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The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/O'Shanassy, Hon. Sir John

O'Shanassy, Hon. Sir John, K.C.M.G., sometime Premier of Victoria, was born in 1818 near Thurles, co. Tipperary, Ireland, and arrived in Victoria with his wife in 1839. He started business in Melbourne, was one of the founders of St. Patrick's Society, and for many years represented the Roman Catholic body on the denominational board of education. He was appointed one of the trustees of the Public Library. In 1856 he was one of the chief promoters of the Colonial Bank, and acted as chairman of its board of directors for fourteen years. When the colony was separated from New South Wales, in 1851, Mr. O'Shanassy was returned to the first Legislative Council as one of the members for Melbourne, and became the virtual leader of the opposition to the official and nominee element in that body. Mr. O'Shanassy, who had been one of the strongest advocates of separation from New South Wales, now became one of the warmest champions of the establishment of responsible government and of the anti-transportation movement. During the troubles which ensued on the attempt to enforce the gold diggers' licence Mr. O'Shanassy was one of the six members of the royal commission which was appointed by Sir Charles Hotham to inquire into the condition of the goldfields of Victoria. He was also one of the members of the committee appointed by the Council to report upon the best form of a constitution for the colony. At the elections for the first Legislative Assembly, in Sept. 1856, Mr. O'Shanassy was re-elected for Melbourne, and was also returned a few days later for Kilmore, for which constituency he took his seat. Early in 1857 the Haines Government (the first formed after the concession of responsible government) resigned, and in March of that year Mr. O'Shanassy accepted office as Premier and Chief Secretary, and was re-elected for Kilmore; but a vote of want of confidence having been carried seven weeks later, he resigned. Mr. O'Shanassy returned to office as Premier and Chief Secretary in March 1858, on the break-up of the Haines Government through the rejection of the schedule of their Increase of Members Bill, and was re-elected for Kilmore. It fell to the lot of the O'Shanassy Government to negotiate the first Victorian public loan, which, to the amount of £8,000,000, was successfully floated through the agency of six of the Melbourne banks. Mr. O'Shanassy was re-elected for Kilmore at the general election in 1859, but retired from office in the following October, as the result of a vote of want of confidence. In Nov. 1861 the Heales Ministry were defeated on their budget, and Mr. O'Shanassy became for the third time Premier and Chief Secretary. Amongst the important measures fathered by the Ministry were the Crown Lands Act of 1862—which, though it largely failed in its object, was intended to encourage the settlement of small holders upon the public lands—and the Local Government Act, to the shaping of which Mr. O'Shanassy devoted much personal attention. In June 1863 he left office with his colleagues, and never returned to it, though often apparently on the verge of doing so. He, however, continued down to his death to occupy a very prominent position in the public eye as an unflinching upholder of the claims of his fellow Roman Catholics, and as one of the most broad-minded advocates of Conservative, or as they grew to be called Constitutional, politics. He was re-elected for Kilmore in 1864, but was not a member in 1866, in which year he visited Europe, and was created by Pope Pius IX., in recognition of his services in the cause of Catholic education, a Knight of the Order of St. Gregory the Great. Mr. O'Shanassy returned to Victoria in 1867, and entered the Legislative Council in Feb. 1868, as member for the Central province, being re-elected for ten years in August 1872. Subsequently he unsuccessfully opposed the Secular Education, State-Aid to Religion Abolition, and Payment of Members Bills. In April 1874, in which year he was created K.C.M.G., having been made C.M.G. in 1870, he resigned his seat in the Council, and after two unsuccessful contests re-entered the Assembly as member for Belfast, in May 1877. He was an unwavering freetrader, a pro-immigrationist, and favoured a united form of government for the Australian, rather than the federal system. Sir John O'Shanassy had a singularly comprehensive grasp of constitutional questions, and was a most powerful speaker; the only obstacle to his complete success as a statesman being his paramount devotion to the interests of his creed. He married in 1839 Margaret, daughter of M. McDonnell of Thurles, and died on May 8th, 1883. Lady O'Shanassy died on July 13th, 1887.