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Daniel Deniehy

Daniel Deniehy

Republican Patriot

It was at a public meeting, on 15th August 1853, that Daniel Deniehy first appeared "on the public stage". He opposed William Wentworth's draft New South Wales Constitution, which proposed to establish a parliamentary Upper House consisting of hereditary Australian Lordships. At that, and a subsequent meeting Deniehy eloquently condemned what he called Wentworth's proposed "Bunyip Aristocracy", and spoke in favour of a widespread democracy. His speech caused great laughter at the Establishment's expense, and was roundly applauded; and later reported favourably in the newspapers of the day.(1:p.60-61)

Daniel Henry Deniehy was born in Sydney on 16th August 1828. He became a thorough republican. Deniehy spoke of "our cause - the cause of Australian Republicanism", and wrote that "my eye is fixed on one point - the doing my duty in establishing Republican Institutions and advancing in every genuine method, my native land."(2:p.1,35)

Later, he became involved with free-thinkers such as Henry Parkes, Charles Harpur and the Rev. J.D. Lang. Deniehy supported Lang in his opposition to Britain's "foreign war" in the Crimea. He hoped to set up a popular party, to oppose the entrenched squattocracy and non-elected politicians (appointed by the colony's Governor).(1:p.66-67)

Daniehy was elected to the NSW Legislative Assembly in 1857, with his main aim to open up public lands to the working class. He helped form the New South Wales Electoral Reform League, in order to push for greater democracy (1:p.68-69). He stayed in the Legislative Assembly at great personal expense, as in these days Members of Parliament were not paid, and therefore had to fund his time there (he lost money due to the constant travelling to Sydney, paying for lodging there, as well as which he lost much trade for his own business due to his parliamentary absences - he finally had to move to Sydney (1:p.71). The Reform League's policies became generally accepted, and a law was passed which essentially granted for representation by population (rather than by land-owners) and for more equal electorates; however, several undemocratic features remained.(1:p.71-72)

Deniehy's reputation as an orator and propagandist for land reform attracted much attention, especially in Victoria where similar attempts were being made (indeed, one of the demands of the Eureka rebels in 1854 was to "unlock the lands"). In 1858 Deniehy was invited to Victoria, and gave a speech to a large meeting of the Land Convention Brotherhood of United Australians.(1:p.72)

Deniehy also spoke out against giving top public service jobs to specially imported Englishmen, and to government funding of religion (following which, after a row with the Catholic hierarchy, Deniehy was excommunicated).(1:p.72-73)

After being defeated in electoral contests, Deniehy founded his own newspaper, the Southern Cross (the first issue appeared on 1st October 1859) which aimed to review public affairs, foster "national sentiment", and work towards the federation of the colonies. It was in the Southern Cross that he published the most famous of his writings "How I Became Attorney-General of New Baratavia", ridiculing the Cowper government's appointment of L.H. Bayley to the ministry (1:p.74-75), in what "was considered at the time to be one of the most forceful and brilliant political satires in the English language"(3). Unfortunately his newspaper closed on 11th August 1860, due to financial difficulties. Before its closure, however, Deniehy had produced, besides his purely political pieces, many writings of "insight and elegance on a wide range of topics".(1:p.76)

In May 1860 Deniehy was re-elected to parliament, but was defeated in December of the same year. Thereafter he rarely appeared at public functions. However, he came "out of retirement" to address the large assembly of Australians in the anti-Chinese demonstrations in Sydney, following the riots at Lambing Flat, whereby he deplored the recent violence but condemned the continuing mass influx of Chinese (1:p.76-77). Deniehy was vehemently opposed to the possibility of the Asianisation of Australia: When the transportation of convicts ended in New South Wales in 1840, Chinese coolies were imported to provide cheap labour. Their numbers increased greatly during the gold rush. By 1859 there were at least 20,000 in NSW (2:p.73). As to the cause of this Asiatic invasion, Deniehy pointed his finger at the traitors in the Establishment: He tried one last time for re-election in September 1861, but failed. The following year he went to Melbourne to edit the Victorian newspaper. His outspokenness meant that the paper ran into trouble, and it was closed in April 1864, by which time he was seriously ill, as well as impoverished. The death of his only surviving son later in that same month led to severe drinking problems. Wrestling with ill-health, poverty, and alcoholism, he returned to Sydney where he tried to re- establish his legal practice; after which he went to Bathurst, where he died on 22nd October 1865.(1:p.77-78)

Daniel Henry Deniehy, republican patriot, led his life according to his principles. He worked hard to: In these times, when the Establishment is threatening the future of Australia through domination and exploitation by foreign interests, where our own culture heritage and identity is scorned by anti-Australian multiculturalists, mass immigrationists and Asianisers, Daniel Deniehy remains a beacon for Australian nationalists.


(1) Walsh, Gerald. "Democrat: Daniel Deniehy" in Fry, Eric (ed.) Rebels and Radicals, George Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1983, pp. 59-82.

(2) Pearl, Cyril. Brilliant Dan Deniehy: A Forgotten Genius, Nelson, Melbourne, 1972.

(3) The Australian Encyclopaedia, Australian Geographic, Terrey Hills, NSW, 1988, Vol. 3, p. 991.

Sources for further reading

Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 4: 1851-1890, D-J, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 1972, pp. 44-46.

The Australian Encyclopaedia, Australian Geographic, Terrey Hills, NSW, 1988, Vol. 3, p. 991.

Dowd, B.T. "Daniel Henry Deniehy: Gifted Australian Orator, Scholar and Literary Critic" in Royal Australian Historical Society Journal and Proceedings, Vol. XXXIII, 1947, Part II, pp. 57-95.

Glass, F. Devlin. "Daniel Deniehy: A Checklist of Writings and Speeches" in Australian Literary Studies, Vol. 9 No. 3, May 1980, pp. 388-398.

Pearl, Cyril. Brilliant Dan Deniehy: A Forgotten Genius, Nelson, Melbourne, 1972.

The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature, Second Edition, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1994, p. 227.

Walsh, Gerald. Daniel Deniehy: A Portrait with Background, University of New South Wales, Canberra, 1988.

Walsh, Gerald. "Democrat: Daniel Deniehy" in Fry, Eric (ed.) Rebels and Radicals, George Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1983, pp. 59-82.

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