Our friendly and excellent guides are available as Step On Guides for any visiting tour or coach operators who may like a unique, entertaining and educational tour of Irish History and the events of Easter Week 1916.

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Irish Statesmen Abroad - The Series

The 1916 Easter Rising generated a generation of Irish leaders and statesmen but as a small island we have punched well above our weight providing statesmen for nations across the world. This series published everyday over the next two weeks looks at their stories.

Episode Five - The Irish Premier's of Tasmania

It has been an Australian state since 1901, the island of Tasmania off the south east coast of Australian has a long and proud association with Ireland. The island is roughly the same size as Ireland but with a population of only just over half a million it has been part of Australia since 1856. Through the 1800s more than thirty percent of all migrants to Tasmania were from Ireland. Two Irishmen have risen to the top of Tasmanian Government attaining the position of Premier of Tasmania.

Sir James Wilson Agnew was born on October 2nd 1815 in Ballyclare, County Antrim.  After an education in Ireland, London and Paris be qualified as a medical practicioner and soon after qualification emigrated to Sydney, Australia. By 1846 he had married Louisa Mary Fraser but she passed away in 1868. He married a second time ten years later to Blanche Legge who had been born in County Tipperary. He moved to Melbourne but was unsettled but he was then offered a position in what was then known as Van Diemen’s Land now Tasmania. He would eventually become the colonial surgeon in the General Hospital in the capital Hobart. In 1877 he had left medicine and took up full time politics being elected to the Tasmanian Legislative Assembly. He was appointed to the cabinet as a minister without port folio but in 1881 he returned to Europe.

By 1884 he had returned to Tasmania and was once again elected to the Legislative Assembly. On March 8th 1886 he succeeded Adye Douglas as Tasmanian Premier only to retire from the post and politics just over a year later on March 27th 1887. In November 1901 by now a widower for a second time he died in the state capital of Hobart. In his obituary in the Daily Telegraph in Tasmania Agnew left a lasting legacy in Tasmania when the newspaper reported
‘In 1888 at a cost entirely by himself, he arranged for a shipment of 400,000 salmon ova to be brought to Tasmania under the care of Sir Thomas Brady, then inspector of fisheries for Ireland. The result of the experiment proved entirely satisfactory, and anglers in the future, as they do now, will bless the name of the genial doctor, who was mainly instrumental in introducing these fine fish to Tasmanian waters. Dr. Agnew was knighted by the late Queen Victoria, in 1894’

The name Gray has been synonimous with Irish politics since the days of Daniel O’Connell with Sir John Gray a well known vocal supporter of O’Connell and founder of the Freeman’s Journal newspaper an elected Irish MP for Kilkenny. Sir John’s son was Edmund Dwyer Gray who took over the running of the nationalist newspaper upon the death of his father in 1875. Edmund also served as Lord Mayor of Dublin and was an elected MP to the British House of Commons. His only son Edmund junior would also succeed his father at the newspaper but his political life would take him to the other side of the world.

Edmund John Dwyer Gray was born in Dublin in April 1870. After an education that included Clongowes Wood College he joined the staff of his family’s newspaper but a bout of rheumatism seen him travel to Australia hoping that the better climate would soothe his aches.  He made several trips down under but on one occasion back in married found time to marry Clara. The upheaval of the scandal surrounding his newspapers support of Charles Stewart Parnell’s affair with Kitty O’Shea hastened his permanent relation to Australia. After some travelling to Fiji and New Zealand, the Gray’s found themselves in Hobart, the capital of Tasmania. He settled as a farmer but had become involved again with journalism taking over as editor of the Daily Post a newspaper for the Australian Labor Party.

In 1915 he unsuccessfully ran in the state elections but in 1928 with a stroke of the pen when he hyphenated his name to Dwyer-Gray he found himself at the top of the ballot paper and won a seat representing the area of Denison. He rose to the rank of Deputy Premier under Albert Ogilvie and when Ogilvie died of a heart attack on June 10th 1939, Dublin born Edmund Dwyer-Gray became Premier of Tasmania. He only held the position until December 18th 1939 but was Premier at the outbreak of World War Two. He died in Hobart in December 1945. 

In Dublin’s O’Connell Street opposite a statue of grandfather John Gray stands the statue of William Smith O’Brien who was one of the leader of the failed 1848 rebellion and who in the aftermath found himself transported to Van Diemen’s Land for his crime of rebellion. Smith O’Brien was the brother of Lucius O’Brien, the Lord of Inchiquin who ancestoral home was Dromoland Castle. Beatrice, the grand daughter of Lucius married Gugliemo Marconi the inventor of wireless telegraphy and radio.

Perhaps one of the most successful of the Irish convicts in Tasmania was Richard Dry, convicted in Dublin in 1787, and sentenced to life for political activity and sedition. One of his sons Richard became the 7th Premier of Tasmania in 1866 and would eventually became the first Australian to be knighted. Richard Dry Senior was given a grant of 500 acres in 1818, as a reward for working as a commissariat clerk. Dry and his tenants were working 300 acres of land, and had almost 4,000 cattle and 7,000 sheep. By 1827 he had 12,000 acres of land. 

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