Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Thomas Joseph Donovan (1843–1929)

by B. G. Andrews

This article was published:

Thomas Joseph Donovan (1843-1929), benefactor, was born on 26 April 1843 in Sydney, son of Jeremiah Donovan, merchant, and his wife Mary, née Dolan. Educated at St Mary's Seminary, at W. T. Cape's school, and at Sydney Grammar School, Donovan worked for the Bank of Australasia until 1872. After a short and successful period as a vigneron at Albury he settled in Europe, where for twenty-five years he wintered in the Mediterranean and spent the summer months in England. He studied law but, although admitted in 1884 to the Middle Temple in London and to the New South Wales Bar, never seems to have practised. He also commenced the study of Elizabeth drama which led him to edit English Historical Plays (2v. 1896) and The Falstaff Plays of William Shakespeare (1925); to write The True Text of Shakespeare and his Fellow Playwrights (1923); and to collect the fine library centred on Shakespeare and his contemporaries which was presented to the University of Sydney in 1926. As an editor Donovan conformed to a nineteenth-century tradition which permitted the bowdlerization of the text.

Around 1900 Donovan retired to New South Wales and lived as a gentleman at Darling Point. Little is known of him until 1914, when an endowment of £30,000 to St John's College, University of Sydney, was announced; the money went instead in 1915 towards the foundation of Newman College at the University of Melbourne, in the form of bursaries there for the children of members of the Australian Imperial Force. Among other benefactions were the erection of a chapel for the Marist Brothers at Mount St Gregory near Campbelltown, the gift of land for a farm school for boys in the same area, and in 1923 the establishment of the Donovan Trust for the promotion of astronomical education in Australia. The trust has operated since 1925, providing funds for lectures, medals, bursaries and prizes.

A bachelor, Donovan died at Darling Point on 12 January 1929 and was buried in the Catholic section of Waverley cemetery; he was survived by a sister and a brother. His estate was sworn for probate at £30,854; under the terms of his will, it was to be invested in Commonwealth government stock for eight years and then offered to the Abbot of Downside, Bath, England, for the establishment of a Benedictine school for boys in New South Wales or the Federal Capital Territory. The offer was declined, and the bequest passed instead to the Sisters of Mercy at Goulburn for the establishment of a hospital for women and children at Cootamundra.

Select Bibliography

  • British Astronomical Association (New South Wales Branch), Bulletin, 1932, no 113
  • University of Melbourne, Calendar, 1980
  • Town and Country Journal, 20 May 1914
  • Argus (Melbourne), 6 Jan 1916
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 2, 3 Nov 1923, 5 June, 25 Sept 1926, 2 July 1927, 15 Jan, 11 July, 12 Sept 1929
  • private information.

Citation details

B. G. Andrews, 'Donovan, Thomas Joseph (1843–1929)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 14 April 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]


26 April, 1843
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


12 January, 1929 (aged 85)
Darling Point, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.