Born: 1855; Died: 1937; Married: Catherine Isabella Macintosh
Matthew O'Brien was born at Ginninderra in 1855, the son of John and Jane O'Brien (nee Daley).
His father John was from Limerick and arrived in the colony on the Royal Saxon on 24 June 1844, joining his brothers Patrick and Daniel at Penrith. A short time later he came to the Ginninderra district where he was employed by William Davis on his Ginninderra estate|\ for many years. In 1850 he married Jane Daley, daughter of Patrick and Biddy Daley, at St Gregory's church in Queanbeyan. Jane had also been born in Ireland, in July 1826, and arrived on the Inchinman in 1849.
John and Jane had ten children, but three of them died in infancy. Jane herself died in 1868 and John remarried, to Catherine ('Kate') Nelson, Tipperary-born, in 1878. They lived for some time at Jeir where they had a farm, before retiring to Queanbeyan. John died in 1899 and Catherine in 1906.
Their son Matthew worked as a boundary rider for Edward Crace on the Gungahlin Estate for many years. While employed by Crace he and his family lived at Emu Bank homestead which was built by Ginninderra's first land-owner, George Thomas Palmer (senior), to house his estate managers. He subsequently worked for
General James Legge of 'Cranleigh', Weetangera The Queanbeyan Age reported in 1923 that a house had been built at Cranleigh for the O'Brien family, and the O'Briens are shown as living there on the electoral roll for 1928.
In 1882 when he was twenty-seven he married Catherine Isabella McIntosh, and they raised eight children. Some of the younger ones were pupils at Weetangera school. Catherine was the daughter of James McIntosh of Wallaroo.
Matthew was evidently an exceptional sportsman - interested and successful in a broad range of sporting activities, which at that time included coursing, pigeon and wallaby shooting, as well as cricket, tennis, running and football. He also had race horses which won races at local meeting, and was a member of the steel quoits team. He was vice president of the Weetangera Cricket Club for a while, but is also reported as playing for Ginninderra and Glenwood at different times; 'a bowler of no mean type'. With his mate Pat Curley from Mugga he was recognised as 'one of the finest horsemen of the district'. He raced a string of horses at the Murrumbateman, One Tree Hill and Gungahleen races - 'Chance', 'Partner', 'Boy', 'Comet', 'Reality', 'Fairlight'. An excellent shot, he competed with successes in pigeon shooting competitions, and in wallaby shoots hosted by the bigger land-owners - the Gillespies 'Horse Park', John Southwell's 'Carrington', and James Cavanagh's One Tree Hill property. Hare drives were another popular pastime, and Matthew was amongst the shooters at Rolfe's 'Gold Creek, McCarthy's 'Glenwood', and the Gillespie's properties. His obituary in 1937 observes that 'in recent years he was a member the local quoits team'.
He also earned a fine reputation in the community for playing the violin at local dances. In 1897 he helped make the music at McCarthy's annual end of shearing ball at 'Glenwood', a prominent event of the Ginninderra social calendar
A school had opened at Weetangera, less than two miles west of Emu Bank, in 1875. Matthew O'Brien ('labourer') was one of the petitioners who signed a letter to the Minister for Public Instruction in 1906 requesting construction of a new Weetangera school, the existing one being in 'an extremely dilapidated condition'. This petition was not enough for Matthew however. He also wrote his own letter to the Minister complaining that the condition of the building was adversely affecting the health of his children 'to the extent that he had spent ₤17 on doctors and hospital bills for one of his sons during the previous winter'. He threatened to withdraw his children from the school until something was done about the situation. It appears that three of his children were at the school at that time - Francis (11), Sydney (8) and Kate. (7). After a good deal of lobbying a new school was built in 1907 at a total cost of ₤98-12-0.
They were one of the last families to live at Emu Bank homestead.
The death occurred at Westlake on Monday of Matthew O'Brien, aged 83 years, who had spent the whole of his life in the Canberra district. Born at Ginninderra, the late Matthew O'Brien was a son of Mr. and Mrs. John O'Brien, who selected land there nearly a century ago.
Prior to the the resumption of the Federal Capital Territory by the Commonwealth Government, Matt O'Brien was employed as a boundary rider for many years by Mr. E. G. Crace, Gungahlin.
As a young man, the late Mr. O'Brien was a crack pigeon shot, and took a prominent part in local sports fixtures as a foot runner, cricketer, tennis player and footballer. In recent years he was a member of local quoits teams.
In the early days of the district, when a man was judged according to his ability as a horseman, Matt O'Brien and his friend, the late Pat Curley, Mugga, were recognised as outstanding riders. Both gentleman gained fame locally as riders of buckjumpers, and O'Brien was recognised as one of the finest horsemen of the district.
The funeral took place on Tuesday at the Roman Catholic section of the Queanbeyan Cemetery, the Rev. P. M. Haydon officiating at the graveside. Sons of the deceased acted as pallbearers.
The family of six sons and two daughters, is well known in the district the sons residing locally. They are John, William, Matthew, Andrew, Francis, and Sidney, while Mrs. Casey resides at Murrumburrah and Mrs. Hennessy at Sydney. There were thirty-seven grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.
[Canberra Times Friday 27 August 1937, page 2]
- Canberra Times, 27 August 1937, p 2
- Clough, M. Spilt milk. A history of Weetangera School 1875-2004, Weetangera School, Canberra, 2004
- Gillespie, L. L., Canberra's pioneer families, Supplement to Canberra Times, 15 Feb 2000
- Gillespie, L. L., Ginninderra. Forerunner to Canberra, Ccampbell, 1992
- Brown, J. O'Brien. Family tree of John and Jane, Canberra 1985