Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Thomas O'Grady (1824–1890)

by Suzanne G. Mellor

This article was published:

Thomas O'Grady (1824-1890), contractor, was born on 21 December 1824 at Lusmagh, King's County, Ireland, son of Thomas O'Grady, farmer, and his wife Mary Ann. Trained as a journeyman carpenter, he worked at his trade in Ireland for some years. He eagerly attended evening classes and lectures in mechanical drawing, engineering, building and kindred subjects. In the early 1850s he moved to London where he was very successful as a builder and contractor. He migrated to Melbourne in 1854 and in December contracted to build Sir William à Beckett's residence. When it was completed he decided to remain in Victoria as a contractor. His major public works were the Melbourne gaol, the Lunatic Asylum at Ararat and in 1870-72, with Leggett & Noonan the fifty-six-mile (90 km) railway from Essendon to Seymour.

In November 1868 he entered the Melbourne City Council for the South Ward and was alderman of the Victoria Ward in 1870-90; as mayor in 1872-73 he helped to initiate Hospital Sunday. From 1873 he was also chief magistrate and for years chairman of the council's public works and health committees. He was chairman of the Tramway Trust from its formation in 1884 until 1889 and in 1882-90 a member of the Melbourne Harbor Trust, serving as chairman in 1886-89. Though often approached by those wishing to nominate him for parliament he always refused, claiming that his active contribution on the municipal level would then be lost. A commissioner for the Melbourne Exhibitions in 1880 and 1888, he was a trustee and director of several companies.

O'Grady was genial and privately liberal to the needy; as a chairman he had rare tact and controlling power. He died at Carlton on 28 April 1890, survived by his wife Catherine, née Goodwin, five sons and a daughter. Although brought up a Catholic and buried in the Melbourne general cemetery according to Catholic rites, he sent a son to Wesley College. His estate in Victoria was valued at £45,178 and in New South Wales at £4000; he left it to his family.

Select Bibliography

  • Age (Melbourne), 30 Apr 1890
  • Carlton Gazette, 2 May 1890.

Citation details

Suzanne G. Mellor, 'O'Grady, Thomas (1824–1890)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 19 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


21 December, 1824
Lusmagh, Offaly, Ireland


28 April, 1890 (aged 65)
Carlton, Melbourne, Victoria, 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.

Religious Influence

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.