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John Francis Lane Mullins (1857–1939)

by Mark Lyons

This article was published:

John Lane Mullins (1857-1939), solicitor, was born on 4 June 1857 in Sydney, second son of Irish parents James Mullins, clerk, and his wife Eliza, née Lane. He was educated at Richard Creagh's and Mrs Saclier's schools, then by the Benedictines as a boarder at St Mary's College, Lyndhurst, and at St John's College, University of Sydney (B.A., 1876; M.A., 1879). In May 1876 he was articled to Robert Burdett Smith, solicitor. After touring Europe in 1882-83 he was admitted as a solicitor on 28 February 1885. At St Mary's Cathedral he married Jane Mary Frances, sister of John and (Sir) Thomas Hughes, on 14 April.

Income from his father's investments, mainly in city real estate, freed John from the necessity of earning all his income and enabled him to pursue cultivated and gentlemanly ideals. Like his father he was a prominent Catholic layman: he was treasurer (or secretary) of St Mary's Cathedral Building Fund from 1879, a director of St Joseph's Building and Investment Society, active in the Society of St Vincent de Paul in Australia, a fellow of St John's College (1885-1939), and secretary then treasurer of St Vincent's Hospital. A founder of, and solicitor for, the Catholic Press in 1895, he was a trusted confidant of and adviser (especially on financial matters) to Cardinal Patrick Moran and Archbishop Michael Kelly. He was appointed papal chamberlain in 1903 and a knight commander of the papal Order of St Gregory the Great in 1920.

Mullins mixed an affection for England and English Catholicism with a pride in his Irish origins and Australian birth. In 1896 he helped to form the New South Wales Irish Rifle Regiment, and was a captain from 1898. He planned to accompany the 3rd New South Wales contingent to the South African War as adjutant, but was elected to the Sydney Municipal Council for Bligh Ward. Elected chairman of the finance committee in 1902, he contributed to reorganization of the city's finances. In 1909 as chairman of the library committee he helped to arrange the transfer of the lending branch of the Public Library of New South Wales, to form the basis of the Sydney Municipal Library. He lost interest in municipal affairs after being defeated for mayor in 1910 and with his family visited Europe for almost two years.

Nominated to the Legislative Council in 1917, Mullins generally voted with the Nationalists and was especially interested in legislation affecting Catholics, hospitals and charities, local government and certain businesses. In 1931 he joined the All for Australia League and supported the United Australia Party from 1932. He did not stand for election to the reconstituted council in 1933. In 1918 he was appointed to the State Children Relief Board and was an executive-member of the Royal Society for the Welfare of Mothers and Babies, the National Association for the Prevention and Cure of Consumption, president of the Citizens' Rights and Liquor Reform Association and a vice-chairman of the Metropolitan Hospitals Contribution Fund from 1932. He became a director of the City Mutual Fire Insurance Co. in 1923 and of Tooheys Ltd in 1927.

Mullins was a notable patron of the arts. He had studied music and was adept at repoussé metal work. As a youth he had assisted the sculptor Achille Simonetti; later he arranged the publication of Hugh McCrae's first work and supported him financially. Mullins collected finely bound and printed books and book plates, and also paintings; and he encouraged these activities by founding and presiding over the Australian Ex Libris Society and the Australian Limited Editions Society and using his influence to obtain commissions for artists. He was secretary and treasurer of the Society of Artists, Sydney, in 1907-39, and from 1916 a trustee of the National Art Gallery of New South Wales (president, 1938-39). Mullins provided an important link between artists and Sydney's business and political elite. He was also active in the local Numismatic and Philatelic societies, a member of the (Royal) Australian Historical Society and a vice-president of the Wattle Day committee.

Mullins was admitted to the Bar on 1 August 1930, to encourage a grandson to do the same. Survived by four daughters, he died on 24 February 1939 at Elizabeth Bay and was buried in South Head cemetery. His wife had died in 1926 and his only son Brendan was killed in action in 1917. A terracotta bust of Mullins by Simonetti is held by the Mitchell Library, Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of N.S.W. (Syd, 1907)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25 Feb 1939
  • Catholic Press, 2 Mar 1939
  • J. L. Mullins papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Mark Lyons, 'Lane Mullins, John Francis (1857–1939)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 22 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Mullins, John Lane

4 June, 1857
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


24 February, 1939 (aged 81)
Elizabeth Bay, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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