John and Maria O’Neil

Following their marriage in April 1886 the first child, Mary Jane, was born on 20 Feb. of the next year. Seven other children were born over the next fourteen years.
John Henry (Jack) (b. 30/8/1888), Leslie Thomas (b. 7/4/1890), George William Bevis (b. 23/10/1892), Frederick Roy (b. 19/3/1897), Charles Norman (b. 30/7/1894) Arthur Trevor (2/3/1901) and Robert (Bobby) ( ca 1906) .

John and Maria O'Neil lived in Hobart. He worked as a manual labourer and she was a domestic servant. Mary and Jack were born in ‘Sandy Bay’. The Post Office Directory records them at 6 Melbourne St. from 1890 where Leslie, George, Charles and Frederick were born. Maria’s brother John and his wife Mary Anne (nee Dooey) also lived in that street when their first son died in April 1894. Around 1900 they moved to 102 (later renumbered as 120) Bathurst St., this house was third up from Highfield House (later Hotel). John seems to have left the family around 1905 and went to the West Coast working as a tinker. There is no further record of him there but there is no death of John O’Neill recorded after 1932. When Maria died in 1936 she was said to a widow. A John O’Neill died at the Newtown Infirmary in 1932 aged 82. This age roughly corresponds with the age on the marriage certificate but this person was said to be a bachelor and not to have been born in Tasmania. As John and Maria were separated his recorded ‘marital status’ is understandable. He might have died elsewhere but this seems unlikely.

Maria had lived in Bathurst St. across the road from Kings Hall until 1917 . She maintained the family with domestic work in the area around her house. May started work as a domestic servant at
Westella when she was fourteen. From 1901 to 1903 Thomas Bevis lived with them. I assumed that he was Maria’s youngest brother but by then he was married to Henrietta Diefenbach (‘Aunty Et’) and had two children so it must have been a large household.

Maria’s eldest son, John Henry (Jack) was educated by Thomas Mitchell at his St. Mary’s Boys School later called St Peters). He became an apprentice printer working on
The Clipper but tried a number of jobs including a spell on the river boats and in a country saw-mill. In 1906 began a life in the trade union movement when he led a deputation of his fellow workers for a wage rise. In 1907 he helped organise the Carters and Drivers Union (later the Transport Workers Union) led them in a strike in 1910. He lost his job when he joined the union’s wages board that year. but fortune smiled in the form of Molly Stead, a daughter of one of his members. Jack O’Neil married the nineteen-year-old Florence Mabel Stead at the King Street Independent Church on 25 July 1910. She was the third and second youngest daughter of James Stead and Elizabeth Todd.

Jack’s union activities cost him several jobs in the next few years but became State Secretary of the Carters and Drivers in 1916. Then the Storeman and Packers and the Electricity workers the next year, and the Gas Workers in 1918. He held the first post until 1942 and the others for more than thirty years. In 1927 he became head of the union movement in the State as Secretary of the Hobart Trades Hall Council and a founding member and Vice-President of the ACTU in the same year. He ruled the movement with an iron fist for more than forty years and was referred to a the ‘colossus of the Trades Hall’. He told the
Mercury in 1962 that he was always right because he never admitted that he was wrong’ . Perhaps he took after his father.

Before moving to the residence next door to the Trades Hall in Davy St. he lived in South St. Battery Point. Jack lived at number 25 and Tom Bevis occupied the conjoined part of building numbered 27. According to the Post Office Directory for 1934-5 Jack’s house was shared with a Mrs. Allen. Tom was a wood carter who and was fortunate enough to have a substantial win on a Melbourne Cup and died in September 1932. From 1936 to 1943 his widow and son lived at 13 Arthur Circus and later at 53 Runnymede St.

Jack O’Neil established a family tradition of printing . Les was a printing compositor and is recorded as living at 31 Central St. from 1914 to 1917. George, another printer as was Jack’s son Jacky.George is listed in the electoral roll as living at 120 Bathurst St. between 1914 and 1916 and then moved to his sister Mary’s house at 45 Colville St. In 1918 Les and wife moved in with Jack at South St. for about 6 years and until moving to 20 Francis St. Leslie died at his house at 11a Waterloo Crescent in March 1955 aged 64. Around 1948 Violet and her daughter, Peggy Newell, moved back into 25 South St. and Violet was living there at the end of her life in 1959 aged 69.

Arthur O’Neil was a butcher working for a time at the Nicholls Butchery in Hampden Rd. he married Rose and had a daughter before leaving for Melbourne. There he worked in Spring St Parahan.

George William Bevis O’Neil married Gwendoline Doris Rankin. She was born in Franklin in 1891 and her mother was one of the large Burbury family. George abandoned printing and Gwen sold her business and they bought the Dr Syntax Hotel in Sandy Bay in December 1940 and subsequently held the licence for Royal Exchange Hotel in Campbell Street. Gwen died in 1949 in and George sold the Dr Syntax in the 1950s. He then encouraged, and probably financed my father into the same business. George and Gwen had no children and after my grandfather was killed in France my father looked to ‘Uncle George’ as a surrogate father. He lived with us for much most of the period between 1950 and his death in 1960.

Freddy became a tram conductor. In the winter of 1936 his 76 year-old mother, Maria, was returning by May’s house on the corner of Montagu St. and Valentine St. Newtown when the tram on which she was travelling moved off before she had completely alighted. She never recovered from the fall and died on 16 July. Freddy believed the tram crew were responsible and raised such a fuss that he lost his job.

James Wright who was a shrewd and fair observer knew Jack, George and Mary O’Neil well. After spending an evening at the Dr Syntax with Gwen and hearing of her problems, observed ‘there is certainly a hard selfish strain in the O’Neil family’.