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Cornelius (Con) Moynihan (1862–1915)

by Patrick Buckridge

This article was published:

Cornelius (Con) Moynihan (1862-1915), poet and librarian, was born on 10 June 1862 in County Kerry, Ireland, second child and elder son of Denis Moynihan, dairyman, and his wife Margaret, née McGillicuddy. In 1868 the family migrated to Brisbane, where they took up two acres (0.8 ha) in an area known as The Dip, in North Brisbane (later Ascot and Hamilton) and built a house, Oakvale, later noted for its musical evenings and dancing parties. Denis and his family prospered.

In 1880 Con Moynihan brought out a slim volume, Miscellaneous Poems—mainly love lyrics and epigrams in an archly urbane style—under the pen-name 'Vivian'. Over the next thirty years he published poems prolifically in all of the Brisbane and several of the provincial Queensland newspapers. A selection of these began to circulate in 1910 in a typescript volume, 'The Bunyip of Wendouree', which contained satires on the Queensland political scandals of the 1890s, as well as poems on Aboriginal, sentimental-Irish and personal themes.

Moynihan had been appointed assistant librarian at the Queensland parliament in 1884. The position, which he held until his death, gave him ready access to the pioneering work of (Sir) Baldwin Spencer and Francis Gillen on the central Australian Aborigines, and to the reports of the protector of Aborigines Archibald Meston. These were sources for his book, The Feast of the Bunya, an 'Aboriginal ballad', published in 1901 and presented to the Duke and Duchess of York on the occasion of their visit to Brisbane that year. It gave a narrative account of the three-yearly pilgrimage of the local tribes to Mobolon, the highest point of the Bunya Mountains, to feast on the bunyas and conduct intertribal business. The poem also contained digressions on the Kilcoy poisonings of 1842, the murder of the Fraser family at Hornet Bank in 1857, and the celebrated 'recovery' of the escaped convicts David Bracewell and James Davis from Aboriginal communities.

Three years later Moynihan's Irish-Australian interests were to the fore in an epic of a more classical kind, two thousand hexameters in rhyming couplets (the model was Pope's translation of the Iliad) on the Battle of the Eureka Stockade. The poem was technically very accomplished, but Ward, Lock & Co. of Melbourne rejected 'Eureka' for publication, its subject matter considered too parochial for English or American readers. His last published book, The German Armageddon (Brisbane, 1915), was a collection of short jingoistic poems about Australia's role in World War I.

Moynihan died of pulmonary haemorrhage from tuberculosis while swimming in the sea at Sandgate, Brisbane, on 14 November 1915. A motion of sympathy, moved in parliament by the premier Tom Ryan, referred to his 'very considerable talent as an author' and his 'genial and sunny disposition'. Unmarried, he bequeathed half his estate of over £1000 to Sarah, the mother of Brian Penton, and half of the remainder to her second son Wilfred who had, however, died in 1902, and this portion also reverted to Sarah. These arrangements gave substance to Penton's reported claim that Moynihan, who had been the landlord and a close friend of the Penton family and shared a house with them for five years about 1900, was his natural father.

Select Bibliography

  • H. A. Kellow, Queensland Poets (Lond, 1930)
  • J. H. Hornibrook, Bibliography of Queensland Verse (Brisb, 1953)
  • P. Buckridge, The Scandalous Penton (Brisb, 1994)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Legislative Assembly, Queensland), 16 Nov 1915, vol 121, p 2097
  • C. Moynihan, The Bunyip of Wendouree and Other Poems (typescript, 1910, University of Queensland Library)
  • C. Moynihan, Eureka (manuscript, 1904, Queensland Parliamentary Library).

Citation details

Patrick Buckridge, 'Moynihan, Cornelius (Con) (1862–1915)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 11 December 2023.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2023

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Vivian

10 June, 1862
Kerry, Ireland


14 November, 1915 (aged 53)
Sandgate, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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