Daniel Henry Deniehy was an Australian-born poet, journalist, lawyer and politician of Irish descent. He was a great orator and fervent campaigner in New South Wales for independence from colonial rule.
He was born on the 18th August 1828 in Sydney. His parents were ex-convicts who had been transported from Ireland and who had done well from themselves since obtaining their freedom. They could afford to send their son to Sydney College for his early education but then he went to England to complete his education. Although still a boy, Daniel travelled extensively in Europe and Ireland and also took an interest in political matters. He was especially interested in the English Chartist movement and Irish Nationalism.
By 1844 he was back in Sydney and began studying the law, this leading to his appointment as a solicitor seven years later. In his spare time though he had become prominent in the city’s literary and artistic circles and was writing poetry and, on occasions, giving public talks about it. He was a great admirer of the work of William Forster and his friend Charles Harpur and used his considerable oratory skills to speak about them. His work was often published in publications such as Freeman’s Journal and Southern Cross. He even penned a number of obituaries including one for his role model, Thomas de Quincey.
Despite being in poor health for most of his short life, Deniehy was a passionate man in both speech and deed. He married at the age of 24 and fathered seven children. Alas the pressures of his political life probably took their toll and he descended into alcoholism which, ultimately, killed him. Before this though he wrote lyrical, sometimes romantic, poetry such as a piece called Love in a Cottage which indicated that all he really wanted was to “glide through life” with a loving wife, waiting for him to come home, and to enjoy pleasant evenings together. Here is the poem:
Alas, he seemed to have little time for such simple pleasures with his law work, carried out in Goulburn, Sydney, Melbourne and Bathurst keeping him busy along with much effort also being devoted to local politics and journalism. He was a great believer in democracy for the colonies and he also campaigned against the early settlers, known as squatters, who had managed to grab huge swathes of grazing lands for themselves throughout New South Wales.
In 1857, Deniehy served the town of Argyle on the New South Wales Legislative Assembly and was an outspoken radical democrat. He was unable to work with those of the Liberal party who were in government though and found himself isolated much of the time. Perhaps a form of depression took hold as his alcohol intake increased dramatically. Despite his troubles he set up and edited a radical newspaper called Southern Cross in 1859. He used this for many satirical attacks on serving politicians.
Deniehy wrote a great deal of literary criticism in his own paper and also a Melbourne title called The Victorian. He also lectured at Sydney University on modern literary matters. He was a small man in stature and suffered from poor health yet, despite this, he had a fierce energy when talking or writing about subjects that he was passionate about.
Daniel Henry Deniehy died of alcoholism on the 22nd October 1865 at the tragically young age of 37.