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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Mahony, Francis (Frank) (1862–1916)

by B. G. Andrews

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Francis Mahony (1862-1916), self-portrait, 1900s

Francis Mahony (1862-1916), self-portrait, 1900s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an9482612

Francis (Frank) Mahony (1862-1916), artist, was born on 4 December 1862 in Flinders Lane, Melbourne, third surviving child of Timothy Mahony, Irish-born contractor, and his Cornish second wife Elizabeth, née Johns. Christened Francis, Mahony later added 'Prout' and generally signed his work 'Frank P. Mahony'; a brother, William Henry (1856-1918), was a solicitor and represented Annandale in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly (1894-1910).

Brought to Sydney aged 10, Mahony began work in an architect's office and studied under Giulio Anivitti at the New South Wales Academy of Art. His emergence as an artist dates from his employment on the Picturesque Atlas of Australasia (1886); two of his contributions, the spearing of Edmund Kennedy and E. J. Eyre's struggle along the coast with the faithful Wylie, became part of the legendry of Australian exploration. From the centenary until Federation Mahony was one of the best-known Australian artists and illustrators, specializing in horses, which he studied assiduously, and in action scenes which stimulated—and reflected—national sentiment. His oils included 'Rounding up a Straggler' (1889), which possibly influenced Tom Roberts, and 'The Cry of the Mothers' (1895); both were bought by the National Art Gallery of New South Wales. More significant was his black-and-white work contributed to such journals as the Sydney Mail, the Bulletin and the Australian Town and Country Journal. In 1893 he illustrated A. B. Paterson's poem 'The Geebung Polo Club' for the Antipodean; later in the decade his illustrations were a prominent feature of several popular books, notably Henry Lawson's While the Billy Boils (1896) and In the Days when the World was Wide (1900) (which includes a sketch of Lawson as swagman), Barcroft Boake's Where the Dead Men Lie (1897), and Ethel Pedley's Dot and the Kangaroo (1899).

Tall, dark, hospitable but temperamental, Mahony was a founding council-member in 1895 of the breakaway Society of Artists, Sydney, an instructor for the Art Society of New South Wales, and a member of the Dawn and Dusk Club. On 20 January 1897, at St Patrick's Church, Sydney, he married Mary Tobin, a barmaid from Yass, and left with her for London in late 1901. But Mahony's time had passed; although he joined the Langham Sketch Club and was in contact with other expatriate painters, he received only limited commissions. After he died of cancer in Kensington Infirmary on 28 June 1916, a memorial to 'our first Australian born artist' was erected 'by Australian admirers' at Mahony's grave in Hanwell cemetery, Middlesex. The other major memorial to his part in fashioning the 'legend of the nineties' is the original illustrations for While the Billy Boils and other works, now held at the Mitchell Library, Sydney. His son Francis William (Will) was also a successful cartoonist.

Select Bibliography

  • G. A. Taylor, Those Were the Days (Syd, 1918)
  • R. Holden introd, Frank P. Mahony (1862-1916) Colonial Artist, exhibition catalogue, Josef Lebovic Gallery (Syd, 1983)
  • Bookfellow, 25 Mar 1899
  • Illustrated Sydney News, 28 Nov 1889
  • Bulletin, 26 June, 14 Aug 1924
  • pictures catalogue under Mahony (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

B. G. Andrews, 'Mahony, Francis (Frank) (1862–1916)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 22 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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