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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lynch, John

by L. J. Hume

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

John Lynch (flourished 1841-1848), stonemason and political agitator, was an Irishman, and probably came to Australia as a convict in the 1820s. For a time he was in business as a builder in partnership with Robert Hollingdale and Bernard Daley, a ticket-of-leave holder. This venture, which involved the partners in a complicated dispute with the emancipist distiller, Robert Cooper, and his son, ended in insolvency and a short imprisonment for Lynch for contempt of court, early in 1844. 

Lynch first attracted attention as a radical and hard-hitting speaker at the end of 1841, when the Sydney workmen were opposing a public loan for assisted migration. In the next three years of depression he spoke often at meetings organized by the operatives and their sympathizers, and occasionally at other public meetings. He advocated a broad franchise for the elective Legislative Council, supported the radicals' demand for municipal institutions, opposed the use of convict labour on public works and strongly criticized proposals for importing coolies. With other Roman Catholic radicals, such as William Duncan and E. J. Hawksley, he played a part in Catholic lay affairs, and was a member of the Australian branch of the Loyal National Association. He was probably a member of the Mutual Protection Association formed in 1843, but seems to have played little public part in its proceedings, and after its disintegration his career as an agitator came almost to an end. He appeared again briefly at the end of 1848, when he delivered the stinging attack on Robert Lowe which marked the end of the alliance that Lowe had established with radical and working-class elements for the Sydney election in that year.

Lynch was an important figure in the operatives' political movement of the 1840s for two reasons. First, he was one of the few manual workers capable of speaking for the workmen; most of his fellow-orators who made public reputations were journalists such as James McEachern and Duncan or employers operating on a large scale, such as Henry Macdermott. Second, he was perhaps the most class-conscious of all the radical spokesmen of the period. Appeals to his 'fellow operatives', references to them as 'the body that supported the whole of those called the upper classes', and the drawing of a distinction between those who 'lifted their hands to earn their bread' and the rest of the community, made up an important part of his speeches. The Sydney Morning Herald exaggerated when it described him as a 'leveller of the first water', but it was correct in perceiving that economic dividing lines and issues were never far from the surface of his thinking.

Select Bibliography

  • A. P. Martin, Life and Letters of the Right Honourable Robert Lowe, Viscount Sherbrooke, vols 1-2 (Lond, 1893)
  • L. M. Thomas, The Development of the Labour Movement in the Sydney District of New South Wales from 1788-1848 (Canberra, 1962).

Citation details

L. J. Hume, 'Lynch, John ', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 1 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Life Summary [details]




New South Wales, Australia

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