Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Michael Gannon (1800–1881)

by Philip Geeves

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Michael Gannon (1800-1881), builder and innkeeper, was born at Mullingar, Westmeath, Ireland, son of John Gannon, joiner, and his wife Alicia, née Gelshin. In 1820 he and his younger brother James, both carpenters, were sentenced in Meath, Michael for life and James for fourteen years. In December 1820 they arrived at Sydney in the Almorah.

In August 1824 Michael, then an assigned servant, married in Sydney Mary Parsonage, who later petitioned Governor (Sir) Ralph Darling for her husband to be assigned to her. They lived in the Rocks area where Gannon worked as a carpenter and joiner. By 1829 he had a ticket-of-leave and in June 1836 his conditional pardon was confirmed. Gannon prospered as a builder and accumulated real estate. By 1843 he was undertaker for Catholic burials and had started as an auctioneer and commission agent in Lower George Street but this business was damaged by his brother's insolvency. Michael then obtained a publican's licence for an inn on Cook's River Road, Newtown, and was settled at Tempe by the end of 1845. Bankrupt within two years he was criticized for fraudulent transactions, contradictory evidence on oath and criminal neglect in failing to keep proper accounts.

From 1848 Gannon 'played an active and largely hidden role in Sydney politics'. In November 1850 he bought for £732 in St George parish a heavily timbered estate of 1905 acres (771 ha), known as Gannon's Forest and later renamed Hurstville. Buying and selling property he lived at Tempe until he died aged 81 on 9 August 1881, survived by four sons and two daughters. He was buried in the family vault at Cook's River beside his wife who had died on 25 March 1878. His estate, valued at £9581, was bequeathed to members of his family but challenged by some of his relations.

James was granted his ticket-of-leave in 1828 and married Mary Phelps at Sydney in 1829. From carpentry he drifted into inn-keeping and sporting activities, notably pigeon shooting. Insolvent in 1843, his personal assets were valued at £62 and included his treasured fowling piece and two dogs. On the fringe of politics in 1865 he was fined £50 for personation and double voting but was pardoned by the governor. As a labourer he died aged 68 at Paddington on 19 February 1871, leaving three children.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Digby (ed), Australian Men of Mark, vol 2 (Syd, 1889)
  • P. Geeves and J. Jervis, Rockdale: Its Beginnings and Development (Syd, 1962)
  • M. Roe, Quest for Authority in Eastern Australia 1831-1851 (Melb, 1965)
  • insolvency file (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

Philip Geeves, 'Gannon, Michael (1800–1881)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 29 May 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]


Mullingar, Westmeath, Ireland


9 August, 1881 (aged ~ 81)
Tempe, Sydney, New South Wales, 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.

Passenger Ship
Convict Record

Crime: theft
Sentence: life