen's Arms Hotel and from then favoured hotel properties, often acting as his own publican. He had large properties, both lands and buildings, in the city, St Kilda, Sandridge, Emerald Hill and later in New South Wales, and usually collected his own rents. He became one of Melbourne's largest property owners and very wealthy.

Monahan speculated in only one mining venture, the Evelyn Tunnel and Red Jacket at Buckland, where his son-in-law, John Alston Wallace, made a fortune; Monahan lost £7000 and never again trespassed outside building. He was proud that he always paid in cash and that his fortune had been won by hard work, forethought, his wife's deft handling of the books and the frugality of their household. He never took part in municipal or parliamentary affairs, though his wealth made him well known. When the foundation stone of the Melbourne Hospital was laid on 20 March 1846 in Little Lonsdale Street, he was one of the first subscribers, with £20; he also became one of its first life-governors. Otherwise he was not known for philanthropy, even to the church, and was sometimes criticized for his miserly gifts for which it was always necessary to canvass him.

Predeceased by his wife, Monahan died on 25 May 1889 at his home, Erindale, St Kilda. He was survived by one daughter, Mrs Keogh, a widow with four children, and by his son-in-law and executor, John Wallace, a widower with six children. The estate of more than £950,000 after tax was left to his family but led to litigation in September 1898 despite Monahan's deathbed admonition to Wallace, 'John, be strong but be merciful'.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vol 20
  • J. B. Cooper, The History of St. Kilda: From its First Settlement to a City and After, 1840 to 1930 (Melb, 1931)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 27, 28 Mar 1889.

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