Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Sir David Valentine Hennessy (1858–1923)

by David Dunstan

This article was published:

Sir David Valentine Hennessy (1858-1923), lord mayor and philanthropist, was born on 15 June 1858 in Melbourne, son of James Hennessy and his wife Margaret, née Power, both from Waterford, Ireland. He was educated at the Model High School and Fitzroy College. At 15 David joined his father's bakery business, which was based at Fitzroy, but later moved to Sydney Road, Brunswick; by the early 1880s he was in charge. On 23 February 1881, at St Patrick's Cathedral, he married 20-year-old Lizzie Walsh (d.1889). He was a founding member of the Brunswick branch of the Australian Natives' Association in 1885 and later president. By 1889 successful speculations enabled him to retire from active commerce and in 1891 he toured the world.

Apart from maintaining speculative interests, notably in mining ventures in Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania, 'D.V.' Hennessy devoted the rest of his life to his chosen form of public service. In 1891 he became a justice of the peace and next year entered the Brunswick Town Council, becoming mayor in 1894. He helped to raise large sums of money for the relief of victims of the depression and bank failures. He joined the (Royal) Melbourne Hospital committee, and in 1895 entered the Melbourne City Council. On 17 February 1896 at St Patrick's Cathedral he married Mary (Minnie) Quinlan Daly. Meanwhile he sought a career in politics, but his bids for the Legislative Assembly seats of Melbourne West in 1892 and East Bourke Boroughs in 1894 and 1897 resulted in defeat and mortification. He won Carlton South in 1900 and 1902 but lost to Labor, of which he was an uncompromising foe, in 1904 and 1907.

Hennessy then devoted his time to the city council. Dust prevention and sanitary matters were an interest, and as a result of his efforts rubbish baskets were installed on street corners. He was also an advocate of an underground railway. In 1912 he was elected lord mayor, remaining so for a record successive five terms. During World War I he distinguished himself as a 'super patriot', appearing regularly on recruiting platforms, assisted ably by his wife, a talented linguist and musician and a capable hostess. In early August 1914 she established the Lady Mayoress's Patriotic League, later known as the Comforts Fund. For her work she was appointed C.B.E. and honoured by the governments of France and Belgium. For nine years she was president of the Alliance Française of Victoria. As fund-raisers the Hennessys were a formidable team. The Lord Mayor's Patriotic Fund alone raised more than £250,000, and the total figure contributed for patriotic purposes by organizations in which they were active exceeded £1 million. Hennessy was knighted in 1915.

After relinquishing the mayoralty in 1917 Hennessy remained active in council affair, becoming a member of the new Tramways Trust in 1918. He died suddenly of bronchial pneumonia on 16 June 1923 at his Toorak home, and was buried in Melbourne general cemetery. He was survived by his wife and three daughters, one of whom married (Sir) Bernard Heinze, and by a son of his first marriage. Hennessy's estate was sworn for probate at £45,636.

He was an astute and energetic businessman who brought to public life a commitment normally only exhibited in the world of private gain. What he lacked in ability as a politician he more than made up for by zeal, circumspect political attitudes, and a philanthropic spirit.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 1 (Melb, 1903)
  • Scientific Australian, 20 June 1913
  • Labour History, Melbourne, Recorder, Dec 1976, Feb 1977
  • Who's Who in the World of Women, Victoria, 1930
  • Punch (Melbourne), 17 Oct 1912
  • Argus (Melbourne), 18 June 1923
  • Lord Mayors of Melbourne (bibliographic file, State Library of Victoria).

Citation details

David Dunstan, 'Hennessy, Sir David Valentine (1858–1923)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 30 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]


15 June, 1858
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


16 June, 1923 (aged 65)
Toorak, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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