Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Michael Gunson (1822–1884)

by Sally O'Neill

This article was published:

John Michael Gunson (1822-1884), medical practitioner, was born in Limerick, Ireland, son of Robert Gunson, a Protestant merchant, and his Catholic wife Jane, née Shepherd. He was reared as an Anglican but became a Catholic. At 14 he was sent to school in France for about five years and in 1845 was entered as a student at the Dublin Lying-In Hospital. After six months he was given a certificate by the hospital authorities and went to Paris where by 1848 he had a dozen certificates for attending lectures but no formal degree. In June he was admitted a member of the Royal College of Surgeons in England and then practised in Oxford. In May 1852 he sailed from Liverpool as surgeon in the Grasmere and arrived in South Australia on 28 August. Next April he was registered as a medical practitioner and opened a practice in Adelaide. He visited Europe and creditably passed 'a rigorous examination' at the University of Heidelberg (M.D., 1865), and in 1866 at Limerick married Mary Sarah Lucas. He returned to Adelaide with his wife and practised at his home in Angas Street. In 1867 he was appointed an honorary medical officer at the Adelaide Hospital but soon resigned. He retired in 1876 and at Marryatville built a large house which was bought by Sir Edwin Smith and later became Loreto Convent. In 1879 he took his family to Europe intending to stay, but returned after two years and built another house at Kensington Gardens.

Gunson joined the Adelaide Philosophical Society in February 1877 and read a paper 'On the Philosophy of Food, according to recent Scientists'. An influential layman in the Catholic Church he was active for years as president of the Young Men's Society, surgeon to the Hibernian Benefit Society and director of the Catholic Building Society. On 22 August 1881 at Adelaide he was installed a knight of St Gregory the Great. When John Redmond visited Adelaide in 1883 Gunson chaired the meeting although as a firm believer in 'Home Rule' he was no advocate for an 'Irish Republic'. In the University of Adelaide (M.D. ad eund., 1877) he served on its first council in 1874-79 and senate in 1877-84. He died on 3 May 1884 and was buried in the Catholic section of West Terrace cemetery. Of his three sons, William and George were lawyers and John Bernard a medical practitioner who married Annie Elizabeth, granddaughter of Sir John Morphett.

Dr Gunson's brother, William Henry, was born in Limerick in 1828 and educated at Rev. John Hogg's College. He migrated to Adelaide with his brother in 1852 and was briefly associated with the South Australian Register. He then joined the customs department at Port Adelaide but moved to Melbourne where he worked for the Age. He was converted to Catholicism independently of his brother. About 1858 he joined the staff of the Ballarat Times and from 1860 ran the Daylesford Express. In February 1868 he became the first editor of the Advocate, a Catholic weekly in Melbourne. Cultured and gifted, he maintained a scholarly literary style in his leading articles for nearly thirty-four years. He died aged 73 at his home in Windsor on 28 December 1901. He had married Mary Elizabeth Lynch (d.1898) on 24 October 1854 in Adelaide. Of their two daughters and three sons, his daughters and one son survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Register (Adelaide), 31 Jan 1877, 22 Aug 1881, 3 May 1884
  • Argus (Melbourne), 3 Jan 1902
  • Advocate (Melbourne), 4 Jan 1902
  • A. A. Lendon, Dr J. M. Gunson (State Records of South Australia)
  • information from Melbourne Diocesan Historical Commission.

Citation details

Sally O'Neill, 'Gunson, John Michael (1822–1884)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 15 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]


Limerick, Ireland


3 May, 1884 (aged ~ 62)
South Australia, Australia

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