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O'Connell, Sir Maurice Charles (1768–1848)

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

Maurice Charles Philip O'Connell (1768-1848), by William Nicholas

Maurice Charles Philip O'Connell (1768-1848), by William Nicholas

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an13834976

Sir Maurice Charles O'Connell (1768-1848), soldier, was born in County Kerry, Ireland, the son of Charles Philip O'Connell. A penniless younger son, he appears to have been dependent on the patronage and bounty of his kinsman General Count Daniel O'Connell (1745?-1833) of the Irish Brigade in the French Army. For some time O'Connell studied in Paris for the Roman Catholic priesthood, but in 1785 his father arranged his entry to a military school. In 1792 he became a captain in the French émigré forces serving on the French frontier under the Duke of Brunswick and in October 1794, after the Irish Brigade had been reconstituted in the British Army, he was appointed captain in Count O'Connell's 4th Regiment. After a period on half-pay he was appointed in May 1800 a captain in the 1st West India Regiment, with which he served in Surinam, Grenada and Dominica. In January 1805 he was promoted brevet major and transferred to the 5th Regiment. He saw much action in the West Indies, and particularly distinguished himself at Roseau in Dominica in February 1805 when it was unsuccessfully attacked by greatly superior French forces. For his services in Dominica he was thanked by the House of Assembly and presented with a sword worth 100 guineas, and the committee of the Patriotic Fund at Lloyds, London, gave him a sword worth £50 and plate worth £100.

In October 1806 he transferred to the 73rd Regiment of which he became lieutenant-colonel in May 1809. In December the 1st battalion of the 73rd with O'Connell in command, arrived in Port Jackson with Governor Lachlan Macquarie; O'Connell was commissioned lieutenant-governor in January 1810. On 8 May at Government House he married Mary, daughter of the former Governor William Bligh and widow of Lieutenant John Putland who had died on 4 January 1808. Bligh, who had planned to sail from Sydney with his family a few days later was distressed to leave Mary behind, but she was a headstrong young woman. Her dresses had shocked the more decorous members of the colony, and her hostility to her father's enemies soon began to embarrass the governor.

The day before the marriage Macquarie granted O'Connell 2500 acres (1012 ha), which he named Riverston; on 27 June he granted Mrs O'Connell 1055 acres (427 ha) in the district of Evan, adjoining Frogmore granted to her by Governor Philip Gidley King; she now had 3000 acres (1214 ha), 7000 head of stock and £400 a year.

In May 1810 O'Connell was appointed a trustee of the Female Orphan Institution and from August was steward of the race-course. He became president of the Philanthropic Society in January 1814. In March 1810 Macquarie had recommended to the Colonial Office that O'Connell's salary of £250 be doubled to enable him to visit the outer settlements. This increase was never granted and by August 1813 Macquarie was urging the removal of O'Connell and the 73rd Regiment from the colony. Mrs O'Connell, he reported, 'naturally enough, has imbibed strong feelings of resentment and hatred against all those Persons and their Families, who were in the least inimical to her Father's Government … tho' Lieutenant Colonel O'Connell is naturally a very well disposed Man, he allows himself to be a good deal influenced by his Wife's strong rooted Prejudices against the old Inhabitants of this country who took any active part against Governor Bligh'. Already arrangements had been made to relieve the 73rd and transfer it to Ceylon. O'Connell sailed with the main body of his regiment in the General Hewitt in April 1814.

In March 1815 Macquarie wrote to Bathurst that he had reason to believe that O'Connell, and Lieutenant-Colonel Andrew Geils also of the 73rd, were each eager to obtain appointment to Van Diemen's Land in succession to Lieutenant-Governor Thomas Davey. Macquarie considered both very unfit for the post, O'Connell because of his 'illiberal national partialities and prejudices' and 'irritable temper and overbearing disposition'. Neither was appointed, nor was Macquarie's nominee, Joseph Foveaux. In Ceylon in 1815 O'Connell commanded the 73rd in the war against the King of Kandy. In August 1819 he was promoted colonel and in July 1830 major-general; in 1835 he was knighted. He returned to Sydney in the Fairlie in December 1838, having been appointed to command the forces in New South Wales. His military secretary was his son, Maurice Charles (1812-1879), a captain in the 73rd. On arrival General O'Connell was appointed to the Executive and Legislative Councils. It was not long before Lady O'Connell again made her presence felt. In August 1839 Governor Sir George Gipps reported to the Colonial Office that O'Connell was claiming on behalf of Bligh's heiresses 105 acres (42 ha) at Parramatta worth about £40,000 and including the sites of the Female Factory, the gaol, The King's School, the Roman Catholic school and chapel and many houses. His attorney had served notices of ejection on all occupiers of this land. Gipps directed attention to 'the extreme delicacy of the position in which this business has placed me' since O'Connell was the senior member of the Executive Council and, if the governor were to die, would succeed to the government. At length in February 1841 a settlement was reached whereby the heiresses surrendered their claim to the Parramatta land but their titles to other grants were confirmed. One of these, Camperdown, on the site of the present suburb of that name, was soon sold for more than £25,000.

In 1843-44 O'Connell was a nominated member of the partly-elected Legislative Council. In 1844 Gipps placed his name at the head of the list of nineteen persons considered eligible for a colonial order of merit; he was the only knight in the list. After Gipps departed in July 1846 O'Connell administered the government until the arrival of Governor Sir Charles FitzRoy in August. In November 1841 he had been promoted lieutenant-general, in December 1842 appointed colonel of the 81st Regiment and in January 1844 colonel of the 80th Regiment. He was succeeded as commander of the forces in New South Wales by Major-General Edward Wynyard in 1847. He was about to sail for England when he died at Darlinghurst on 25 May 1848. He was given a full military funeral, the service being held at St James's Church. His widow lived in Paris for some years and then in London, where she died in 1864. There were two sons and a daughter. Maurice, after an eventful military career, settled in Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 7-8, 20-25, series 3, vol 2
  • R. Cannon (compiler), Historical Records of the 73rd Regiment, 1780-1851 (Lond, 1851)
  • manuscript catalogue under O'Connell (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

'O'Connell, Sir Maurice Charles (1768–1848)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/oconnell-sir-maurice-charles-2517/text3405, published in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 23 August 2014.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

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