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James Hannell (1813–1876)

by Dan O'Donnell

This article was published:

James Hannell (1813-1876), publican and politician, was born on 1 December 1813 at Parramatta, the eldest son of two convicts, James Walton and Elizabeth Hannell. Educated at Christ Church School, Newcastle, he served with the Newcastle police in 1833-36. On 12 March 1836 he married Mary Anne Sophia, second daughter of Edward Priest, lighthouse-keeper at Port Stephens.

In 1839 Hannell became Newcastle's first auctioneer and later bought the Ship Inn. This venture flourished and he soon achieved influence by his successful support of Major D'Arcy Wentworth in the first Legislative Council elections in 1843. In 1845 at the District Council elections he proposed Henry Usher who was later the chief benefactor of the new Newcastle Hospital, with which Hannell was closely associated. In 1855 he declined (Sir) Henry Parkes's invitation to join 'the chosen men in the new parliament', but in 1859, standing as a Liberal, he was narrowly defeated for Newcastle by Arthur Hodgson. In December 1860 Hannell unseated Hodgson. An ardent free trader he supported Robertson's land proposals and opposed state aid to religion. In 1866 he voted unreservedly for Parkes's education bill. He resigned his seat in 1869 in favour of his friend, Sir James Martin. In 1872-74 Hannell represented Northumberland. A 'roads and bridges' member, he seldom permitted faction ties to hamper him.

Hannell was active in agitating for the incorporation of Newcastle and became its first mayor in 1859-62, serving again in 1868-69 and 1871. In 1859-64, 1866-71 and 1873-76 he represented city ward in the Newcastle Council. When Wickham was proclaimed a municipality in 1871, largely by his efforts, he became its first mayor. Familiar with the control of meetings, he successfully led both Newcastle and Wickham Councils through their formative years. He had been gazetted a justice of the peace in 1857 and regularly attended the Newcastle bench. Prominent as a churchwarden and trustee of Christ Church Anglican Cathedral, he became embroiled in an altercation between Canon John Fletcher and Bishop William Tyrrell. In 1862 in parliament Hannell raised the parishioners' objections to the bishop and later initiated a fruitless Supreme Court action against him. Martin told Hannell that the parishioners' case had been 'blundered all through', but later even Tyrrell lauded 'the energy and ability with which he performed his duties as chairman of committees'.

For the Newcastle Hospital, Hannell organized concerts in which he took part as a comic singer. He was a key figure in establishing the Newcastle Mechanics' School of Arts and in 1858 was appointed one of the first trustees of the Newcastle National School. In 1867 he became a member of the Board of the Newcastle Public School. He was president and judge of the Newcastle Jockey Club, organizer of the first regatta and president of the Regatta Committee for over thirty years. He died at Mary Ville, Newcastle, on 31 December 1876 and was buried in Christ Church cemetery. He was survived by his wife, three sons and six daughters. His estate was valued at under £1000.

Select Bibliography

  • D. O'Donnell, The Christ Church Cathedral Controversy, 1861-1866 (Newcastle, 1967)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1860-74
  • registers, 1826-56, and vestry minutes, 1859-90 (Christ Church Cathedral, Newcastle).

Citation details

Dan O'Donnell, 'Hannell, James (1813–1876)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 23 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 December, 1813
Parramatta, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


31 December, 1876 (aged 63)
Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.