Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Albert Thomas Dryer (1888–1963)

by Patrick O'Farrell

This article was published:

Albert Thomas Dryer (1888-1963), medical practitioner and Irish republican, was born on 1 March 1888 at Balmain, Sydney, son of Albert James Dryer, a Sydney-born clerk, and his Irish wife Mary Ann, née Cusick. He was educated in various primary schools at Singleton and Sydney in 1896-1904, then at night schools. In 1911 he matriculated at the University of Sydney (B.A., 1914).

Dryer began his working life in Melbourne in 1905, with several short-term jobs. He entered the Victorian Public Service in 1907, and in 1908 the Commonwealth Customs Department as a clerk in Melbourne, being transferred to Sydney in 1909. In 1914 he read Alice Stopford Green's Irish Nationality (1911) which converted him to passionate interest in the cause of Irish independence. With that objective, he founded the Irish National Association of New South Wales in Sydney on 21 July 1915. Following the 1916 Easter Rebellion in Dublin, this small but militant association, which had spread to Melbourne and Brisbane, came under increasing government suspicion as disloyal and revolutionary. In June 1918 seven of its members, including Dryer, were interned in Darlinghurst gaol as suspected members of the proscribed, secret Irish Republican Brotherhood; an inquiry was conducted by (Sir) John Harvey in August. Dryer was released in February 1919 but, dismissed from the Department of Customs, he opened a short-lived Irish book depot.

After failing in such ventures as book-keeping, coaching and shopkeeping, including his own Academic Coaching College, he attended Sydney Technical College (associate in science and biology 1926) and in 1929 passed first-year medicine at the university without attending lectures. In 1932 he borrowed money to enter medical school full-time and graduated M.B., B.S. in 1938. After a series of locum tenens appointments, he set up practice at Fairfield in 1940, moving to Singleton after World War II. Until 1963 Dryer remained a central figure in the Irish National Association, and did much to secure the building of its present premises in Devonshire Street, Sydney; its library is named as his memorial. He organized the Sydney visit of Eamon de Valera in 1948, when he also founded the Australian League for an Undivided Ireland, which existed until 1954.

Dryer never visited Ireland, but his devotion to the cause of Irish independence, and particularly the party of de Valera was constant, selfless and total. With great ability and remarkable strength of character and purpose, he was essentially a romantic idealist to whom Ireland represented all that was noble in human affairs. His high intelligence and gentlemanly disposition stopped him well short of any fanaticism, but the realities of indifference and in-fighting which afflicted the Irish cause in Australia were a source of deep disappointment and frustration to him.

At St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, Dryer had married Elizabeth Ellen Haynes, on 29 April 1933: they had been engaged since 1915 because of the insecurity of his employment. Their only child Albert Benjamin was born in 1934. Dryer died of cancer in Lewisham Hospital, Sydney, on 11 April 1963, survived by his wife and son. A devout Roman Catholic, he was buried at Singleton.

Select Bibliography

  • Papers and Proceedings of the Tasmanian Historical Research Association, 21 (1974), no 4
  • P. O'Farrell, The Formation of the Irish National Association of New South Wales, Sydney: July 1915–April 1916 (privately held)
  • Dryer family papers (privately held).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Patrick O'Farrell, 'Dryer, Albert Thomas (1888–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 17 June 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]


1 March, 1888
Balmain, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


11 April, 1963 (aged 75)
Lewisham, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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