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John Connelly (1806–1860)

John Connelly (1806-1860) was born on 16 April 1806 at Norfolk Island and given the name of John Piper. He was the son of Margaret Eddington/Headington and, it is thought, John Piper. He changed his surname to Connelly when his mother married Charles Connelly in 1819 in Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania).

Connelly could read and write in 1821 and had probably gone to the public school established by Peter Mulgrave. He trained as a cabinet maker and received a generous inheritance (a building known as the Invalid Hospital, a cart and six bullocks) from his stepfather following his death in 1829; Connely sold the property in 1829. He married Catherine Fowlser, a widow, on 22 October 1829 at St John's, Launceston; they had three children. In 1830 Connelly was acquitted of stealing 30 pounds of hay on a technicality — the stolen hay had not been kept as evidence of theft. Connelly became a hotelier but by 1835 was declared insolvent and one of his hotels, Elephant and Castle in Launceson, was mortgaged.

In 1836 John was arrested for receiving stolen goods. While on remand in gaol, another break-in occurred for which Catherine was arrested for receiving stolen goods. Both were convicted and sentenced to seven years transportation. Catherine was pardoned and John was assigned to a road gang to serve his sentence working as a labourer in rural VDL. By March 1837 Connelly was apparently back living at Launceston, however, much to the indignation of some of the residents who protested to the new Lieutenant-Governor Sir John Franklin. A notation on his convict record read that he was not to be permitted out of the Oatlands district. He was assigned to David Solomon, a publican at Antill Ponds. When Solomon died he was assigned to Waterloo Point where he remained until receiving his conditional pardon in 1841 and certificate of freedom in 1843.

Catherine Connelly continued to manage the Currency Lass at Launceston (though George Best held the licence) until 1939 when she and John sold the freehold; John later claimed that she did not pay him all the proceeds of the sale. Catherine left for South Australia at the end of May 1939 with her two youngest children and seems to have worked as a housekeeper until she returned to VDL in 1848.

John, after regaining his freedom in 1843, resumed to his familiar lifestyle and, by 1845, was the licensee of the Golden Fleece in Elizabeth Street, Hobart. He had a daughter with Agnes Robertson in 1846 and then, describing himself as a widower, bigamously married Mary Ann Fox, a dress maker, on 25 May 1846 at Hobart; they had three children. He took over the management and license of the Good Woman in Green Ponds that same year.

Connelly left for the California gold rush in 1848 with a substantial cargo of alcohol, foodstuffs, ironmongery and sundries. He seems to have met with some success. When he returned in 1850 he immediately prepared to join the Victorian gold rush. This time he was going to trade with gold seekers rather than work as a miner. He took over the Flemington Hotel, two miles out of Melbourne on the road to the diggings at Mt Alexander. He later bought shops, cottages and another hotel in the town and was hugely indebted. His wife and children (including those from his previous marriage) joined him in Melbourne.

Catherine Connelly also arrived in Melbourne and in 1852 secured a maintenance order against her husband for 30 shillings a week from the Victoria Police. John Connelly at first paid the maintenance but increasing debts, and various lawsuits, led to him withdrawing payment in December 1853. Catherine took him to court. He argued that he could not afford to maintain two wives and that Catherine had not given him all the money from the sale of his hotel in 1839. He lost his case and was ordered to pay her maintenance or face gaol. By September 1854 he was in arrears again and the court ordered him to be imprisoned until the outstanding debt was paid.

John Connelly offered to pay Catherine a substantial cash settlement to settle the claim for good provided she return to Van Diemen's Land but in the end offered her only £2. Catherine again sought redress and John fled to the Victorian goldfields; he was also being pursued by creditors. He was arrested in Ballarat in early 1855 on a charge of failing to pay maintenance. He later failed to appear in court. In June 1855 he was committed to gaol after he claimed that he would sweat it out and suffer to be hanged before he would pay maintenance to Catherine. Catherine returned to VDL where she died in January 1856. It is believed that she did receive some maintenance payments before her death.

John Connelly returned to the Victorian goldfields and was at the Bendigo goldfields in 1857. His financial situation continued to worsen as did his marriage to Mary Ann. In an advertisement in the Argus in August 1859 he stated that he would no longer be responsible for her debts. He died at his home on 30 May 1860 from a cerebral hemorrhage resulting from an episode of acute alcoholism.

information from

  • Bourchier, Steve and Leader-Elliott, Ian, 'The metamorphoses of John Eddington Jr', Papers and Proceedings: Tasmanian Historical Research Association, vol 43, no 4, Dec 1996, pp 201-16
  • Ian Leader-Elliott, 'Catherine Connelly: Convict, Innkeeper and Litigant', Female Convicts Research Centre Seminar: Succeeding in the regular economy: the aftermath of convict sentences, Saturday 9 May 2015, Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania, Hobart — accessed 18 November 2020

Citation details

'Connelly, John (1806–1860)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 May 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Piper, John Edington
  • Headington, John
  • Edington, John

16 April, 1806
Norfolk Island, Australia


30 May, 1860 (aged 54)
Flemington, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death


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