Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Marks (1826–1885)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published:

John Marks (1826-1885), agriculturist and politician, was born on 24 November 1826 at Coagh, County Tyrone, Ireland, second son of James Marks and his wife Elizabeth, sister of Samuel Charles. In January 1828 he reached Sydney in the North Britain with his parents. They settled in the Illawarra, where the five Marks brothers became well known.

Educated at the Sydney Normal Institution under Henry Gordon, John returned to the Kiama district and became a 'practical Agriculturist'. In 1856 he was elected as a Liberal for East Camden to the first Legislative Assembly after responsible government and held his seat until the 1859 dissolution. A supporter of Charles Cowper, he unsuccessfully moved that a break-water was necessary at Kiama. He later refused to stand and in 1861 declined nomination to the reconstructed Legislative Council. In 1858 he built a two-storied Georgian house, Terragong, on his Jamberoo farm, where he bred Ayrshire cattle. In 1866 he helped to reorganize the Kiama Agricultural and Horticultural Society and was president in 1866-73. A magistrate, he was an alderman of the Kiama Municipal Council in 1868-74 and mayor in 1870.

In 1876 Marks moved to Sydney where he had acquired much real estate and lived at Glenrock, Darling Point; his brother Samuel moved to Terragong, where his descendants still live. On 14 January 1878 John accepted nomination to the Legislative Council and under J. S. Farnell was vice-president of the Executive Council and government representative. His infrequent speeches were noted for their moderation and 'gentlemanly style'. A generous subscriber to public charities, he took the platform at a meeting in 1880 to raise funds for Irish famine relief. He was honorary treasurer of the Aborigines Protection Association and on the committee of the Industrial Blind Institution. He financed the Presbyterian Church at Jamberoo and, as a councillor of St Andrew's College, University of Sydney, gave it a scholarship. In 1879 he was an elector for the university senate. 'An insatiable reader', Marks conversed 'with facility and fluency upon a great diversity of subjects'. President of the Eastern Suburbs Amateur Athletic Club, he was a lover of sport; an excellent rifle-shot and clay pigeon shooter, he was also a good cricketer and played for parliament against the press.

On 1 February 1860 at St James's Church, Sydney, Marks had married the widow Elizabeth Preston Little (d.1908), daughter of William Moffitt. His brother James who married her sister Sarah Jane, was also well known in the Illawarra, built Culwalla House at Jamberoo, was an alderman for Piper Ward in the Woollahra Municipal Council and in 1891-94 represented Paddington in the Legislative Assembly. John Marks died at Glenrock on 3 March 1885 from cirrhosis and was buried in the Presbyterian section of Waverley cemetery, survived by his wife, to whom he left his estate valued at £19,000, and by two sons and three daughters. His eldest son Theodore, a leading architect, was prominent in Sydney racing circles, known to the 'ring' as a heavy punter; the Sydney Turf Club's Theo Marks Quality Handicap at the Rosehill autumn meeting was named after him. Glenrock became part of Ascham School.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Digby (ed), Australian Men of Mark, vol 1 (Syd, 1889)
  • F. McCaffrey, History of Illawarra and its Pioneers (Syd, 1922)
  • Empire (Sydney), 16 Apr 1856
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 5 Mar 1885
  • Illawarra Mercury, 7 Mar 1885
  • manuscript catalogue (State Library of New South Wales)
  • private information.

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Marks, John (1826–1885)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 17 July 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

Life Summary [details]


24 November, 1826
Coagh, Tyrone, Ireland


3 March, 1885 (aged 58)
Darling Point, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

cirrhosis of the liver

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.