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John Peter Connolly (1843–1913)

by Peter D. Gardner

This article was published:

John Peter Connolly, also known as John Peter Connelly or Connelley (1843-1913) coal miner, mayor and trade union official

Birth: 19 September 1843 at Williams River, New South Wales, son of Peter Connelly (1828-1878), a farmer born in Galway, Ireland, and native-born Ann, née Monighan (d.1896). Marriage: 29 November 1865 at East Maitland, NSW, to Clara Selina Berryman (1845-1931). They had two daughters and seven sons. Death: 27 February 1913 at Jumbunna, Victoria. Religion: Catholic. 

  • Began work on land at Dungog, before turning to tin mining at Inverell. Following “a spell in charge of a cattle station”, he became a miner for about seven years on the Copeland goldfield, then from about 1884 a coalminer in the Singleton district. He was a coal miner at Greta, and a delegate of the Great Northern Colliery miners’ lodge, by 1890.
  • An alderman on Greta municipal council from 1892 to 1899, he was mayor from February 1894 to February 1895.
  • He unsuccessfully contested the seat of Hunter in the Legislative Assembly in June 1891 as a “miners’ delegate, protectionist and labor candidate” and the seat of Singleton in 1894 as a Labor Protectionist.
  • Arrived in Korumburra district in Victoria about 1897. On committee of Jumbunna lodge 1898. Key figure in Victorian Coal Miners' Association (VCMA) between 1900 and 1913, when union joined with Tasmanian Miners to form Australian Coal Miners' Association.
  • President of VCMA in 1900-01, during which time he and Arthur Alan Wilson worked successfully to achieve unity following secession of Jumbunna & Coal Creek lodges. A strong advocate of arbitration, he opposed the stand taken by Wilson and other VCMA militants during 1903-04 strike, criticising Wilson as a ”firebrand”. Engaged in last minute behind the scenes negotiations to salvage something from the miners' hopeless position after the NSW miners had discontinued contributions to strike fund.
  • After strike called off in May 1904, he organised relief parcels for unemployed miners and families. Became VCMA president briefly again after blacklisted predecessor, David McEwan, left the district.
  • Probably one of small minority who opposed disbandment of VCMA in August 1904. In October 1904, with Tom McNair, he appealed to the Victorian premier to have companies re-employ miners who had been on strike. Doubtful if he ever again worked in major local colliery, as all miners hired after the strike were obliged to sign a non-union agreement.
  • Key figure in clandestine organisation to re-establish VCMA in about 1906. Leading figure in the VCMA's revival and registration under Commonwealth Conciliation & Arbitration Act 1907, becoming secretary (1907 to 1913) and dedicating remainder of his life to rebuilding and consolidating the union. Was secretary at time of owners' unsuccessful High Court appeal against VCMA's registration (Jumbunna Case, 1908), during which time the VCMA also attempted amalgamation with Illawarra miners led by Andrew Gray.
  • In 1911 he was VCMA representative at conference for amalgamation of various coal mining unions.
  • Cause of death: phlebitis, pulmonary thrombosis and syncope.

Great Southern Advocate
; Outtrim News; Korumburra Times; Tocsin; MTHC Minutes, MUA; Edgar Ross, A history of the Miners' Federation of Australia ([Sydney], 1970); information from Wonthaggi Historical Society; P. D. Gardner, Too old to rat: the radical miners of South Gippsland 1893-1904 (Ensay, Victoria, 1994).

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Citation details

Peter D. Gardner, 'Connolly, John Peter (1843–1913)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 22 May 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

John Connolly, 1894

John Connolly, 1894

Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 11 June 1894, p 5

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Connelly, John Peter
  • Connelley, John Peter

19 September, 1843
Dungog, New South Wales, Australia


27 February, 1913 (aged 69)
Jumbunna, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death


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