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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Connolly, Sir James Daniel (1869–1962)

by G. C. Bolton

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Sir James Daniel Connolly (1869-1962), politician, was born on 2 December 1869 at Allora, Darling Downs, Queensland, son of Denis Connolly, labourer, and his wife Johanna, née Callaghan. He was educated at Warwick State School and at the Christian Brothers' St Joseph's College, Brisbane. He trained as a quantity surveyor and in 1893 went to the Western Australian goldfields and became a successful building contractor at Kalgoorlie. Campaigning on abolition of brothels and a ward system, he topped the poll for the Kalgoorlie town council in 1899. In 1901 he entered the Legislative Council as a member for North East Province and, having shown himself a courteous and able debater in the ensuing years of political instability, was chosen colonial secretary and minister for commerce and labour when (Sir) Newton Moore formed his Liberal ministry in May 1906. He remained colonial secretary under the more congenial leadership of Frank Wilson until the Liberal débâcle of October 1911.

In a ministry mainly devoted to rural expansion Connolly was practically its sole social reformer. His purposeful handling of Western Australia's immigration policy, at a time when the wheat-belt was opening up, won him praise from the agent-general (Sir) Walter James, as 'the new spirit which had come to the Colonial Secretary's office after ten years of deep sleep'. He was responsible for the remodelling of the Perth Public Hospital's board, for the creation of the Children's (now Princess Margaret) Hospital, and for the initiation of the specialist maternity hospital which later became the King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women. Largely through his influence, Western Australia acquired in 1911-12 what was then the most advanced pure foods legislation in Australia. His proudest achievement was the establishment of the first large Aboriginal reserves in the Kimberley. Moola Bulla, an area of some 450,000 hectares, north-west of Halls Creek, was reserved as a hunting and cattle-raising property where Aboriginals might settle without molesting pastoralists' stock. It was difficult at first to persuade Aboriginals to remain on the property, but cattle-spearing diminished; so did the frequency of white punitive expeditions.

In 1914 Connolly resigned his seat in the council and later that year won the Legislative Assembly seat of Perth from the sitting Labor member (Sir) Walter Dwyer. In July 1916 Connolly was appointed minister without portfolio in the second Wilson ministry. Intrigues against Wilson were proliferating, and the Liberals had to come to terms with the rising Country Party, so next year Connolly was pleased to become agent-general in London. He served until 1923, during the establishment of the group settlement scheme and the renewal of British migration. An energetic and aggressive publicist of Western Australia, he refuted pessimistic estimates of the land's capacity. Probably his most substantial achievement was the re-negotiation of the terms for Western Australian London loans. Made a commander of the Order of Belgium in 1919 and knighted in 1920, Connolly settled in London for the rest of his life, accepting directorships in a number of companies and banks. In 1928-32 he was agent-general for Malta at a time of financial distress. In old age he retained a lively interest in Western Australian economic development.

Connolly had married Catherine Charlotte Edwards (d.1948) on 17 November 1898 at St Arnaud, Victoria. They had five daughters. Connolly died in London on 12 February 1962. A loyal Roman Catholic, he donated generously to the University of Western Australia's St Thomas More College, where a fine window in the chapel commemorates him.

Select Bibliography

  • J. S. Battye (ed), Cyclopedia of Western Australia, vol 1 (Adel, 1912)
  • P. Biskup, Not Slaves, Not Citizens (Brisb, 1973)
  • Kalgoorlie Miner, 21 Nov 1899
  • West Australian, 8 May 1906, 5 Dec 1921
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 4 Feb 1919
  • correspondence and interview notes, BL 419A/424A (State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

G. C. Bolton, 'Connolly, Sir James Daniel (1869–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 24 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

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