Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Charles William MacCarthy (1848–1919)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published:

Charles William MacCarthy (1848-1919), medical practitioner, was born on 31 March 1848 at Fethard, Tipperary, Ireland, son of John MacCarthy, merchant, and his wife Elizabeth, née Fitzgerald. He showed great musical ability as a child and was educated at the local National school and at Castleknock School near Dublin. After a wild and adventurous boyhood and youth, during which he excelled at most sports, he entered the Catholic University School of Medicine, Dublin.

In 1870 MacCarthy interrupted his studies to join an ambulance unit attached to a regiment of franc-tireurs in the Franco-Prussian War. After working as resident clinical assistant at the Mater Misericordiae Hospital, Dublin, he received the licentiate of the King and Queen's College of Physicians in Ireland in 1872. He practised briefly at Manchester, England, before returning to Fethard where he married Anastasia Theresa Cantwell on 24 September 1873. By 1877 he had moved to Clonmel, Tipperary, where he had an extensive practice. After his wife's death he married Marion Cuddihy, a contralto, in Dublin on 25 June 1881. In 1884 he graduated M.D. at the University of Brussels and was admitted a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

In poor health, MacCarthy migrated to Sydney late that year with his family and an introduction from the Archbishop of Cashel to Cardinal Patrick Moran. He soon established a wide practice in Elizabeth Street, became an honorary physician and surgeon at St Vincent's Hospital and personal physician to Moran, and was known as 'a gentle and skilful surgeon'. In the 1890s he belonged to the Royal Society of New South Wales and investigated psychic phenomena.

Prominent in the Catholic and Irish communities, he was chairman of the '98 Centenary Celebration Committee and designed the monument erected over the grave of Michael Dwyer, 'the Wicklow Chief', self-exiled to Australia in 1805. An ardent constitutional Home Ruler and supporter of the Redmonds, he was chairman of the New South Wales Home Rule executive. He deplored the 1916 Easter rebellion.

MacCarthy had a natural talent for music, painting and sculpture. He composed several comic operas including Lady Nora which was staged at Her Majesty's Theatre, Sydney, wrote patriotic war-songs including 'The Toast is “Anzac!” Gentlemen', lectured and wrote on music and in 1912 helped to establish the Tom Moore concerts at which he was an accompanist. His paintings were mainly on religious themes; however, Sarah Bernhardt sat for him for a portrait as Cleopatra in 1891. Although entirely self-taught, he excelled as a sculptor: marble portrait-busts of violinist Mischa Elman, the statuette, 'Ils ne Passeront pas', embodying the spirit of France, and the bas-reliefs at the Waverley monument were among his best works. His life-size bust of Napoleon was exhibited in the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco.

Charles MacCarthy, genial, ever-generous helper of the poor and friend of struggling artistic talent, died at his Elizabeth Street home on 7 June 1919 and, after a requiem Mass in St Mary's Cathedral, was buried in Waverley cemetery near the '98 memorial. He was survived by a son and daughter of his first marriage and by his wife and their daughter Maude, a celebrated violinist, who were both living in England.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Digby (ed), Australian Men of Mark, vol 2 (Syd, 1889)
  • Proceedings of the Third Australasian Catholic Congress Held at St. Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, 26th September - 3rd October, 1909 (Syd, 1910)
  • Medical Journal of Australia 28 June 1919
  • Freeman's Journal (Syd), 9 Apr, 28 May 1898, 2 Mar 1901, 12 June 1919
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 8 Aug 1891, 29 Sept 1892, 9 June 1919, 28 Mar 1979
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 6 Mar 1915
  • Town and Country Journal, 11 June 1919
  • Bulletin, 12 June 1919
  • G. M. Tobin, The Sea-Divided Gael: A Study of the Irish Home Rule Movement in Victoria and New South Wales, 1880-1916 (M.A. thesis, Australian National University, 1970).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'MacCarthy, Charles William (1848–1919)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 24 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]


31 March, 1848
Fethard, Tipperary, Ireland


7 June, 1919 (aged 71)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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.