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Sir Maurice Charles O'Connell (1812–1879)

by H. J. Gibbney

This article was published:

Maurice Charles O'Connell (1812-1879), by unknown photographer

Maurice Charles O'Connell (1812-1879), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 01386

Sir Maurice Charles O'Connell (1812-1879), soldier, public servant and politician, was born on 13 January 1812 in Sydney, son of Maurice Charles Philip O'Connell and his wife Mary, daughter of Governor William Bligh. He left for Ceylon with his parents in 1814 and in 1819 was sent to Europe for schooling. In 1828 he joined the 73rd Regiment at Gibraltar and Malta but in 1835 raised and led a regiment of Irish volunteers in the Spanish Carlist wars, rising to general of brigade in the British Auxiliary Legion. Before embarking for Spain he married Eliza Emily le Geyt at Jersey.

When the legion was disbanded O'Connell returned to England with several Spanish decorations and in June 1838 purchased a captaincy in the 28th Regiment. In that year his father was appointed to command the troops in New South Wales and on 6 December O'Connell junior arrived in the Fairlie as an assistant military secretary to his father. After the regiment sailed to India in 1842 he stayed in New South Wales and sold his commission in 1844. He failed in a first attempt to win a seat in the Legislative Council but represented Port Phillip from August 1845 to June 1848 and then became commissioner of crown lands for the Burnett District.

Early in 1854 O'Connell became government resident at the new Port Curtis settlement. In August 1855 the appointment was criticized in the Legislative Council and a select committee chaired by Henry Parkes decided that the office was unduly expensive, that a police magistrate would have done as well and that O'Connell was not particularly suited for such a post. The office was abolished and he again became commissioner of crown lands. He financed a party which found gold near Port Curtis and was reappointed as government resident to cope with the rush, allegedly created by his own too optimistic reports. While in Gladstone he acquired several squatting properties and developed a small copper-mine but in February 1860 his office was again abolished. He refused reappointment as commissioner of crown lands and for five years vainly pursued a campaign for compensation as far as the Colonial Office.

When the colony of Queensland was created in 1859 O'Connell was given command of the volunteers. He was also one of the first nominees to the Legislative Council and acted as minister without portfolio in the first Herbert ministry. When Sir Charles Nicholson resigned in August 1860 O'Connell became president of the council. He held the post until 1879 and acted ex officio as deputy to the governor four times. Knighthood had been proposed for him in 1864 but was not granted until 1868 when as administrator of the government he was host to the Duke of Edinburgh. He died of cancer in Parliament House on 23 March 1879 leaving no children. His widow received a government pension.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Cannon (ed), Historical Record of the Seventy-Third Regiment (Lond, 1851)
  • W. F. Morrison, The Aldine History of Queensland (Syd, 1888)
  • J. F. Hogan, The Gladstone Colony (Lond, 1898)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Council, New South Wales), 1855, 3, 915, 945
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1858, 2, 855, 902, 989
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Queensland), 1863 (2nd session), 180, 1864, 267, 1879 (2nd session), 1, 521
  • J. F. Campbell, ‘Notes on the historical development of Macquarie Street south, 1810-1880’, JRAHS, 23 (1937)
  • Week (Brisbane), 2 June 1877
  • Queenslander, 29 Mar 1879
  • Town and Country Journal, 29 Mar 1879
  • Archer, O'Connell and Piper papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • manuscript and newspaper catalogues (State Library of New South Wales)
  • CO 234/7/8, 257, 11/134, 18/502, 20/5
  • WO 17/2328.

Citation details

H. J. Gibbney, 'O'Connell, Sir Maurice Charles (1812–1879)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 25 June 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

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