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John Denney (1814–1883)

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John Denney (also known as Denny) (1814-1883) plumber, democratic activist and Methodist preacher 

Baptised: 2 October 1814 at Norfolk, England, son of Samuel Denney (1787-1856), husbandsman, and Elizabeth, née Horstead (1788-1870). Marriage: 4 June 1846 at Launceston, Tasmania, to native-born Elizabeth Maria (Eliza) Thompson (1827-1915), [daughter of John Thompson (1786-1858) who took part in the battle of Waterloo with the Life Guards]. They had nine daughters and seven sons. Death: 20 August 1883 at Port Sorell, Lower Barrington, Tasmania. Religion: Methodist. 

  • Arrived in Hobart Town, Tasmania, aboard the schooner Flying Squirrel from Port Phillip [Victoria] on 29 October 1842. Worked as a plumber, painter and glazier in Launceston.
  • Was a prominent anti-transportation activist. The foremost working class spokesman in Launceston against transportation from April 1847 when he addressed a meeting of 400-500 tradesmen, mechanics and others protesting against transportation.
  • Addressed similar meeting in October 1848, calling for united action by tradesmen and mechanics to abolish the convict system.
  • Also figured significantly in similar public meetings held August and September 1850, chastising employers for not opposing transportation and, like William Jeffrey in Hobart, urging employers to take a pledge not to employ convict labour.
  • Was active in the Launceston Mechanics Institute and was its treasurer from 1850 to 1852.
  • Was a leading member of the Wesleyan community, described as “a George Whitfield amongst the local preachers . . . small in stature but a giant in mind.” For many years was an advocate on the platform of Temperance.
  • His widow’s obituary stated that he “was not only the preacher, but in many instances the doctor. In the dark and stormy nights he would travel miles to visit the sick, and in many instances alleviate their suffering by his practical skills”.
  • In 1853 he retired from his business in Launceston and briefly worked the Romney sawmill on the Mersey. About 1856 he became a farmer and one of the earliest white settlers on the Don River at Barringon (Melrose).
  • Cause of death: strangury.

Michael Quinlan, Hope amidst hard times: working class organisation in Tasmania 1830-1850. (University of New South Wales, Kensington, 1986); M. Quinlan & M. Gardiner, ‘Researching Australian Industrial Relations in the Nineteenth Century’, in Patmore, G. (ed.), History and Industrial Relations, Australian Centre for Industrial Relations Research and Teaching. Monograph No.1, pp.60-98.

Additional Resources

  • tribute, Daily Telegraph (Launceston, Tas), 24 September 1883, p 3

Citation details

'Denney, John (1814–1883)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 29 November 2023.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Denny, John

2 October, 1814
Norfolk, England


20 August, 1883 (aged 68)
Port Sorell, Tasmania, Australia

Cause of Death

bladder disease

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Key Organisations
Political Activism