Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Arthur Stephen Hennessy (1876–1959)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published:

Arthur Stephen Hennessy (1876-1959), football coach, was born on 24 September 1876 at Elizabeth Street, Sydney, sixth son of John Polding Hennessy, stonemason, and his Scottish wife Mary, née McGill. Arthur was a labourer living at Surry Hills when, on 25 November 1899, he married Emily Jane Hensley at Christ Church St Laurence, Sydney.

In 1895 Hennessy had played Rugby Union football in the three-quarter line for the Boys' Brigade. Next year he played for Bayview and in 1897 was a South Sydney junior. A regular Souths first-grade forward, he toured New Zealand in 1901, and represented New South Wales against Queensland in 1904. He became honorary coach of The King's School in 1905.

A founder of Australian Rugby League, Hennessy was a selector for and captained the team of pioneers in Sydney on 17 and 21 August 1907 against New Zealand Rugby Union professionals. Expelled with his colleagues from the amateur code, Hennessy convened the meeting which founded South Sydney District Rugby League Club and was one of its first delegates to the New South Wales Rugby Football League. In 1908 he captained New South Wales against Queensland and a Maori team, and led Souths to victory in the inaugural Sydney grade competition. A hooker, weighing 12 st. 6 lb. (79 kg), he was 5 ft 8 ins (173 cm) tall. He toured Britain with the first Kangaroos in 1908-09 but, twice sustaining a broken jaw, did not play in a Test. In 1909 he played for the Kangaroos versus the rest and against New Zealand, then coached the Wallaby team which defected to the league. In 1910-11 he again played for Souths.

Hennessy had quickly absorbed the principles of the new code and became a sought-after coach; in 1911 he trained the Wyalong team. As coach of the 1913 tour of New Zealand he imposed a steak-only diet for lunch on match days. Hennessy strongly advocated the no kick principle, emphasizing the importance of ball possession to score tries. This came to be the mark of South Sydney's football, influenced by Hennessy as trainer in 1912, coach and trainer in 1913 and second-grade coach in 1916. With straight running and backing up the no kick policy produced fast, open football and for Souths ('Rabbitohs') a remarkable winning record.

During the 1920s Hennessy was football and boxing coach at Waverley College. He was non-playing coach of the 1929-30 Kangaroo tour of Britain, the first and only such appointment until Clive Churchill's in 1959. Hennessy prohibited kicking and the Australians were narrowly defeated. He coached country versus city in 1942-44, and Souths' firsts in 1946; about then he published a coaching manual, Winning Rugby Moves.

A 'crack masseur', Hennessy also trained boxer Sid Godfrey. Connected with racing, possibly a bookmaker's clerk, he invested in the Maroubra Speedway and in mini-golf, and partly owned the Amusu cinema, Maroubra, living in a cottage opposite the theatre. Survived by his wife, Hennessy died on 19 September 1959 and was buried with Anglican rites in Botany cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £4703.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Mail, 22 Mar 1902, 30 May 1906
  • Town and Country Journal, 22 July 1908
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 31 Aug 1909
  • Referee, 2 May 1910, 9 May 1917, 23 Jan 1924
  • Sun (Sydney), 26 May 1911, 4 July 1913
  • Rugby League News, 28 May 1921, Oct 1959
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22 June 1942, 10 June 1944, 21 Sept 1959
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), 2 Apr 1949
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Hennessy, Arthur Stephen (1876–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 25 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


24 September, 1876
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


19 September, 1959 (aged 82)
Maroubra, Sydney, 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.