Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Denis O'Donovan (1836–1911)

by H. J. Gibbney

This article was published:

Denis O'Donovan (1836-1911), scholar and librarian, was born on 23 August 1836 at Kinsale, Ireland, son of William O'Donovan and his wife Anne, née Crowley. According to his own account, he was educated in Ireland and France, achieving some fame while at school when he published articles and poems one of which was included in an Irish anthology. On completing his degree he toured Europe, attended lectures in Italy and returned to France as professor of modern languages and literature in the Collège des Hautes Etudes. In 1859 he published Memories of Rome for which he received a medal from Pope Pius IX and letters from the Queen of Spain and others. He had often written for L'ami de la Religion and was for some time an editor. From 1864 he was in London for two years. O'Donovan moved to Melbourne in 1866 and ran a school at Emerald Hill in 1871-74. In 1871 and 1872 he had delivered lectures on industrial design which were published by the Melbourne Industrial and Technological Museum. On 1 May 1868 he married a widow, Aimée Besson, née Leroux; they had two sons and three daughters.

On 1 August 1874 O'Donovan was appointed librarian to the Queensland parliament and soon moved to Brisbane. He was able to do much for the library through the contacts that he maintained with the intellectual world of Europe and crowned his efforts in 1883 by the production of a printed analytical and classified catalogue which was a large advance on any such work done in Australia. He was honoured for his work by numerous European learned societies, received la croix du chevalier de la légion d'honneur and was appointed C.M.G. in 1894. He was a prominent member of Brisbane's Catholic community and as a leader of the agitation against Bishop James Quinn was publicly refused the sacraments on the bishop's instructions.

O'Donovan's wife died in 1892 and in June 1902 he retired from the library. He went to live in France but returned to Australia to visit a son settled in Perth and died on 30 April 1911 at Claremont, Western Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • C. W. Holgate, An Account of the Chief Libraries of Australia and Tasmania (Lond, 1886)
  • T. W. H. Leavitt (ed), Australian Representative Men (Melb, 1888)
  • Alcazar Press, Queensland, 1900 (Brisb, nd)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 1874, 8566
  • West Australian, 1 May 1911
  • Brisbane Courier, 5 May 1911
  • Box D5 (Roman Catholic Archives, Sydney).

Citation details

H. J. Gibbney, 'O'Donovan, Denis (1836–1911)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 15 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]


23 August, 1836
Kinsale, Cork, Ireland


30 April, 1911 (aged 74)
Claremont, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

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