Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Cornelius Driscoll (1782–1847)

by Ella K. Mulcahy

This article was published:

Cornelius Driscoll (1782-1847), public servant and banker, was born in England of an Irish family, kinsmen of Daniel O'Connell. He went into business in London and 'on the loss of a brilliant fortune' in 1830 decided to emigrate, at the instance of his brother Terence O'Driscoll who, after retirement from the Indian army with a few thousand pounds, had applied for a maximum land grant in Van Diemen's Land, but died on the passage there in August 1830. A year later Cornelius arrived at Hobart Town in the Vibilia. He was recommended by the Colonial Office for help in finding a post in a mercantile house, but he asked Lieutenant-Governor Sir George Arthur for a government position instead. In March 1832 he was appointed to the colonial secretary's office as a clerk at a salary of £300 and became chief clerk in March 1834. He also acted as assistant police magistrate. Although praised by Arthur for his correct and zealous conduct, he failed to obtain a salary increase, and in January 1835 appealed to the Colonial Office as his brother's legatee for the land grant asked for in 1830. When this appeal failed he bought 980 acres (397 ha) in the Sorell district, and 800 (324 ha) at Pembroke in 1838-39.

In January 1836 Driscoll complained that overwork was undermining his health and applied for a less arduous post. Arthur appointed him a stipendiary member of the board for the assignment of convicts. Driscoll resigned this office in September 1838 to become manager of the Hobart branch of the Union Bank of Australia at a salary of £500, with a house. Next year he left this position and in July 1840 became a founding director and first manager of the Colonial Bank. It started at a time of great financial difficulty and although Driscoll won a small share of the government account, the bank was forced to close in December 1843 through the internal dissension of its shareholders. Contrary to general expectation nearly all the subscribed capital was realized and Driscoll obtained the confidence of the public for his integrity and ability. In January 1845 he became an original trustee of the Hobart Savings Bank.

In 1844 Driscoll refused nomination to the Legislative Council but in December 1845 the offer was renewed after the Patriotic Six walked out of the council. Knowing that he risked unpopularity, Driscoll accepted from a sense of public duty, and next year he also joined the commission for building Bridgewater bridge. In March 1847 Lieutenant-Governor Sir William Denison reinstated the Patriotic Six in place of the loyalists, and in a long and angry letter Driscoll charged him with discourtesy, ingratitude and a breach of the law. His remonstrance caused deep concern at the Colonial Office, but a soothing reply reached Hobart after Driscoll had resigned all his public positions through ill health. He died at his home in Warwick Street, Hobart, on 25 December 1847. At his funeral service in St Joseph's Church which he had helped to build, Bishop Robert Willson spoke of the church's great loss. By his will most of Driscoll's estate was divided between his two daughters and the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland and Van Diemen's Land, and by a specific bequest for the education of priests he became the first in Tasmania to make provision for missionary work in the island colony.

Driscoll's death left one score unsettled. In 1846 he had written to the lieutenant-governor of Guernsey seeking news of Captain Feast, with whom his brother had contracted a debt of £27 while smuggling brandy and tobacco to Ireland in 1806. A needy descendant was traced, but the information reached Hobart too late.

Select Bibliography

  • S. J. Butlin, Foundations of the Australian Monetary System, 1788-1851 (Melb, 1953)
  • correspondence file under Driscoll (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

Ella K. Mulcahy, 'Driscoll, Cornelius (1782–1847)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 19 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]




25 December, 1847 (aged ~ 65)
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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.