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John Lucas (1818–1902)

by R. W. Rathbone

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John Lucas (1818-1902), politician, was born on 24 June 1818 at Kingston (Camperdown), Sydney, eldest son of John Lucas and his wife Mary, daughter of Thomas Rowley. His father had been born in Norfolk Island and was a miller, builder, publican and political activist. Educated at the Church of England school in Liverpool and Captain Beveridge's boarding school in Sydney, Lucas was apprenticed at 16 as a carpenter. On 4 January 1841 at Singleton he married Ann Sammons. About 1848 he returned to Camperdown where he was an innkeeper. Later he succeeded as a builder and contractor. In 1858 he became a magistrate and sat regularly in the Central Police Court.

In 1858 Lucas published a pamphlet, Protection v. Free Trade, in which he advocated protection in a young country to protect the labouring classes and the farmers. After several defeats he was elected to the Legislative Assembly for Canterbury in 1860. In 1864 he won both Canterbury and Hartley and sat for Hartley. In 1870-80 he again represented Canterbury. A family connexion of J. S. Farnell, he supported liberal legislation, and in 1860 and 1861 twice unsuccessfully introduced a Chinese immigration regulation bill. After the Lambing Flat riots in 1861 the ministry adopted his proposed poll tax. A scathing critic of governments whatever their political complexion, he abhorred waste and bungling. Although he made many enemies by constantly trying to curb the perquisites of the public service, his political influence enabled him to establish three of his sons in the civil service. In 1866 he supported the Martin-Parkes coalition, but after being ridiculed by Thomas Garrett as the 'off-side Minister', he deserted to the Opposition. By the end of the 1867 session he had acquired 'an unenviable notoriety for mischief and obstruction'. Lucas was hampered by his 'heavy lumbering way' and offensive 'bullying manner'. Although he detested dancing in public houses and failed to have the assembly's plush leather benches replaced by cane chairs, he saved Belmore Park in Sydney from subdivision and had land for parks set aside in every country town in New South Wales.

A prolific pamphleteer and compulsive correspondent of the Empire and Sydney Morning Herald, Lucas advocated free state schools, reformatories for wayward children, protection and many other causes. He was deeply interested in Sydney's water supply and advocated the damming of the George's and Warragamba Rivers. In 1875-77 he was secretary for mines in John Robertson's ministry and carried the Coal Mines Regulation Act and amendments to the Mining Act. The government fell before he could persuade his colleagues to spend a surplus of £1,750,000 on such impressive public buildings as the schools of mines and design. In 1880 he did not seek re-election, but was nominated to the Legislative Council. He strongly opposed Federation as premature and thought New South Wales had everything to lose; in 1890-91 he published two pamphlets on the question.

Lucas had been one of the first to visit the Jenolan caves in 1861 and described them in the Sydney Morning Herald, 5 June 1863. Through his efforts the caves were opened to the public and declared a reserve. One of the largest caverns was named after him. He was a director of the Botany Railway Co., the Bowenfels Coal Mining and Copper Smelting Co. and two mutual benefit building societies. He was also a trustee of the National Park. In 1882 he sued the government for £76,945 compensation for land resumed at Darling Harbour and valued by the government at £5676. The jury valued the land at only £4500. His appeal failed and, rankling at the verdict and criticism of the magnitude of his claim, he published his wrongs in the Darling Harbour Compensation Case (1883).

In 1888 Robertson pressed Parkes to allow one of the Lucas sons to resign from the public service as his dismissal was likely to have a 'very injurious effect on so kind and indulgent a father'. Lucas died from cardiac debility on 1 March 1902 and was buried in the Anglican section of Rookwood cemetery. Predeceased by his wife, he was survived by four sons and one daughter. His estate was valued for probate at over £11,000.

Select Bibliography

  • Supreme Court Reports (New South Wales), 1882-83
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1855, 3, 407, 1862, 5, 558, 1869, 2, 476, 1878-79, 7, 12, 1883-84, 11, 755, 1885-86, 8, 804
  • Sydney Mail, 15 Oct 1864, 8 Mar 1902
  • Town and Country Journal, 27 Mar 1875, 8 Mar 1902
  • Illustrated Sydney News, 8 Apr 1875
  • Bulletin, 8 Mar 1902
  • Henry Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales).

Additional Resources

  • funeral, Australian Star (Sydney), 4 March 1902, p 7
  • will, Sydney Morning Herald, 24 June 1902, p 5

Citation details

R. W. Rathbone, 'Lucas, John (1818–1902)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 20 June 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 Lucas, 1896

John Lucas, 1896

National Library of Australia, 23460676

Life Summary [details]


24 June, 1818
Newtown, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


1 March, 1902 (aged 83)
Camperdown, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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.