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Merion Marshall Moriarty (1794–1864)

by Alan Powell

This article was published:

Merion Marshall Moriarty (1794-1864), portmaster and politician, was born in County Cork, Ireland, fifth son of Vice-Admiral Sylverius Moriarty and his wife Lydia, née Hinton. He joined the navy in 1807, serving at Copenhagen and on the Mediterranean and West Indian Stations. In 1814 he was promoted lieutenant but ill health forced his return to England and in 1815 he retired on half-pay. On 15 October 1816 in County Kerry he married Anne (d.1877), daughter of Edward Orpen of Killowen. He entered the University of Edinburgh (M.D., 1821) and practised in Dublin but was later employed by the St George's Channel Steam Navigation Co., commanding steamers on the Cork-Bristol run.

In 1842 Moriarty was appointed portmaster in New South Wales and harbourmaster in Sydney by the British government. He reached Sydney with his family in the St George on 23 January 1843. As portmaster he displaced Thomas Watson and aroused local resentment. His duties included the control of ports, lighthouses and pilot services in the colony. His career as harbourmaster was uneventful until 1847 when he piloted H.M.S. Inflexible aground in Sydney Harbour. Though an investigating committee recommended his dismissal, he held his post until 1857 when he was pensioned by H. W. Parker's ministry. He was a director of the Second Australian Benefit, Investment and Building Society.

In 1855 Moriarty had been defeated by Stuart Donaldson in the Legislative Council by-election for Sydney Hamlets and failed again in 1856, but from August 1860 he represented Braidwood in the Legislative Assembly. He died from a diseased spleen on 10 January 1864 and was buried in the Anglican cemetery at St Leonards. He was survived by his wife, six daughters and three sons, one of whom Abram Orpen became under-secretary for lands.

The eldest son Edward Orpen (1825-1896) was born in County Kerry and educated at Trinity College, Dublin. Moriarty worked briefly as a cadet on constructing the breakwater on the Isle of Portland. He reached Sydney with his family and set up as a consulting engineer and surveyor. On 1 June 1849 he became an assistant in the Surveyor-General's Department. In 1853-55 he was engineer and surveyor (later chairman) for the Steam Navigation Board and in 1855-58 engineer for Hunter River improvements. In October 1858 he became engineer-in-chief for harbours and river navigation in the Department of Works with a salary of £1100. In January-October 1862 he was commissioner and engineer-in-chief for roads and in 1865 a superannuation fund commissioner. He controlled the building of water supply schemes for Wollongong, Bathurst, Wagga Wagga, Albury and Hunter Valley towns. In 1867 he was a commissioner for Sydney's water supply and in 1869-70 president of the Hunter River Floods Commission.

Moriarty was a lieutenant in the Volunteer Artillery and as captain from 1869 served on the commission on defence from foreign aggression and on the board for inspecting and maintaining the supply of colonial warlike stores. In 1871-73 he was captain of the Engineers Corps, Volunteer Rifles. Permitted to engage in private projects, he supervised the building of two bridges for the Penrith Nepean Bridge Co. in the 1850s and Pyrmont Bridge in 1865-66. In 1869 he confessed his 'habit of receiving private pupils for instruction' and in 1874 investigated the Grey River entrance for the New Zealand government.

In 1875 Moriarty became a member of the Public Works Tender Board and the Sewerage and Health Board. To the government he suggested plans for a haven at Trial Bay by using prison labour to build a mile-long (1.6 km) breakwater across the entrance. Work began in 1877 but stopped in 1903 after over £160,000 had been spent. From 1877 he had an extra £300 a year as engineer of Sydney's water supply. In 1878 he studied such works in England and North America as docks, breakwaters and river-locks.

Moriarty was a councillor of the Philosophical Society and a member of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron and the Linnean Society of New South Wales. In 1852 he had published a pamphlet A few Practical Hints upon Roads, and Roads Systems. He retired on 31 December 1888 with a pension of £791 13s. and went to England. He died at Southsea, Hampshire, on 18 September 1896 and was survived by his wife Leila Helen, née Geary, whom he had married in Brisbane on 18 May 1853. He left her his estate valued at £5800.

Select Bibliography

  • Select Committee on Pilots' Duties Regulations, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Council, New South Wales), 1850, 2, week 10, 138
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1869, 1, 96, 1870-71, 3, 913, 1885-86, 1, 537, 656, v 2, 481, 1887-88, 2, 1156
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 24, 31 Jan 1843, 9 Feb 1844, 11 Jan 1864
  • Moreton Bay Courier, 19 May 1853
  • Sydney Mail, 16 Jan 1864, 22 June 1878
  • A. W. Powell, The Trial Bay Project: Politics and Penal Reform 1861-1903 (B.A. Hons thesis, University of New England, 1970)
  • S. A. Donaldson ministry letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Governor's dispatches, 1846-48 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Moriarty family press cuttings (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Alan Powell, 'Moriarty, Merion Marshall (1794–1864)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 18 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]


Cork, Ireland


10 January, 1864 (aged ~ 70)
Millers Point, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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