- O'SHANASSY, Sir John (1818-1883)
- three times premier of Victoriawas born near Thurles, Tipperary, Ireland, in 1818, the son of Denis O'Shanassy, a land surveyor. His father dying when he was 13, O'Shanassy had little schooling and went to Melbourne in 1839. He tried farming for a few years, returned to Melbourne, was elected to the city council, in 1845 opened a draper's shop in Elizabeth-street, and conducted it for about 10 years with success. In 1851 he was elected a member of the legislative council for Melbourne, and became recognized as a leading member of the opposition. He advocated manhood suffrage, opposed the property qualification, and did his best to have the land opened up for settlement. In December 1854 he supported the government at a public meeting held in Melbourne at the time of the Eureka stockade, but in the same month succeeded in carrying a motion in the council, cutting down the proposed expenditure for the coming year from £4,582,000 to an amount not more than the estimated revenue of £2,400,000. He was already taking a prominent position among the Irish members of the community, and led the deputation to welcome Charles Gavan Duffy (q.v.) when he arrived in Melbourne in January 1856. With the establishment of responsible government O'Shanassy was elected a member of the legislative assembly for Kilmore. He was offered the treasurership in Haines' (q.v.) ministry but declined it. He sat in opposition, and on 3 March 1857 carried an adverse vote against the government. He had considerable difficulty in forming a ministry, and three of its members on going to the country were defeated. The ministry lasted only a few weeks and was displaced at the end of April. W. C. Haines became premier again and O'Shanassy leader of the opposition. In March 1858 he was premier for the second time, and succeeded in passing an act increasing the number of the members of the legislative assembly to 78 and also widening the franchise. After an election had been held O'Shanassy found himself hopelessly in a minority, and was succeeded by William Nicholson (q.v.) in October 1859. O'Shanassy again came into power in November 1861 with a strong ministry which passed the Duffy (q.v.) land act, and a civil service act which classified salaries and arranged promotion on definite principles. Other legislation of importance included a common schools act, and the Torrens (q.v.) transfer of real estate act. The government was defeated in June 1863 and O'Shanassy never held office again. In 1865 he was seriously ill and in 1866 visited Europe where he was created a knight of the Order of St Gregory the Great by Pope Pius IX. He returned in August 1867, entered the upper house, and was virtual leader of the house. He made more than one attempt to re-enter the assembly and was defeated, but in 1877 was elected for Belfast, and sat in opposition to Berry (q.v.). He was a supporter of James Service (q.v.) when he became premier in March 1880, but O'Shanassy's defection a few month's later caused the downfall of the government. It was expected that there would be a coalition between Berry and O'Shanassy, but they could not agree on the allotment of portfolios and the latter went into opposition. He was defeated at the next election and died a few weeks later on 5 May 1883. He married in 1839 Margaret McDonnell who survived him with sons and daughters. He was created a K.C.M.G. in 1874.O'Shanassy was a good speaker, with some knowledge of finance, and was extremely ambitious; he was premier three times but never held any other office. A sincerely religious man of fine character, he was for some time the recognized leader of his compatriots and co-religionists, and it was greatly to his credit that he systematically adjured his followers to remember that they were Australians, and that the importing of old world agitations would do no good and cause much ill-feeling. He was a striking and strong personality in the early days of political life in Victoria.The Argus and The Age, Melbourne, 7 May 1883; H. G. Turner, A History of the Colony of Victoria; P. Mennell, The Dictionary of Australasian Biography.
Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. Angus and Robertson. 1949.