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George O'Malley Clarke (1836–1899)

by Ruth Teale

This article was published:

George O'Malley Clarke (1836-1899), gold commissioner and stipendiary magistrate, was born in Paris, son of an Irish medical practitioner and his wife, née O'Malley. He went to New South Wales after the gold discoveries and in January 1854 entered the public service as clerk of Petty Sessions at Goulburn. In 1860 he was appointed a junior gold commissioner at Lambing Flat (Young) where his duties were to issue miners' rights and business licences, put down disturbances and sit on the bench in Petty Sessions. With his Irish persuasiveness, publicly spoken of as 'qualities of tact and zeal', he was popular among the miners; he needed no armed escort and was said to have never once been sworn at. In July 1861, after the anti-Chinese riots at Lambing Flat, he and Commissioner Lynch were temporarily suspended, 'in consequence of their want of decision and judgment in dealing with the rioters' and because their telegraphed report to the government in Sydney was 'incomplete'. Clarke was soon reinstated; by 6 August he was on the bench, examining prisoners taken during the riots, and in June 1866 was promoted a senior gold commissioner of the southern fields. Early in 1875 he moved to Adelong as chief warden to organize a mining office but by September was back in Young as police magistrate and commissioner of conditional purchases under the Land Acts. The stream of petitioners who filed through his office was as much evidence of his 'unflinching integrity and sound judgment' as of his local repute.

Clarke never subscribed to the view that public officials should keep out of local affairs; he maintained 'that any man in a public position who was worth his salt always lent tone to a movement, when his utterances and opinions would command respect and carry weight'. With his flamboyant platform manner he was an excellent chairman of public meetings. In October 1865 he was gazetted a trustee of the newly-consecrated Church of England and in 1866 of the parsonage and school; in July 1870 he convened the meeting which established the Young School of Arts; in March 1874 he was chairman of the local board when the public school was opened; he was many times chairman of the hospital committee which built several brick extensions; in October 1870 he was founding president of the Pastoral and Agricultural Association whose annual shows after April 1871 helped to foster cotton and tobacco growing, market gardening and sheep breeding; in January 1868 he was the first president of the Turf Club and in September 1876 of the Cricket Club. An energetic townsman, he did much toward the incorporation of Young in October 1882.

In January Clarke had been appointed one of the six original stipendiary magistrates in the Sydney metropolitan area, at a salary of £800. By 1890 he was presiding magistrate at the Central Police Court on a salary of £860 and acting chairman of the licensing bench. When he retired on 31 December 1893 with a pension of £500 his decisions were said to have given general satisfaction. Later he moved to Melbourne and lived at the Melbourne Club. He died aged 63 on 16 October 1899 at East Melbourne, and was buried beside his wife in the Waverley cemetery, Sydney.

His wife Margaret Turner Clarke (1836-1887), was a daughter of Charles McLachlan and his wife Isabella, née Dick. She was educated in England and became an accomplished harpist. She went to Sydney with her husband, Captain John Lunan Wilkie, of the 12th Regiment. In 1861 the regiment was sent to quell the Lambing Flat riots and she was horrified at the misery among the 15,000 miners there. Her husband died suddenly on 1 February 1862, and she returned to her family in England. But her independent spirit as well as her own private means and £3000 from her husband's estate made her dissatisfied with the seclusion of widowhood and she became one of the first women to train at the nursing college established in 1860 by Florence Nightingale at St Thomas's Hospital, London.

Remembering conditions on the goldfields, she returned to Lambing Flat in the 'famine season' of 1865 and sought out and relieved those 'whom the want of luck in gold-mining had left in absolute need of the common necessaries of life'. In November 1865 she formed a Visiting Relief Society and next February was given an address and a packet of gold dust by the Burrangong diggers who described themselves as 'the many who bless you'. She married Clarke in 1866 and continued her private medical and financial help to distressed families. She visited England in 1875 and 1879. Her particular interest was in the Church of England. In England in 1863 she had spoken of the want of religion and education on the goldfields to Rev. William Pownall, whom she encouraged to go to Young. In memory of her first husband she gave £500, a third of the total cost, for building the Church of St John. She also raised £200 in the colony, engaged a London architect, imported the encaustic tiles, font and other furnishings, and herself did all the needlework. Until replaced in 1893 it was known as the Wilkie Memorial Church. With 'the indefatigable skill with which [she] prosecutes her begging designs', she helped to raise funds for a Church of England school in 1866, a parsonage and a public school at Young in 1870 and an Anglican Church in 1873 at the near-by village of Wombat.

In 1882 she went with her husband to Sydney where she helped to found the Home and Training School for Nurses and formed a ladies' committee 'to seek out and relieve, with food and proper attendance, the sick whose poverty would otherwise place such relief beyond their reach'. Aged 51 she died peacefully at Woollahra on 8 August 1887, childless. Among her legatees were the Church Society of the Anglican Diocese of Goulburn and the City Mission in Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1863-64, 2, 674, 1875, 2, 107
  • Miner and General Advertiser, 20 July, 7 Aug 1861
  • Burrangong Argus, 12 Aug, 30 Sept 1865, 10 Feb 1866, 4 Mar, 2 Dec 1874, 31 May 1882, 10 Aug 1887, 18 Oct 1899
  • Burrangong Chronicle, 31 May 1882
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 18 Oct 1899
  • Young Chronicle, 4 Nov 1932
  • manuscript catalogue under G. O'M. Clarke (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Ruth Teale, 'Clarke, George O'Malley (1836–1899)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 23 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Paris, France


16 October, 1899 (aged ~ 63)
East Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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