O'Shanassy, John (DNB00)
O'SHANASSY, Sir JOHN (1818–1883), Australian statesman, son of Denis O'Shanassy, was born in 1818, near Thurles, co. Tipperary. By his father's death in 1831 his ties with Ireland were loosened, and in 1839 he emigrated to Australia. Arriving in Australia in the early days of Port Phillip, he at first bought a cattle-run in the West Port district, but, finding it unprofitable, he commenced business in Melbourne as a draper in 1846. There he met with considerable commercial success, and in 1856 he was one of the chief promoters of the Colonial Bank, and for fourteen years was chairman of its board of directors. But it was to local politics that the best of his energy was given. All through life an ardent Roman catholic, he was founder of the St. Patrick's Society, and for years the representative of his co-religionists on the denominational board of education. He joined in the agitation for the separation of the Melbourne province from the colony of New South Wales, and was one of the founders of the anti-transportation league, and a most energetic opponent of the Australian penal settlement system. When the separation of Victoria from New South Wales took place in 1851, he was returned as one of the members for Melbourne in the first legislative council, and became virtually leader of the opposition in the council to the official or nominee element. In 1852 he and his adherents succeeded in defeating the official Gold Export Duty Bill. He continued to press for full responsible government, and was so prominent in public affairs that he was nominated by Sir Charles Hotham a member of the commission to inquire into the condition of affairs at the goldfields; and was also a member of the committee appointed in 1853 to report on the scheme of a colonial constitution. In December 1854 he assisted Sir Charles Hotham very materially in forcing the colonial officials to reduce the public expenditure, a measure necessary to avert public bankruptcy. In 1855 he was a member of the gold commission, and of the crown land commission. In September 1856 he was, at the first election to the first legislative assembly, elected last of the five members for Melbourne, and also for the constituency of Kilmore, and elected to sit for the latter. On the fall of the Haines administration in 1857, he took office as premier and chief secretary, and formed a government on a democratic basis, which held office only from 11 March to 29 April, and then resigned in consequence of a vote of want of confidence. He again was the chief of an administration from 10 March 1858 to 27 Oct. 1859, and from 14 Nov. 1861 to 27 June 1863. Charles Gavan Duffy, whom he had warmly welcomed on his arrival in Australia in 1856, was his colleague in all three, and in the last William Clarke Haines, who in 1855 and 1857 had been his opponent. In his second term of office he successfully negotiated the first Victorian loan of eight millions; and when premier for the third time he was responsible for the Crown Lands Act, 1862, and the Local Government Act. After his resignation in 1863 he did not hold office again, though he continued to be a member of the Victorian legislature, except in 1866 and 1867, when he visited Europe, and was created a knight of the Order of St. Gregory the Great by Pope Pius IX. In February 1868 he was elected a member of the legislative council for the central province without opposition, and in 1872 was re-elected for ten years, but resigned his seat after two years; and in May 1877, after two unsuccessful contests, re-entered the assembly as member for Belfast. At first of somewhat advanced opinions, and in 1856 an advocate of manhood suffrage, he was in his later years generally a conservative. He opposed, unsuccessfully, secular education, the abolition of state aid to religion, and payment of members; he was a supporter of free trade, of an immigration policy, and of a general Australian federation. He was an eloquent and able man; ‘in capacity and legislative mastery,’ says Rusden, ‘he had no superior in the legislature;’ and the principal obstacle to his complete success as a politician was his uncompromising devotion to Roman catholic policy and interests, and particularly in the matter of state-aided education. In 1870 he was created a C.M.G.; in April 1874 he was made a knight of the same order and a knight-bachelor. He died on 6 May 1883, leaving three sons and three daughters. He married, before his emigration, Margaret, daughter of Mr. McDonnell of Thurles, who survived him and died on 13 July 1887.
[Rusden's Hist. of Australia; Mennell's Dict. of Australasian Biography; Heaton's. Australian Dictionary; Times, 7 and 9 May 1883.]