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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lennon, Hugh (1833–1886)

by George Parsons

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

Hugh Lennon (1833-1886), manufacturer, was born in County Armagh, Ireland, son of Michael Lennon, fish merchant, and his wife Mary, née Lennon. The family moved to Scotland when Hugh was young and at 15 he was apprenticed to R. Gray & Sons of Uddington as a ploughmaker. He accepted the 'hard discipline' at Grays and became a good tradesman. He then moved to Glasgow and decided to master engineering. After another apprenticeship he was employed first by John Caird & Co., second by Scott & Sinclair, and then by Walter Nelson's Hyde Park Engine Works, Glasgow, 'the college of Scotland for mechanics'. However, constant work undermined his health and in 1859 he migrated to Victoria 'with a broken down constitution and a good character'.

At the Hyde Park Engine Works Lennon had become interested in machine tools and invention. In Victoria, seeing the need for good agricultural machinery, he produced a plough suitable for dry farming on the northern plains. Among other innovations it was made of wrought-iron to minimize repairs and replaced the brittle English cast-iron mouldboard by a patented one in cast-steel. The technical superiority of his plough over imported rivals ensured it control of the market, and after August 1870 the sales of his single- and double-furrow ploughs were phenomenal. In 1871 he expanded his works, introduced a more sophisticated plant and developed a new reaping machine. By November demand exceeded supply and he was producing two machines a day. Mowers were also produced and in 1879 the 'New Imperial Stripper' was patented, the equal of any machine made in America and containing many of Lennon's innovations, including a revolutionary new method of gearing. In the late 1870s he also developed a winnower which, with the stripper, provided the best harvesting unit on the Victorian and indeed the Australian market. By the mid-1870s Lennon employed over a hundred men and operated such machines as steam hammers. The expansion continued in the 1880s and was financed by the reinvestment of profits. By 1884 the capital investment exceeded £25,000 and the firm was the largest of its kind in the Australian colonies, selling 700 ploughs, 224 reapers, 60 strippers and many winnowers, earth scoops, horse-works and harrows each year. The average profits of Hugh Lennon & Co. were about £1000 a year in the 1870s, rising to £2000 in the 1880s.

Lennon was active in local affairs. In 1882 he was elected to the west ward of the Hotham (North Melbourne) Borough Council but was defeated next year and took no further part in politics. From the early 1870s he was on the committee of the Agricultural Society of Victoria and its president in 1879-80. He was also active in his Presbyterian Church at North Melbourne and in the Royal Society of Victoria. Although he hungered for political success and social prestige he was never sure of his success. A brilliant innovator and entrepreneur with a flair for advertising and sales promotion, he was described by a contemporary as 'a great, rough man' but he had a deep love for Burns and Shakespeare. His papers reveal a complex character: he was very egotistical but fond of his family. Aged 52 he died on 22 July 1886 survived by his wife Isabella, née Don, a son and two daughters. He left an estate valued at £20,000.

Select Bibliography

  • Age (Melbourne), 23 July 1886
  • Argus (Melbourne), 23 July 1886
  • T. G. Parsons, Some Aspects of the Development of Manufacturing in Melbourne 1870-1890 (Ph.D. thesis, Monash University, 1970)
  • Hugh Lennon papers (University of Melbourne Archives).

Citation details

George Parsons, 'Lennon, Hugh (1833–1886)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 10 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

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