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Michael Hayes (1767–1825)

by Vivienne Parsons

This article was published:

Michael Hayes (1767?-1825), dealer and leading Roman Catholic layman, was born in Wexford, Ireland, the son of a small property owner. He was sentenced to transportation for life to New South Wales after taking part in the 1798 rebellion, left Cork in the Friendship in August 1799 and arrived in Sydney in February 1800. He received a conditional pardon on 4 June 1803, but in September 1805 was convicted of illicit distilling of spirits in his house at Farm Cove. He was sentenced to be removed to Norfolk Island, and sailed in the Sydney on 29 September 1805.

Already Hayes had begun several legitimate trading ventures, and acted as factor for the merchants, George Bass and Charles Bishop. He had much difficulty in recovering debts due to him before his departure for Norfolk Island, and some were still outstanding when he returned to Sydney in 1808. While on the island he traded among the settlers and again acted as factor for several of the Sydney merchants, especially Thomas Jamison, for whom he recovered many debts. On his own account he also shipped salt pork and soap for sale in Sydney. When the plans for evacuation of Norfolk Island were announced, Captain John Piper gave Hayes his assurance that he could remain until the last in his endeavour to collect debts, a task which won him the hatred of the settlers. Piper interceded in Hayes's favour with Governor William Bligh, and Hayes was allowed to return to Sydney. On 21 September 1808 Lieutenant-Governor Joseph Foveaux gave him a free pardon, which Governor Lachlan Macquarie in due course confirmed.

During 1809 Hayes ran a business in Pitt's Row selling assorted goods and conducting a boot factory; in February 1810 he was one of the twenty persons given wine and spirit licences in Sydney, his public house in George Street North being later occupied by Mrs Mary Reibey; the licence was renewed in 1811, but thereafter it seems to have lapsed. In August 1812 Hayes was granted 120 acres (49 ha) on the Nepean at Airds. From that time Hayes's fortunes apparently declined, owing to speculation, bad debts and the loss of the George Bass in 1812. He was unable to return to Ireland because of his own debts and the burden of his seven young children. He constantly wrote to his brother in Ireland begging him either to emigrate to or invest in property in New South Wales, hoping this might help them both.

These letters are preserved in the Franciscan Archives, Dublin, and reflect both Hayes's homesickness and his attachment to the colony. They are part of a crusade on behalf of the Roman Catholics in New South Wales who were deprived of the right to practise their religion. They castigate the immorality prevalent in the colony, the lack of educated churchmen, and the scarcity of books. His letters to another brother, Rev. Richard Hayes, finally bore fruit when the latter persuaded Rev. Jeremiah O'Flynn to make his unauthorized mission to New South Wales in 1817. Hayes helped O'Flynn to elude for a time Macquarie's order to leave the colony, and when the priest was finally removed by force Hayes wrote a protesting letter to Bishop Poynter in London. When Commissioner John Thomas Bigge arrived, Hayes led the Catholics in their appeal for justice, his signature being the first on the Catholic petition to Bigge in February 1820 seeking the benefits of their religion and clergy and the right to establish schools for the education of their children. It was to Hayes that Bigge sent his assurance that the appointment of Catholic priests to New South Wales was only delayed by the difficulty of finding suitable persons. When Fathers John Joseph Therry and Philip Conolly arrived, Hayes was elected a member of the committee to select the site for the Roman Catholic chapel in July 1820.

He did not live long to enjoy the new status and freedom of Roman Catholics in the colony, for on 7 September 1825 he was found drowned off the Market Wharf. The Sydney Gazette described him as having been once in affluent, respectable circumstances and suggested that he had committed suicide. He was buried in the cemetery at The Sandhills and later reburied at La Perouse.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vol 7
  • Sydney Gazette, 29 Mar 1805, 29 Jan 1809, 15 Sept 1825
  • Truth (Sydney), 27 Oct 1907
  • manuscript catalogue under M. Hayes (State Library of New South Wales)
  • M. Hayes letters, 1799-1820 (copies, National Library of Australia and State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Vivienne Parsons, 'Hayes, Michael (1767–1825)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 20 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Wexford, Ireland


7 September, 1825 (aged ~ 58)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death


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.

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.

Passenger Ship
Convict Record

Crime: insurrection
Sentence: life