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John Cash Neild (1846–1911)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published:

John Cash Neild (1846-1911), by Swiss Studios, c1901

John Cash Neild (1846-1911), by Swiss Studios, c1901

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23479490

John Cash Neild (1846-1911), insurance agent and politician, was born on 4 January 1846 at Bristol, England, second son of John Cash Neild, surgeon, and his wife Maria, née Greenwood. In 1853 the family migrated to New Zealand but, caught up in the Taranaki wars, moved to Sydney in 1860. John junior was educated privately before entering the office of (J. L.) Montefiore, Joseph & Co. In 1865 he set up as a commission agent, but soon switched to insurance. He became manager of several companies and later worked as an arbitrator and adjuster.

As a young man Neild was active in the Free Church of England; on 29 October 1868 at Paddington he married (with Congregational forms) Clara Matilda Gertrude, daughter of Rev. Philip Agnew. Their only child died in 1876 and Clara in 1879. At St Paul's Anglican Church, Redfern, he married Georgine Marie Louise Uhr on 19 February 1880.

Politically ambitious, Neild served on the Woollahra Municipal Council in 1876-90 and was mayor in 1888-89. After standing unsuccessfully in 1882, he represented Paddington as a free trader in the Legislative Assembly in 1885-89, 1891-94 and 1895-1901. On 23 June 1886 he spoke for nine hours against the Jennings government's introduction of mild ad valorem duties, thereby earning the sobriquet 'Jawbone'. In parliament he was indefatigable, serving on the public works, elections and qualifications and joint library committees and on numerous select committees. He introduced some twenty-one different bills (some repeatedly) but few became law. From 1887 he had charge in the assembly of Sir Alfred Stephen's divorce extension bill, which was eventually enacted in 1892, and that year carried the Children's Protection Act. In 1895 he served on the Public Service Board.

Neild had a genius for getting into trouble—and for wriggling out of it. His expenses (amounting to £4950) as New South Wales executive commissioner for the Adelaide Jubilee International Exhibition in 1887 were questioned in parliament for several years, but he was cleared of accepting an office of profit under the crown in 1887 and of extravagance in 1890. While grand master of the Loyal Orange Lodge of New South Wales in 1891-93 he outraged extreme Protestants by publicly praying for the recovery of the Pope.

In 1895 Neild began agitating for old-age pensions: he was a member of the 1896 select committee and in 1896-98 was honorary royal commissioner in Europe on old-age pensions, state insurance and charitable relief. In 1898 he published his report, which the Sydney Morning Herald conceded was 'admittedly of great value, and involving a great deal of work'. In pecuniary difficulties, he received £350 to cover personal expenses. Although Neild was again cleared of accepting an office of profit, the Reid government was defeated on a related no confidence motion in September 1899—Neild had helped to precipitate the downfall of the strongest government in New South Wales since 1856.

Meanwhile in 1896 he had raised a volunteer regiment and on 11 June was gazetted captain commanding the St George's English Rifle Regiment. Although lacking previous military experience and 'tact and judgement', he was promoted major in July and lieutenant-colonel on 27 April 1898. By 1899 governor Lord Beauchamp recorded that the regiment was 'in a state of ridiculous insubordination. Officers abused officers, the men never attended. Signs of incapacity were noticed at the Easter manoeuvres'. Claiming parliamentary privilege, Neild attacked his critics and superior officers in the press, but in April was placed under 'open arrest'. A military court of inquiry in 1900, although censorious, left him in command.

In 1901-10 Neild represented New South Wales in the Senate; he was a member of the Committee of Disputed Returns and Qualifications for some years. Impervious to rebuffs, he continued to harangue the House in 'virile and robust' tones on 'every conceivable subject'. He used the Senate to attack the military administration and Major General Sir Edward Hutton, who tried to have him retired because of near mutiny in his regiment. Neild complained of intimidation. A Senate select committee on privilege in 1904 cleared Brigadier H. Finn but found that Hutton had tried to interfere with Neild in the discharge of his duties as a senator. Neild retired from the militia next year, but was appointed honorary colonel in 1906.

A big man physically, he had a Garibaldi beard, wore loud check suits, and curled 'his moustache fiercely like the “Dashing Militaire”'. His recreations were cricket and literature—in the 1870s he was music and drama critic for the Catholic Evening Post and in 1896 published a volume of verse, Songs of the Southern Cross.

Neild suffered from hepatic cirrhosis and, survived by his wife, son and daughter, died on 8 March 1911 at his Woollahra home; he was buried with military honours in the Anglican section of Waverley cemetery. His estate was valued for probate at £595.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of N.S.W. (Syd, 1907)
  • B. Nairn, Civilising Capitalism (Canb, 1973)
  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 1885-86, 20, p 2881, 2909
  • Parliamentary Papers (New South Wales), 1890, 8, p 73, 1899, 1, p 433
  • Parliamentary Debates (Commonwealth), 1901-02, 10, p 13701, 1903, 17, p 5383, 1904, 18, p 46
  • Parliamentary Papers (Senate, Commonwealth), 1904, 1, p 541
  • Illustrated Sydney News, 15 June 1887
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 18 June, 28 July 1894, 15 Feb 1896
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 10 Apr 1896
  • Punch (Melbourne), 30 Aug 1906
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 9 Mar 1911
  • Town and Country Journal, 15 Mar 1911
  • Freeman's Journal (Sydney), 16 Mar 1911
  • M. Rutledge, Sir Alfred Stephen and Divorce Law Reform in New South Wales, 1886-1892 (M.A. thesis, Australian National University, 1966)
  • M. Lyons, Aspects of Sectarianism in New South Wales circa 1865 to 1880 (Ph.D. thesis, Australian National University, 1972)
  • Alfred Deakin papers (National Library of Australia)
  • Beauchamp diary (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Neild, John Cash (1846–1911)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 19 July 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

John Cash Neild (1846-1911), by Swiss Studios, c1901

John Cash Neild (1846-1911), by Swiss Studios, c1901

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23479490

Life Summary [details]


4 January, 1846
Bristol, Gloucestershire, England


8 March, 1911 (aged 65)
Woollahra, 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.

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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.