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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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O'Grady, Michael (1824–1876)

by Janice Burns Woods

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

Michael O'Grady (1824-1876), by unknown photographer, c1865-76

Michael O'Grady (1824-1876), by unknown photographer, c1865-76

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H29556

Michael O'Grady (1824-1876), businessman, politician and Roman Catholic community leader, was born on 16 October 1824 at Frenchpark, County Roscommon, Ireland, son of James O'Grady and his wife Cecelia, née Giblon. As a young man he went to London where he became manager of an insurance office. In 1852 he attended a public dinner for C. G. Duffy, who was impressed by O'Grady's ability. The friendship begun in London was continued in Victoria when in 1855 he was sent by his company to establish a branch office in Australia. After six months in Sydney he decided to settle in Melbourne.

O'Grady was secretary of the People's Provident Assurance Society (later European Assurance Society) from 1856 until 1861 when his entry into politics led his London directors to require his resignation. He was managing director of the Australian Alliance Assurance Co. from its formation in July 1862 until 1876. He had been chairman of the Boroondara Road Board in 1858, a member of the Hawthorn Municipal Council in 1860-61 and mayor in 1870-71.

O'Grady had been elected for South Bourke to the Legislative Assembly in 1861-68 and was vice-president of the Board of Land and Works and commissioner of public works in the Sladen ministry from 6 May to 11 July 1868, though he failed to win the ministerial by-election. He was a representative of Villiers and Heytesbury in 1870-76, and under Duffy's ministry served again in public works from 17 June 1871 to 10 June 1872. Never prominent as a politician, O'Grady had been mainly interested in issues affecting Catholics. His parliamentary career coincided with the climax of debate on the education issue; he served on the Board of Education in 1867-72, regularly attended meetings of the Catholic Education Committee and actively opposed the 1872 Education Act. These were not his only services to Victoria's Irish Catholic community. In 1861 he aided tenant farmers evicted at Glenveagh, Donegal, by organizing a relief committee which brought many of the victims to Australia; at many other times he gave advice and practical help to Irish migrants. An active supporter of Catholic charities and a member of the 1870 royal commission on charitable institutions, he helped to found the weekly Catholic Advocate in 1868. For his services to the Catholic community he was created a knight of St Gregory by Pope Pius IX in 1871.

Genial and kind, O'Grady had ability and integrity. One of Melbourne's most influential Catholic laymen, he was deeply attached to the land of his birth and the faith of his fathers, and by his generous public and private services to his countrymen and co-religionists he merited the description 'a typical true-hearted Celt'. On 5 January 1876 he died suddenly from a liver complaint at his home, Erinagh, Hawthorn. His funeral service was conducted by a score of priests and attended by a large crowd; the shops of Hawthorn were closed as a mark of respect during the funeral procession to Boroondara cemetery. Predeceased in 1874 by his wife Elizabeth Mary, née Reynolds, he was survived by five of their seven children. Although successful in business he left an estate valued at only £1750.

Select Bibliography

  • J. F. Hogan, The Irish in Australia (Melb, 1888)
  • C. G. Duffy, My Life in Two Hemispheres, vol 2 (Lond, 1898)
  • P. S. Cleary, Australia's Debt to Irish Nation-Builders (Syd, 1933)
  • Age (Melbourne), 6 Jan 1876
  • Advocate (Melbourne), 8 Jan 1876
  • Australasian, 8 Jan 1876
  • M. Mullaly, Aspects of the Catholic Viewpoint on Education and its Political Consequences in Victoria, 1870-1881 (B.A. Hons thesis, Monash University, 1966).

Citation details

Janice Burns Woods, 'O'Grady, Michael (1824–1876)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 22 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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