John Hubert Plunkett (1802 – 1869) NSW attorney-general
John Plunkett was an important leader of Catholic opinion in the colony. He publicly defended Polding when the archbishop left Sydney in 1854 and chaired the welcome gathering when he returned in 1856. He took the leading role in establishing St Vincent’s Hospital, Potts Point, under the management of the Irish Sisters of Charity. He had been a generous benefactor to the sisters since they arrived in 1839.
John Plunkett carried on as NSW attorney-general in a political hurly-burly to which he was temperamentally unsuited, for he lacked eloquence, flexibility, and capacity for rapid decision. The reputation for genial sociability which he had brought from Ireland did not sit easily on him in the colonies, except with a few intimate friends, and he found himself increasingly isolated. He was at odds with many fellow-Catholics, including McEncroe and Archbishop John Bede Polding, because of his views on education. The old O’Connellite could give only half-hearted support to the Catholic Association formed to promote church schools in 1851, and in 1853 he engaged in acrimonious public controversy with McEncroe on the education issue. He alienated extreme Protestant opinion, as represented or manipulated by John Dunmore Lang, by the firm backing he gave to Caroline Chisholm. In the disputes on land tenure and squatting he fell foul of the anti-squatter party because he advised the governor that the crown had no power to break in upon licences already in operation and that the law did not permit the sale of licensable land once a licence had been applied for. Both Victorian and English legal opinion later backed him on these questions, and it was he who found a loophole for the executive in the provisions for reserving from lease, or resuming from lease, lands required for public use. But he also antagonized many of the squatter party by his opposition to any resumption of transportation.
From 1843 to 1856 he was a member of the Executive Council, a key figure from the dawn of representative government until the granting of responsible government because of his unique experience of the law of the colony. His personal touch was most apparent in his stringent liquor legislation of 1856 and in the marriage bill of 1855 giving church weddings civil status. In 1849 he sat on the William Charles Wentworth committee to establish a university, and became a member of its first Senate. He made one crucial political mistake. Elected in 1852 to the drafting committee for the colony’s new Constitution, he supported Wentworth’s proposal for a hereditary upper house, and treated his critics with stubborn hauteur. The credit he earned by his other work on the Constitution was denied him because of this eccentricity.
Plunkett was an important leader of Catholic opinion in the colony. He publicly defended Polding when the archbishop left Sydney in 1854 and chaired the welcome gathering when he returned in 1856. He took the leading role in establishing St Vincent’s Hospital, Potts Point, under the management of the Irish Sisters of Charity. He had been a generous benefactor to the sisters since they arrived in 1839. As treasurer of St Vincent’s he consistently used his position to insist on the non-denominational character of the hospital. In 1858 he criticized the archbishop’s control of the hospital’s affairs which had contributed to the resignation of the head nun, Sister de Lacy, and thus joined the majority of prominent laymen who had been objecting for some time to the administration of the archdiocese
Complete article : http://adbonline.anu.edu.au/biogs/A020299b.htm
Plunkett was a leader in establishing civil rights in Australia. He drafted the Magistrate’s Act, which abolished summary punishment, the administration of justice by private householders and the excessive use of the lash. He argued successfully for the abolition of convict assignment. He secured jury rights for emancipists. He extended the protection of the law to convicts and assigned servants and, after securing the conviction of seven white men for the killing of an Aborigine at Myall Creek in 1838 (in a massacre in which a whole tribe was killed), he extended the protection of the law for the first time to Aborigines. But as a Catholic who knew what emancipation meant, Plunkett himself considered the Church Act of 1836, which disestablished the Church of England, his most important single achievement.
When the Sisters of Charity arrived in Sydney from Ireland in 1838, John Plunkett’s special interest in their affairs led him to organise a public appeal to establish their first hospital in Sydney. He then helped them to acquire the narrow strip of land along Victoria Street in Darlinghurst to which the first St. Vincent’s Hospital, which had opened its doors in Potts Point, was relocated in 1870.
Plunkett’s two great recreations were the violin and Irish folk music. He died in May 1869 and was buried in Sydney’s Devonshire Street cemetery.
Thousands of Australians, of every religious belief and of none, have experienced the first-class health care that is inspired by the Sisters of Charity. Others have been educated by the Sisters. There are, thus, many Australians with reason to be grateful for the kind and practical help which John Hubert Plunkett gave to the women who founded the Sisters of Charity in Australia.
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