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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Costello, Patrick (1824–1896)

by Geoff Browne and Jackie Cunningham

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Patrick Costello (1824-1896), publican, contractor and politician, was born on 18 March 1824 in County Leitrim, Ireland, the son of a farmer and his wife Jane, née Maxwell. An assisted migrant, Patrick arrived with his sister Mary in Melbourne in the William Metcalf on 27 August 1841. Establishing himself as a builder and contractor, by 1849 he was licensee of two city hotels. On 15 June 1847 at St Francis's Catholic Church, Melbourne, he married Irish-born Catherine Donovan. Costello's fortunes flourished with the gold rush. In 1852-55 he dealt in property and built a substantial home at Carlton.

Elected to the Melbourne City Council in 1855, Costello contested the Legislative Assembly seat of North Melbourne in 1859 and 1861, winning it at his second attempt. A protectionist, he opposed the Masters and Servants Act, saying 'No such word as ''master” ought to be used in a free country'. He favoured a 'general, liberal and entirely secular' education system—a bold stance for a Catholic.

Sworn in on 31 August 1861, Costello was already facing charges arising out of the poll for the seat of Mornington, which had taken place only days after his own election. He had organized a steamer trip during which a number of men were asked to personate deceased or absent Mornington electors. Found guilty, Costello was sentenced to twelve months imprisonment; before his sentence had been passed he was expelled from the Victorian parliament on 1 November 1861.

The blatancy of the offence indicated a limited sense of wrongdoing on Costello's part, and there were suggestions that he was acting on behalf of others. Personation, common practice in Victorian elections at that time, was part of a broader unacknowledged pattern of political corruption, the scope of which would not be revealed until the expulsion of Hugh Glass in 1869. Costello's sentence aroused considerable public sympathy. Several petitions were presented to the governor, seeking mitigation of his sentence: one was signed by thirty-seven parliamentarians from both sides of the assembly, including James Service, mover of the expulsion motion against him. Costello was released on 31 March 1862, having first resigned from the Melbourne City Council.

His business interests suffered severely during his trial and imprisonment and legal bills worsened his situation. Declared insolvent in 1863, Costello endured the death of his wife in 1866. Described as being of medium height and build, with a 'high forehead, thin nose, fair hair and complexion, of good address and gentlemanly appearance', he was resilient. He continued to work as a contractor and briefly as a coach trimmer. By 1882 he was again an owner of property in North Melbourne. Although not released from insolvency until 1891, he was elected to the North Melbourne City Council in the same year and was mayor in 1892-93. Costello died on 17 October 1896 at his Canning Street home, and was buried in Melbourne general cemetery. His estate was valued at £998. Predeceased by three children, he was survived by two daughters and four sons; a great-great grandson, Peter Costello, became Federal treasurer in 1996.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Dunstan, Governing the Metropolis (Melb, 1984)
  • T. Costello, Tips From a Travelling Soul-Searcher (Syd, 1999)
  • family information.

Citation details

Geoff Browne and Jackie Cunningham, 'Costello, Patrick (1824–1896)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 22 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

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