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Rediscovering Ginninderra:
MLA Edward William O'Sullivan

Born: 1846; Died: 1910; Married: Agnes Ann Firman

Edward O’Sullivan features prominently in the story of Ginninderra as the Member for Queanbeyan in the NSW Legislative Assembly for nearly twenty years, October 1885 to July 1904. He won, and then held the seat for eight consecutive parliaments. In 1899 he became Minister of Works at the age of forty seven.

The Goulburn Post marked his elevation to the Ministry with a sketch of his pre-parliamentary career:

Mr Edward William O’Sullivan member for Queanbeyan who takes the portfolio of Works, was born in Tasmania and is in his 47th year. After serving in the printing trade he became proprietor and editor of the Hobart ‘Daily Evening Tribune’ there and later became editor of the ‘St Armand Mercury.’ Retiring to Melbourne he secured employment on the ‘Argus’ and next came to this colony where he became head printer of ‘The Daily Telegraph.’ While in Melbourne he was president of the Typographical Association and in Sydney was soon advanced to the same position. He also became president of the Trades & Labour Council. Vigorous in everything he covered much ground in Sydney Unionist circles. He organized and was for four years president of the Seaman’s Union and of the first Butchers’ Union. Standing for South Sydney in 1882 he was defeated by a narrow majority. Returning to the contest in 1885 he was again rejected, though polling well, seven days later he was elected for Queanbeyan, which constituency he has represented ever since. He is a forcible speaker. [Goulburn Evening Post 16.9.1899].

William Affleck was another candidate for the Queanbeyan seat in 1885. In his 'Reminiscences' Affleck reflects on O’Sullivan’s victory:

‘Another general election was now held (1885) and five candidate offered their services to the electors of Queanbeyan, namely, EW O’Sullivan, Hodgkinson, Knight, O’Neill and myself. O’Sullivan had the majority, a small one owing to the heavy vote as the Cooma line was being constructed. He therefore had that vote as well as the Roman Catholic vote, for he was the only RC candidate out of five. [Reminiscences of William Affleck, page 35].

As well as a unionist and a Catholic, O’Sullivan was a fierce protectionist, at a time when the clashes of the forces for free trade and protectionism were a prominent part of the political debate. O’Sullivan made speeches in support of protectionism throughout the electorate, and was on several occasions petitioned to represent the Ginninderra Protection Union as delegate to Sydney conferences.

During his first decade in parliament in particular, O’Sullivan was a regular visitor and speaker around the electorate – often at meetings convened in the local hotel, but he also turned up and gave a speech at the Ginninderra Ploughing Competition (1887), and at a cricket march at Uriarra when play was suspended for his speech (1891). In 1887 he ‘addressed a meeting at Shumack’s Canberra Inn and Bolton’s Cricketers Arms Hotel as a Protection candidate for the forthcoming State Parliament elections’, and few months later in Queanbeyan he ‘addressed a crowded meeting of his constituents at Pooley’s Royal Hotel’. He was also a regular speaker at significant public events such as the opening of the Tharwa bridge (1895), the Queanbeyan bridge (1900), the Uriarra bridge (1901) and the Hall Creamery (1895):

[Edward O’Sullivan] performed the official opening of the Hall Creamery on 5th February in the presence of a concourse of about 200 spectators. Delivered a long address dealing in an elaborate manner with the many advantages which the country would derive from a proper development of the dairying industry. Captain S Southwell proposed a vote of thanks to Mr O’Sullivan for the great assistance he had given the residents of hall in getting their creamery erected. [Wizard’s Notes, Goulburn Evening Penny Post, 9.2.1895]. At a more local level in 1896 a meeting held at the Ginninderra store determined to form a new football club, and he was elected patron. In 1899 he was across the Murrumbidgee:

On Easter Monday last about 70 adults and children gathered at Picnic Flat near Mr William Webb’s homestead ‘Fairlight’ for the purpose of witnessing the competition for Mr EW O’Sullivan’s prizes for the best recitation of ‘Advance Australia’ and to attend a picnic in connection with the Ledgerton and Urayarra schools. Mr O’Sullivan was in attendance and delivered a short address and partook of lunch before returning to Queanbeyan to open the RC Bazaar. [Queanbeyan Observer 11.4.1899].

He seems to have a number of devoted supporters in the Ginninerra district, regularly named as chair of the meetings he addressed, or proposers of a vote of thanks. A number of them are identified in this report of an 1894 meeting at the Cricketers Arms:

Mr EW O’Sullivan the protectionist candidate for this electorate addressed a crowded and enthusiastic meeting of electors at the Cricketers Arms Hotel on Monday night last. Mr John Southwell of 'Rose Hill' presiding. Mr O’Sullivan who was accorded a splendid reception spoke for about two hours dealing in a masterly manner with all the leading political questions of the day. At the conclusion of the address Captain Samuel Southwell in a forceful and telling address proposed a vote of continued confidence in Mr O’Sullivan. This was seconded by Mr EM Ward and supported by Mr Jas McCarthy, JP [Wizard’s Notes Post 14.7.1894].

In addition to John Southwell, ‘Captain’ Samuel Southwell, Edmund Ward and James McCarthy, he had the reliable support of James Gillespie and David Boon.

His time as the member for Queanbeyan came to an end in 1904, while he was still Minister for Works. He had been ill the previous year. He was to survive only another six years before dying from blood poisoning at the age of sixty-five. His wife Agnes Ann O'Sullivan survived until 1928.

Dictionary of Australian Biography - O'Sullivan, Edward William (1846-1910)

Edward O'Sullivan was born in Tasmania on 17 March 1846. His father died when he was a child, and O'Sullivan began work at an early age as a printer's devil on the Hobart Mercury. Later on he became a reporter, in 1869 went to Sydney, but soon returned to Hobart and started a paper, the Tribune. This had some success but O'Sullivan sold it in 1873, went to Melbourne, and did journalistic work. He was editor of the St Arnaud Mercury for about three years, before going to Sydney in 1882, and for about a year was overseer in the Daily Telegraph office. He took a prominent part in union circles and became president of the typographical union.

In 1882 he was a candidate for the legislative assembly at West Sydney but was defeated, and in 1885 was defeated for South Sydney. He was, however, returned for Queanbeyan a few days later, and held the seat for about 18 years. In September 1899 he became minister for public works in the Lyne (q.v.) ministry, and held the same position when See (q.v.) became premier until the ministry was defeated in June 1904.

O'Sullivan was a most vigorous minister and was responsible for a great development of the tramway system, for the building of many new railways, and for many other public works in connexion with water-supply, roads, rivers, harbours and buildings, including the new Sydney railway station. He held office for a few weeks in the Waddell (q.v.) ministry in 1904 as secretary for lands, but possibly from failing health was less prominent in politics win his later years. He, however, did good work as an alderman of the city of Sydney, and representing Belmore for six years was a useful member of the assembly. He died at Sydney after a protracted illness on 25 April 1910. He married and left a widow, two sons and three daughters.

O'Sullivan was an optimistic man, full of generous qualities, more interested in doing things for other people than for himself. This was recognized by his constituents, who towards the end of his life twice raised testimonials for him and enabled him to buy himself a home. He was widely read, was a capable journalist, and also wrote a drama Cooee which was produced at Sydney with some success. He published during the 1890s Esperanza: a Tale of Three Colonies, and in 1906, Under the Southern Cross: Australian Sketches, Stories and Speeches.

As a politician he had strong Labour sympathies before the Labour party had developed in New South Wales, and worked untiringly for old-age pensions until they became law in 1900. He was much criticized for his supposed extravagance as minister for public works; at the time it seemed with reason, as the state was suffering from drought for part of the period. Possibly, however, he was wise in realizing the necessity of keeping people at work in times of depression. He was certainly right in his efforts to provide Sydney with a proper supply of water, and his efforts to relieve unemployment by developing the tramway and railway systems, showed him as a man of great foresight and courage.

[Refs: The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 and 27 April 1910; The Daily Telegraph, Sydney, 26 April 1910; P. S. Cleary, Australia's Debt to Irish Nation-builders; E. Morris Miller, Australian Literature].

Death of Mr EW O’Sullivan

Queanbeyan’s old member Mr EW O’Sullivan MLA died at St Vincent’s Hospital yesterday morning from blood poisoning. He lapsed into unconsciousness yesterday afternoon and remained in that condition until the end. Deceased was 65 years of age. The news of his demise caused universal regret especially in Queanbeyan.

The deceased gentleman owed not a little of his knowledge of public affairs to his profession as a journalist …Born in Tasmania on St Patrick’s Day 1846 and lost his father when quite a youngster. He started as a printer’s devil on that Hobart ‘Mercury’ and became a reporter when still quite young. He took control of the ‘Tribune’ and selling after a while made for the mainland.

He worked as a journalist until after some unsuccessful attempts he in 1885 was returned to the Legislative Assembly as a member for Queanbeyan. For over 18 years he sat as a representative for Queanbeyan. On the defeat of the Reid Government in 1899 Mr O’Sullivan took office as Minister for Works in the Lyne administration and held that portfolio for five years. The chief monument to his genius is the new Central Railway Station. [Queanbeyan Age 26.4.1910]

Funeral of the late Mr EW O’Sullivan

The funeral of the late Mr EW O’Sullivan took place today. Requiem Mass was celebrated in St Mary’s Cathedral which was crowded with all classes and creeds attending. The working class were strongly represented. The whole of the employees of the Government Dock Yard at Cockatoo Island ceased work at 9.30 in order to attend the service and burial.

When the cortege got underway there was a tremendous crowd outside the cathedral showing the wide respect and esteem in which the deceased was held. The whole length of Hyde Park to College St was thickly lined with people, members of the various trade unions and of the Irish National Foresters and Hibernian Society marched in front of the hearse, while Mr McGowan, leader of the State Opposition and many members of the Labour Party walked beside the hearse which was almost hidden by beautiful floral tributes. The remains were laid to rest in Waverley Cemetery in the presence of an immense concourse of people. [Goulburn Evening Penny Post 26.4.1910]

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