Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Ryan (1863–1940)

by Carol Liston

This article was published:

James Ryan (1863?-1940), journalist and politician, was born at Doon, Tipperary, Ireland, son of Patrick Ryan, farmer, and his wife Alice, née Ryan. Educated locally by the Christian Brothers, he migrated as a young man, joining his uncle in Melbourne. Ryan went to New Zealand, then to Sydney where he arrived about 1884. He worked as assistant road superintendent in the Orange and Lithgow districts and in 1886 joined the Lithgow Mercury under editors J. P. T. Caulfield and John Farrell. In 1889 the newspaper changed owners. Ryan became editor and later manager; the weekly paper was enlarged and became a bi-weekly, then tri-weekly publication. At St Patrick's Church, Sydney, he married Margaret Redmond, schoolteacher, on 13 February 1898. A foundation member (1900) of the New South Wales Country Press Association (president, 1909-10), he was a committee-member of the Australian Provincial Press Association and chairman (1932-40) of the Country Press Ltd.

During his editorship Lithgow grew into a major industrial town and the Mercury became a significant local force. Ryan was a justice of the peace and secretary of the Lithgow Progress Association. He lobbied from 1896 for the government munitions factory to be built at Lithgow (the Small Arms Factory opened in 1912) and argued that as family life could not be maintained in tents and humpies better housing should be provided for the town's workforce.

Defeated by J. Dooley for the State seat of Hartley in 1917, Ryan was nominated to the Legislative Council, fulfilling Premier Holman's promise that provincial newspapers would be represented there. When the Lithgow Mercury changed hands in 1926, Ryan and his family moved to Sydney. He served as honorary minister (1927-30) under Bavin and as vice-president of the Executive Council in Stevens's emergency cabinet after Lang's dismissal in May 1932. As an assistant minister from 1932 to April 1938 in the Stevens-Bruxner coalitions, he piloted legislation through the Upper House. He had been elected to the reconstituted Legislative Council in 1933 and 1936 (for twelve years).

In parliament Ryan took a particular interest in local government; he believed that municipal franchise should be extended to all inhabitants, whether property-owners or not. His amendment to the 1919 local government bill to enfranchise women was defeated, but he gained the vote for returned servicemen and nurses with overseas service. In June 1936, with several prominent government supporters he crossed the floor to vote against E. Spooner's amendment bill restricting municipal franchise, which was defeated on the president's casting vote. Ryan saw himself as an old-fashioned liberal; although allied with the United Australia Party he was cynical about party politics.

Ryan died of cerebral thrombosis on 21 June 1940 at Nowra and was buried in South Head cemetery, Sydney. His wife, daughter and two sons, both country doctors, survived him, as did his sister, Mother Teresa of the Convent of Mercy, Mudgee.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 16 June 1936, 24 Sept 1940
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 May 1917, 7 Apr 1927, 17 May 1932, 22 June 1940
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 18 Feb, 8 July, 21 Oct 1919, 7 Aug 1926
  • Lithgow Mercury, 17 Aug 1978.

Citation details

Carol Liston, 'Ryan, James (1863–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Doon, Tipperary, Ireland


21 June, 1940 (aged ~ 77)
Nowra, New South Wales, Australia

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