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Taylor, Hugh (1823–1897)

by Mark Lyons

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

Hugh Taylor (1823-1897), politician, was born on 19 March 1823 at Parramatta, New South Wales, eldest son of Hugh Taylor, general agent, and Elizabeth Brown, née O'Farrell, his house-keeper. His father had arrived in Sydney in 1815 in the Marquis of Wellington with a life sentence for 'larceny from a person', and had been 'in Newgate before'. Educated by Daniel Thurston and at The King's School, Taylor became a butcher. He later became agent for many of the Sydney newspapers and wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald. On 29 December 1846 he married Frances Eliza Connor (d.1896) at St Patrick's Church, Parramatta, and was converted to Catholicism.

In the 1860s Taylor supported James Byrnes electorally and learned much about politics. He won a seat on the Parramatta Borough Council in 1865, two years after its incorporation, and remained a member until 1897. In 1869 he failed to win one of the two Parramatta seats in the Legislative Assembly; the consequent break with the Byrnes family led to fifteen years of electoral contests in Parramatta, both municipal and parliamentary, between the Taylors and the Byrneses. Each commanded large family groups and many friends, but the division was also sectarian, with the Orangemen supporting Byrnes and the Irish Catholics behind Taylor. Instinctively generous, Taylor also cultivated an image as 'the poor man's friend', selling meat and bread cheaply, particularly at election time. In 1871 he became mayor and was re-elected for the next two years—in 1873 after a long tussle with the Byrnes party, resolved only after fourteen meetings and the death of one of them. On another occasion he was unseated when Byrnes appealed to the Supreme Court.

In 1872 Taylor won Parramatta, defeating C. J. Byrnes; J. S. Farnell was the other representative. The election was marked by sectarian violence, largely provoked by larrikins imported by the Sydney-based Protestant Political Association, which backed Byrnes. Taylor resigned his seat before parliament met, but won the ensuing by-election. Re-elected in 1875, he resigned next year after suggestions that his contract to supply meat to government institutions made him ineligible. Returned in the subsequent by-election and again in 1877, in the assembly he supported (Sir) Henry Parkes with whom he formed a lasting friendship, supplying meat for his Faulconbridge home and in 1895 being best man at his third marriage. Taylor was defeated by C. J. Byrnes only once, in 1880, partly as a result of his opposition to the public instruction bill: he favoured the dual education system of 1866. The passage of time finally eroded his electoral basis and he was defeated by Dowell O'Reilly in 1894 and in 1895; he was preparing to contest the seat again when he died.

In the House Taylor won repute as a mild radical; opposed to the squatters he defended the free selectors and championed most working men's causes. Although a free trader he supported Edward O'Sullivan's protectionist Democratic Alliance. He excelled as a local member, winning for Parramatta many improvements, such as its inclusion in the area covered by the penny post. A conscientious magistrate, he was a committee-man of the Parramatta District Hospital and of the Catholic Orphanage, also a trustee of Parramatta Park and St John's Park. For many years he was president of the Parramatta Jockey and Cricket clubs and the Liedertafel. He strongly supported the local fire brigade and Protestant orphan school.

Taylor presided over his tightly knit family as a patriarch. Survived by three sons and three daughters, he died on 13 December 1897 of syncope and cardiac disease, and was buried in his family vault in the Catholic cemetery at Parramatta. His estate was valued for probate at £563.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Wharton, Jubilee History of Parramatta (Parramatta, 1911)
  • J. Jervis, The Cradle City of Australia, G. Mackaness ed (Parramatta, 1961)
  • J. Jervis, ‘A history of politics and politicians in Parramatta’, Parramatta and District Historical Society, Journal, 3 (1926)
  • Freeman's Journal (Sydney), 24 Feb 1872, 25 Dec 1897
  • Cumberland Mercury, 21 Oct 1885
  • Cumberland Argus, 18 Dec 1897
  • Henry Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Mark Lyons, 'Taylor, Hugh (1823–1897)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/taylor-hugh-4692/text7769, published in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 31 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

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