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Sir John Lackey (1830–1903)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published:

Sir John Lackey (1830-1903), pastoralist and politician, was born on 6 October 1830 and baptized a Catholic on 18 January 1831 in Sydney, son of William Lackey and his second wife Mary, née O'Dowd. His father had been transported for inflicting a fatal blow and arrived in 1826 at Sydney in the Sir Godfrey Webster; he had a conditional pardon and a ticket-of-leave when he married on 7 December 1829. He was appointed bailiff at Parramatta in 1830, acquired land in the County of Cumberland and held the licences of several hotels, one on the Dog Trap Road. He seems to have disposed of most of his property to the O'Dowds before he became insolvent in 1843 and in 1845 was gaoled for fourteen days for prevarication. In the 1850s he was manager of the Moorebank estate where he died on 8 September 1880.

John's grandfather, a wealthy publican, paid for his education at Parramatta at John Eyre's school and John Mills's Aldine House, and in Sydney at William Timothy Cape's college. In 1849 John was a toll collector at the Lansdowne Bridge and camped in the old guard house. At Concord on 21 August 1851 at St John's Anglican Church he married Martha Anne Drummond Roberts, widowed daughter of William Hutchinson, thereby acquiring seven stepchildren. In 1852 he was appointed a magistrate and next year paid £254 for land near Concord. He took up grazing in the Parramatta district and as 'a jovial young farmer' bought and reared stock. In the early 1860s he took over the hotel on the Dog Trap Road and most of the adjoining land (Granville) which he laid out as a vineyard and farm. He also took up stations west of Peak Downs in Queensland. In the late 1870s he sold the farm and moved to Austermere near Bong Bong, once owned by his father-in-law.

Defeated for Central Cumberland in 1858, Lackey topped the poll for Parramatta in 1860. He faithfully supported John Robertson, voted for his Land Acts and favoured land reform. In 1865 Lackey was defeated by the 'Byrnes-Farnell racket' and retired to the country, but in 1867 won a by-election for Central Cumberland which he represented until 1885. He soon won repute for calmness, courtesy and iron self-control in the assembly. In 1874 he had 'never been known to say an offensive word even to his most bitter opponents' and was one of the few members who had 'never been called to order'. In 1870-72 his impartiality as chairman of committees increased his popularity and in 1872 when Sir James Martin was withdrawing from politics Lackey declined to lead the Opposition. Although he spoke rarely, he was fluent with an argumentative style full of pertinent information and experience. In 1874, with other native-born politicians, he advocated the release of the bushranger, Frank Gardiner.

In 1875-77 Lackey was secretary for public works in Robertson's ministry. The Newcastle Miners' Advocate could not recall him 'ever doing anything' but thought he might 'assist the Government much by his elephantine gravity'. In 1877 he was minister of justice and public instruction in Robertson's ministry and in 1878-83 secretary for public works in the Parkes-Robertson coalition. A capable administrator, Lackey introduced bills for building many of the colony's railways and was responsible for beginning to supply Nepean water for Sydney. In October 1882 he resigned from the ministry for private reasons but was induced by Parkes to continue in office. In the Freeman's Journal, 15 July 1882, 'Cassius' described him as a 'gentlemanly machine for attaching a so-called responsible signature to the ideas and conceptions of your professional advisors' but had to commend him for 'never losing his temper'. 'Cassius' also criticized Lackey for nepotism: in 1875 he had appointed his second son time-keeper at Prospect reservoir and a stepson first superintendent of Sydney trams. In 1885 Lackey resigned from the assembly and was nominated to the Legislative Council. He suggested a parliamentary standing committee on public works and in August 1888 became its first chairman. In 1889 he was vice-president of the Executive Council in (Sir) George Dibbs's ministry.

With 'a keen eye for a clever two-year old', Lackey had long been interested in racing and in the 1850s was steward and treasurer of the Parramatta Turf Club. In the 1860s he was judge for the Australian Jockey Club and by 1873 was also handicapper and a steward. He helped to select and supervise the laying out of Randwick Race Course and became well known as a breeder and owner. A committee member of the Cumberland Agricultural Society, he became trustee, treasurer and a vice-president of the Agricultural Society of New South Wales in the 1860s. In August 1873 he read a paper to the society on the History of Horses and Horsebreeding in New South Wales. In 1888 he contributed 'Reminiscences of Horse Racing and Sporting in the Early Days' to the Centennial Magazine, August 1888. In the 1880s he was chairman of the Sydney Meat Preserving Co. and Lackey Street near Railway Square, where the firm had its premises, is named after him. He also acquired Buckwaroon, 108,000 acres (43,707 ha) near Cobar, and in 1891 bought the adjoining Amphitheatre run of 174,000 acres (70,416 ha) and the Mereworth estate at Moss Vale. In 1888 he was president of the Centennial Celebration Commission. He had been a member of the Union Club from 1869 and was president and vice-president of the Warrigal Club in Sydney where he lived when parliament was sitting.

In January 1892 Lackey succeeded Sir John Hay as president of the Legislative Council, where he became noted for the 'clearness of his decisions, delivered in a sonorous voice and with deliberate emphasis'. In 1894 he was appointed K.C.M.G. In his office he kept a portrait of Sir Robert Peel, with whom the Bulletin had once compared him. He resigned as president on 23 May 1903. In old age he represented 'the old-time Australian Squatter', full of dignity and geniality and enjoying 'universal reverence'. He died from senile decay on 11 November 1903 at Austermere and was buried in the Bong Bong Church of England cemetery. Predeceased by his wife on 5 August 1901 and by a daughter, he was survived by two sons.

Select Bibliography

  • D. M. Barrie, The Australian Bloodhorse (Syd, 1956)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1883-84, 1, 78, 2, 102
  • Illustrated Sydney News, 17 Oct 1874
  • Miners' Advocate (Newcastle), 13 Feb 1875
  • Bulletin, 7 Aug 1880
  • Freeman's Journal (Sydney), 15 July 1882
  • Pastoral Review, 15 Aug 1899, 15 Dec 1901, 16 June 1903
  • Truth (Sydney), 31 Aug 1919
  • Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • CO 201/577/539, 597/350.

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Lackey, Sir John (1830–1903)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 20 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

John Lackey, 1895

John Lackey, 1895

State Library of New South Wales, 170821

Life Summary [details]


6 October, 1830
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


11 November, 1903 (aged 73)
Bong Bong, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

general debility

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