Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Bede Dalley (1876–1935)

by Clement Semmler

This article was published:

John Bede Dalley (1876-1935), journalist and writer, was born on 5 October 1876 at Rose Bay, Sydney, second son and third of the five children of native-born parents William Bede Dalley, barrister and politician, and Eleanor Jane, née Long. He began his education at St Aloysius College but after his father's death in 1888, despite his wish that his sons be educated in Sydney, John and his brothers were sent to England in 1889 by their uncle and principal guardian W. A. Long. John was educated at St Augustine's Abbey school at Ramsgate, and Beaumont College at Old Windsor, Oxford. He matriculated from University College, Oxford, on 1 November 1895, and later entered the Inner Temple, and was called to the Bar on 18 November 1901. The brothers enjoyed hunting; the youngest Charles (b.1878) was killed in a fall in 1899. Returning to New South Wales in 1902 John practised for several years at Wigram Chambers. He joined the Union Club and enjoyed the pleasures of a young man-about-town. Standing as a protectionist, he was defeated for the Federal seat of Wentworth. He denied allegations that he traded on his father's name, except that 'I absolutely oppose sectarianism in politics as he did'.

On 20 August 1895 his brother William (1873-1942) had married Ianthe Pauline Lamonerie Fattorini; in 1900 John settled certain property on William, his sister-in-law and the two children. William gained a legal separation from his wife in London in 1903, but in 1905 in Sydney petitioned for divorce, citing his brother as co-respondent. The jury found the charges unproven, but Mrs Dalley's counter-charges proven. The case became a cause célèbre. Further litigation followed when she sought alimony and maintenance for her second child.

A fall from a horse left Dalley deaf; he turned to journalism and in 1906-07 edited the Bathurst National Advocate. In 1907 he became a sub-editor on the Bulletin and was a leader-writer from 1911. He contributed short stories, articles and verse, and was a superb writer of paragraphs, capturing the apparent ease of composition, pungency and ironic flippancy that characterized the Bulletin's style. He inherited his father's 'wit and command of language'.

Several times rejected for active service because of his deafness, Dalley pleaded with the government 'that no son of the man who had sent the first Australian troops abroad' should be denied entry to the Australian Imperial Force. He was commissioned second lieutenant in the Australian Field Artillery in March 1915 and, promoted lieutenant in the A.I.F. in November, he was allotted to the 2nd Divisional Ammunition Column. He served with the 5th Divisional Artillery until invalided to Australia in May 1916 after a bout of typhoid. He left again with reinforcements in September and served with the 6th Field Artillery Brigade in France and was in and out of hospital until he was invalided home late in 1918. He defended many 'diggers' at courts-martial and contributed to Aussie, an A.I.F. monthly published in the field.

On his return to Sydney, he rejoined the Bulletin. On 7 May 1919 at Paddington registry office he married a New Zealand-born divorcee Sarah Anne Sharpe, née Bright, manageress of a costume business; he divorced her in 1925. Meanwhile in 1924 he edited Melbourne Punch, then spent several years in London as representative of the Melbourne Herald. In London in 1928 he published two novels, No Armour and Max Flambard. Back in Sydney and on the Bulletin, at St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Macquarie Street on 8 November, he married an artist Claire Campbell Scott, who had designed the dust-jackets for his books.

In 1930 Dalley's best novel, Only the Morning (London), appeared; it ran to six editions. In all his novels he satirized the social life of upper-class Sydney, and in Only the Morning English society as well. He sharply observed their peculiarities and shortcomings, drawing on his own experiences. To that extent he is in the interesting line of Australian novelists from Henry Kingsley to Patrick White, who combined an Oxbridge education with a sardonic or satirical view of Australian life and manners. Always immaculately dressed, perfectly spoken, and courteous, Dalley effortlessly transferred these qualities to his novels, which thus have the unusual value of faithfully depicting the metropolitan and more cultured phases of Australian life in the 1920s. His contemporary Frank Dalby Davison remembered him as 'the kindliest of men, markedly tolerant of views that opposed his own, charitable in his judgement of fools and sinners'. A notable graduate of the half-world of literature and journalism that produced writers like Alfred George Stephens and Banjo Paterson, he was perhaps more distinctly cosmopolitan in his outlook.

Dalley was presumed to have been drowned while rock-fishing at Avalon Beach north of Sydney, on or about 6 September 1935. He was survived by his second wife and their daughter; his estate was valued for probate at £8515.

Select Bibliography

  • Home, 1 Dec 1921
  • Australian Writers' Annual, 1 (1936), p 61
  • Bulletin, 16 Feb 1889, 18 Sept 1935
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7-11, 15-18, 21-25, 28-30 Nov, 1, 2 Dec 1905, 15 Mar 1906, 13 Dec 1930
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 15 Nov 1928
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 14 Sept 1935
  • Smith's Weekly (Sydney), 28 Sept 1935.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Clement Semmler, 'Dalley, John Bede (1876–1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


5 October, 1876
Rose Bay, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


6 September, 1935 (aged 58)
Avalon, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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