Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Roderick Flanagan (1828–1862)

by John M. Ward

This article was published:

Roderick Flanagan (1828-1862), journalist and historian, was born on 1 April 1828 near Elphin, County Roscommon, Ireland, son of Patrick Flanagan, hatter, farmer and woolsorter, and his wife Martha, née Dufficy. The family went to New South Wales as bounty immigrants in the Crusader and reached Sydney in January 1840. After two years at James Ryder's mercantile and classical school in York Street, Roderick was apprenticed to a printer. He found employment with the People's Advocate and in 1849 he went to Melbourne to work for the Daily News. Returning to Sydney probably in 1851 he founded, in partnership with his brother Edward Francis, the Chronicle, a weekly which expired after six months. In 1852 Henry Parkes employed him on the Empire and he rose to be its editor; he contributed articles and verses to the People's Advocate and Freeman's Journal. He wrote a series of articles, published in the Empire in 1853, on the Aboriginals. These were published posthumously as a book in 1888 under the title The Aborigines of Australia. Flanagan had been greatly moved by the plight of the Aboriginals and his writings discussed their manners, customs and sufferings at the hands of the colonists. He tried to estimate the numbers of Aboriginals in eastern Australia both at the coming of white men and at the time that he wrote. His careful chapter on the Myall Creek massacre was a restrained exercise in the use of evidence to prove guilt.

In 1854 Flanagan joined the staff of the Sydney Morning Herald and began work on a history of New South Wales. He left Sydney in November 1860 to take his incomplete manuscript to London and arranged publication with Sampson, Low, Son & Co. When he died intestate on 13 March 1862 only three-quarters of the first volume had been revised. The two volumes were published in 1862 under the title The History of New South Wales: With an Account of Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania), New Zealand, Port Phillip (Victoria), Moreton Bay and Other Australasian Settlements. The preface declared that Australia had acquired enough history to be 'a proper field for the exercise of the historian's labours'. 'The Australian Colonies', he wrote in recommending his own work to English readers, 'are more than any others, an off-shoot of Great Britain and the history of New South Wales is, to a very considerable extent, the history of all Australia'. Flanagan used official sources, together with newspapers, earlier histories, periodicals and personal information. The Empire, 28 July 1862, noted that his work 'shows his personal sympathy with the progress of liberal opinions … Yet we have seen nothing in the book which can be ascribed to political or ecclesiastical partizanship'.

A collection of Flanagan's verse was published posthumously in 1887 under the title Australian and Other Poems. He was a member of the Australian Literary Institute and the Philosophical Society of New South Wales.

Select Bibliography

  • Flanagan papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

John M. Ward, 'Flanagan, Roderick (1828–1862)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 20 June 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]


1 April, 1828
Elphin, Roscommon, Ireland


13 March, 1862 (aged 33)
London, Middlesex, England

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