Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Nicholas Fitzgerald (1829–1908)

by D. J. Dwyer

This article was published:

Nicholas Fitzgerald (1829-1908), politician, brewer and pastoralist, was born on 7 August 1829 in Galway, Ireland, the eighth son of Francis Fitzgerald, brewer, and his wife Eleanor, née Joyes; a brother, Sir Gerald Fitzgerald, K.C.M.G., became accountant-general of the navy in 1885-96. In 1845 Nicholas entered Trinity College, Dublin, studied law in 1848 at the King's Inns and in 1849 won a scholarship to the new Queen's College in Galway. In 1852 he turned to commerce, partly in Ceylon and India, and arrived in Melbourne in 1859. He joined his brother Edward who had just started the Castlemaine brewery. In 1875 they opened a brewery in South Melbourne. In 1885 they converted to a public company, the Castlemaine Brewery Co. Melbourne Ltd, selling for £75,000; in 1888 it paid a dividend of 25 per cent. They extended business to Newcastle and Brisbane in 1887 and to Adelaide next year. Nicholas was managing director from 1892 till 1906 when, in the great amalgamation of breweries, he became a director of Carlton and United.

In 1863 Fitzgerald was appointed a magistrate and in 1864 was elected for North-Western Province to the Legislative Council after a close contest. As a councillor until 1906 he never accepted office though offered the ministry of defence in the Patterson government. According to (Sir) John Davies, Fitzgerald 'preferred to do his duty as a private member rather than join a Government which did not agree with him on the education issue'. He was a brilliant orator with clear ideas on important political issues. He was a member of the National Australasian Convention in Sydney in 1891 and in 1894 represented Victoria at the Colonial Conference in Ottawa, Canada, where he was staunchly imperialistic. In 1903 he became the Legislative Council's chairman of committees.

With large pastoral interests in the 1880s and 1890s in New South Wales and Queensland, Fitzgerald's main station was Fort Bourke on the Darling but drought forced him to sell many of his holdings. In 1887 he helped to found the National Trustees Executors and Agency Co., planned largely to meet the needs of the Irish Catholics; Fitzgerald was managing director and associated with him were William Cain and Walter Madden. He was chairman of the Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Co. in the 1890s and a director of the Manchester Fire Assurance Co. and the Bellambi Coal Co.

A prominent Catholic layman, Fitzgerald was awarded the papal knighthood of St Gregory by Pope Leo XIII. He often spoke at public gatherings connected with the Church and was an enthusiast for completing St Patrick's Cathedral. He presented the laity's address when his friend Archbishop Thomas Carr was welcomed to Melbourne and again at his jubilee. His commonest theme was Catholic education. 'Justice', he said, 'has been put aside for power, but no wrong can be sanctified by success … The sense of that injustice will never be removed until the law is altered'. He was at his best when speaking to his fellow countrymen on subjects appealing to their native sympathies.

In 1863 Fitzgerald married Marianne, the eldest daughter of John O'Shanassy; they had seven sons. He died at his home, Moira, Alma Road, St Kilda, on 17 August 1908, survived by his widow. He left an estate valued at £5318.

Select Bibliography

  • Argus (Melbourne), 18 Aug 1908
  • Advocate (Melbourne), 20 Aug 1908
  • Austral Light, Sept 1908
  • Carlton and United Breweries: A History 1837-1951 (MS500, National Library of Australia)
  • National Trustees Executors and Agency Co. Archives (Melbourne)
  • private information.

Citation details

D. J. Dwyer, 'Fitzgerald, Nicholas (1829–1908)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 23 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


7 August, 1829
Galway, Ireland


17 August, 1908 (aged 79)
St Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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