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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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O'Connor, Joseph Graham (1839–1913)

by Mark Lyons

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

Joseph Graham O'Connor (1839-1913), journalist and politician, was born at Dareen House, King's County, Ireland, son of Stephen O'Connor, tanner and currier, and his wife Ann, née Graham. At 2 he went with his parents to New South Wales. Educated by the Christian Brothers and at the Sydney College, he was apprenticed to a wood engraver and printer.

In the late 1850s O'Connor began business as an engraver and printer and in 1860 produced the short-lived Sunbeam for the Catholic Young Men's Society. In 1864 he joined W. B. Dalley, W. J. Macleay and J. J. Harpur in bringing out the unsuccessful Sydney Times, devoted to 'the promotion of Australian literature and the advocacy and encouragement of native industry'. In 1867 he began the Balmain Reporter, one of the earliest suburban newspapers. His journalistic pursuits became more exclusively Irish and Catholic. In 1870-71 he edited and printed the Catholic Association Reporter. In 1876 he had debts of over £1400, sold his press and was not discharged from bankruptcy until 1884 after paying 3s. in the £. In 1877 he had begun the Catholic Times in opposition to the Freeman's Journal. In 1880 Archbishop Vaughan was dissatisfied with the Freeman's independent attitude and bought the Catholic Times, changing its name to the Express. In 1884 O'Connor took it over again and began the Nation, devoted to Irish news; he incorporated it in the Express in 1887. In 1890 debts forced him to close his last newspaper venture and his estate was again sequestered. He had supported his unprofitable newspapers with a mostly successful printing business, but in 1892 his friends had him appointed chief clerk on the Water and Sewerage Board at Newcastle, from which he retired in 1909.

As a youth O'Connor had helped to collect funds to relieve the 1858 Donegal famine victims and next year became an original member of the Celtic Association. In 1869-72 he was lay secretary of the Catholic Association, founded by Archbishop Polding in 1867 to support a separate system for Catholic schools. In the 1870s and 1880s he organized several concert tours of country districts to raise funds for the Church. Active in municipal politics with various Irish Catholic factions, he was auditor of the Sydney City Council in 1870-74. After several attempts he was elected in 1873 to the Legislative Assembly for Mudgee in the Catholic interest. Defeated in 1875, he lost again in 1880. O'Connor helped to organize the annual St Patrick's Day celebrations and did not eschew more controversial Irish causes: in 1866 he was treasurer of the Irish State Prisoners' Fund, organized to assist the dependants of Fenian prisoners in Ireland; in 1871 he helped to welcome Fenian prisoners released from Western Australia and in 1883 he was one of the few prominent Irish Catholics to welcome William and John Redmond. Affectionately known as 'old white hat' from the topper he invariably wore, he chaired their first Sydney meeting and was president of the local branch of the Irish National League. He remained close friends with the Redmonds and helped later Irish delegates.

At Sydney in 1861 O'Connor had married Mary Earl (d.1903). He died of bronchitis at his Mayfield home on 22 July 1913 and was survived by a married daughter. The Irish Parliamentary Party contributed to a monument over his grave in Sandgate cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Shaw, J. G. O'Connor: A Short Biography (Newcastle, 1910)
  • Freeman's Journal (Sydney), 28 Apr 1866, 29 July 1871, 24 Feb 1883, 24 July 1913
  • Empire (Sydney), 2 Dec 1867
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 11 Dec 1868
  • Bulletin, 13 Nov 1880
  • M. Lyons, Aspects of Sectarianism in New South Wales Circa 1865-1880 (Ph.D. thesis, Australian National University, 1972)
  • J. G. O'Connor papers (Irish National Assn, Sydney)
  • insolvency files 12,756 and 2388 (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

Mark Lyons, 'O'Connor, Joseph Graham (1839–1913)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 27 September 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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