Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Martin Brennan (1839–1912)

by M. Imelda Ryan

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with Sarah Octavia Brennan

Martin Brennan (1839-1912), police superintendent, and Sarah Octavia (1867-1928), teacher and nun, were father and daughter. Martin was born in September 1839 at Kilkenny, County Kilkenny, Ireland, son of Martin Brennan, farmer, and his wife Sarah, née Tobin. He migrated to New South Wales in 1859 and joined the mounted patrol under Captain Zouch. Stationed at Braidwood, Brennan ran the gold escort to Goulburn for two years, and distinguished himself at the Lambing Flat (Young) riots, where he was wounded in the arm and had four horses shot under him.

In 1862 Brennan became a senior constable at Moruya, and on 4 July 1865 he married Elizabeth McKeon, from Galway. He was one of the first policemen to use Aboriginal trackers successfully. Promoted sergeant, he was transferred to Araluen and from 1872 was in charge of the Queanbeyan station; while there he became senior sergeant. In 1880 he became a sub-inspector in the Young district, and served at Wagga Wagga moving to Newcastle in 1886. Promoted inspector next year, he was praised for his handling of disturbances during the coalminers' strike in 1888. He became superintendent of the north-western districts in 1894 with headquarters at Tamworth. Later that year he was recalled to Sydney to take charge of the training depot and the eastern districts. By 1902 he was superintendent of the Mounted Police Barracks at Moore Park. E. C. Day, inspector-general, praised the 'incalculable value' of his work 'in the training of recruits, which he brought up to a very high standard'.

Brennan's only child Sarah Octavia was born at Moruya on 14 April 1867. She was educated as a boarder from 1879 at the Sisters of the Good Samaritan St Benedict's Convent at Queanbeyan and passed the junior public examination in 1883. Her father took a keen interest in her education; from 1878 he took a correspondence course in Latin and French from Professor Badham and both he and Sarah matriculated at the University of Sydney in 1885. Although he followed his daughter's courses there, he could not sit for a degree as he was unable to attend lectures. Sarah graduated B.A. in 1889 and M.A. in 1891 in the schools of classical philology and history. From 1894 she studied science, graduating B.Sc. in 1898. Next year they travelled overseas. Sarah belonged to the Australian Naturalists' Society of New South Wales and late in 1899 read a paper to the local Linnean Society.

Brennan retired on 1 February 1907 and that year published his Australian Reminiscences, having been encouraged by Sarah to record some of his adventures during the bushranging days. Predeceased by his wife, he died of a strangulated femoral hernia in St Vincent's Hospital on 8 August 1912 and was buried in the Catholic section of Waverley cemetery.

From 1901 Sarah had lived at the Sisters of the Good Samaritan Glebe convent and taught science and Latin at their St Scholastica's High School. On 11 January 1920 she joined the Congregation of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan and took the religious name Sister Mary Elizabeth. She taught at the Randwick novitiate, returned to St Scholastica's, then at the Balmain novitiate helped to train Sisters to teach science. With great zest she worked to improve the teaching of science in Catholic high schools, and was greatly beloved for her gentleness, courtesy, refinement and affectionate concern for others. She died of coronary vascular disease at Lewisham Private Hospital on 8 January 1928 and was buried in Rookwood cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Town and Country Journal, 13 Oct 1888, 14 Aug 1912
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 9 Aug 1912
  • Sister M. Elizabeth Brennan, File 59D, and note books (St Scholastica's Archives, Glebe Point, Sydney).

Citation details

M. Imelda Ryan, 'Brennan, Martin (1839–1912)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 14 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


September, 1839
Kilkenny, Kilkenny, Ireland


8 December, 1912 (aged 73)
Darlinghurst, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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