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O'Connor, Daniel (1844–1914)

by Mark Lyons

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

Daniel O'Connor (1844-1914), by unknown photographer

Daniel O'Connor (1844-1914), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, PX*D 624

Daniel O'Connor (1844-1914), butcher, mining speculator and politician, was born on 13 September 1844 at Tipperary, Ireland, son of Patrick O'Connor, butcher, and his wife Margaret, née Honan. In 1854 he migrated with his parents to Sydney in the Lord Hungerford. After a few months schooling he worked in his father's shop. Despite long hours he read avidly, especially the speeches of British and Irish orators, and in 1858 began to frequent the Sydney School of Arts. In 1869 he studied classics and English literature at Sheridan Moore's City College. With his own butchering business by 1871 he had amassed fourteen houses and £7000 which he lost in five months' speculation in gold-mining shares in 1871-72, but he rehabilitated himself within seven years.

Active in the Catholic Association, O'Connor chaired the welcome to pardoned Fenian prisoners, and was founding chairman of the Catholic Truth Society in 1871. His 1876 campaign for Phillip Ward in the Sydney City Council was organized by such Irish Catholics as J. P. Garvan and his creditor Samuel Priestley but although his two opponents were prominent Orangemen he eschewed sectarianism. He represented the ward until 1885 except for a few months in 1879 when he was unseated after irregularities in his election. His uneven, florid oratory and warm personality soon gained him power in city politics.

In the Legislative Assembly O'Connor represented West Sydney, the main working-class electorate, from 1877 to 1891. He championed the campaign against Chinese immigration, the extension of municipal franchise and the payment of members of parliament. But he strongly opposed Henry Parkes's 1880 Public Instruction Act and was assailed by his fellow Catholic, John McElhone. Soon after a council meeting, O'Connor charged McElhone with truckling to Orangemen and received a black eye in the ensuing scuffle. Always prominent at St Patrick's Day banquets, O'Connor quietly helped to welcome William and John Redmond in 1883. In 1887 he finally obtained free rail travel for children attending denominational schools, and in 1888 led the movement that reinterred the remains of Daniel Deniehy in Waverley cemetery. He backed most sports, especially sculling, and supported the licensed victuallers and their wares.

O'Connor became postmaster-general in John Robertson's 1885 cabinet. He supported Parkes's 1887 ministry and joined his 1889 ministry as postmaster-general. With white beard, silk hat, frock coat and buttonhole, he cut a picturesque and popular figure, but was often chided by Parkes for slackness. The advent of the Labor Party and his campaign against a popular but bawdy journal, the Dead Bird, lost him his seat in the 1891 elections. Appointed to the Legislative Council he remained in office until October.

In 1887 O'Connor went into an auctioneering, mining and general agency with John Hurley. In 1892 O'Connor was declared bankrupt and resigned from the council. Reappointed in 1895 he resigned in 1898 to contest an assembly seat as a federal oppositionist. With protectionist support in a 1900 by-election he won Sydney-Phillip. He held the seat in the 1901 elections but next year was successfully sued by Paddy Crick, secretary for lands, for money Crick had given for O'Connor's campaign in exchange for a promise of support. In the 1904 elections O'Connor withdrew when he was not endorsed as a Liberal. Soon afterwards he started a world tour, lectured on Australia in England and Ireland and lost his belongings in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. He lived quietly after his return and in 1913 was admitted to the Liverpool Asylum, where he died on 24 January 1914 of acute dysentery and heart failure; he was buried in the Catholic section of Waverley cemetery. In 1868 he had married Mary Carroll (d.1899) and was survived by two of their seven children.

Select Bibliography

  • Ex-M.L.A., Our Present Parliament, What it is Worth (Syd, c1886)
  • P. Loveday and A. W. Martin, Parliament Factions and Parties (Melb, 1966)
  • Freeman's Journal (Sydney), 27 May, 29 July 1871, 24 Mar 1888
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22 Nov 1876, 26 Nov 1878, 28 Nov 1879, 27 May 1881, 25 Jan 1886, 12 June 1891, 26 Jan 1914
  • Sydney Mail, 7 Feb 1880
  • Bulletin, 2 Oct 1880, 28 Jan 1882
  • Town and Country Journal, 26 Mar 1887, 14 Sept 1895
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 23 June 1894, 30 June 1903
  • Henry Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • CO 201/595, 610.

Citation details

Mark Lyons, 'O'Connor, Daniel (1844–1914)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/oconnor-daniel-4314/text6995, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 25 November 2017.

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

View the front pages for Volume 5

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