Michael Joseph Conlon, known to his friends as ‘Mick’, was born in Fairy Meadow (Wollongong) NSW about 24 September 1841. He was the son of Patrick Conlon and Catherine née Lowry, both of Kinvara in County Galway, Ireland. Patrick arrived with his family in 1834 on the Fairlee as a private in Her Majesty’s 50th Regiment of Foot and discharged prior to Michael’s birth, remaining in the Illawarra district as a labourer. The family moved to Sydney shortly after his birth, as the youngest child, Thomas Joseph, was born on Parramatta-street Sydney in 1844. Parramatta-street (later George Street West and now Broadway) was where the Conlon family grew up. A Catholic, Michael was educated at St Benedict’s School on Parramatta-street (the school now closed, but parish still in operation). All four of Patrick’s sons had the middle name ‘Joseph’, indicating the strength of the parents’ adherence to their faith.
Upon finishing schooling around 1855, Michael entered the pottery business and apparently worked at a number of potteries. The first of his employers was Enoch Fowler, whose business was in Bay Street, Glebe. Two years later he’d apparently moved to Thomas Field in George Street, Sydney. At that time potteries produced a range of goods including drainpipes, tiles and ginger beer bottles. By the mid 1860s Michael had entered into business with Frederick Baldock at George Street, Redfern. Although their drainpipes were advertised as the ‘cheapest and best in the colony’, the business seems not to have lasted too long as in early 1866 Michael was listed as bankrupt in the Sydney Morning Herald. Another clue that the business was not progressing so well is that a year earlier his marriage record listed his occupation as ‘tobacconist’.
Michael married Ellen Alleyn (often written as its homophone Allen) on 29 June 1865 at St Mary’s Cathedral. He was 23 and still living at his parents’ home. Ellen was 18, the daughter of Samuel Alleyn and Mary née Hammond – the family had emigrated to New South Wales from Golden in Tipperary Ireland in 1850. Alleyn descendants have maintained a long-lasting connection to the Glebe area. The connection was also strong between the two families: Michael’s brother John Joseph married Ellen’s sister Ann in 1870.
Eventually, Michael set up his own pottery business, in Broughton Street, Glebe, on 9 October 1875. The family home was also on this site. When he began his pottery ‘he only employed two lads’ but by 1907 the works employed 28 on an acre and a half of land. The works at various times were run in partnership with others (for example Conlon & Cotter in the late 1870s) producing a range of goods including salt-glazed ginger beer bottles, pickle jars, drainpipes, closet pans and traps, chimney pots, garden tiles, paving tiles and bricks. Some of Michael’s pottery still exists. His tiles may be seen outside St James’ Church, Forest Lodge; others were discovered when repair work was being carried out on the underground Tank Stream. His ginger beer bottles have been found at a number of archaeological digs around Sydney including the site of the Conservatorium of Music.
In 1884 Conlon was elected unopposed as an Alderman for the Glebe Outer Ward – a seat he retained until he retired in 1896 owing to ill health. Conlon was a staunch Protectionist, standing twice for State Parliament (the first in 1887) but being defeated each time – on one occasion by only 14 votes. While campaigning in 1889 he told some 800 people gathered outside the Currency Lass Hotel on Glebe Point Road that while raw imported material was levied, manufactured goods were not, negatively affecting local employment. (It is easy to see how a manufacturer developed such a view.) Conlon was not just a Protectionist, he was also a Catholic – the first to be elected to Glebe Council.
Conlon was also a sporting man, and was a cricket enthusiast. He witnessed every intercolonial cricket match played in Sydney from 1857 to 1900, and belonged to a club called the ‘Cornstalk Stars’ (probably in the 1860s) which Conlon said ‘played on Hyde Park for half-a-crown a bat, and were never beaten’. He also took an interest in rugby in its early years, but he was best known for his prowess at lawn bowls. The Glebe Bowling Club existed ‘for wealthy local businessmen’ on the north-eastern corner of Wentworth Park until it closed in 1899. At a time of great popularity for the sport, Conlon was one of its outstanding bowlers. He was five times club champion and three times State champion. As such he travelled as part of intercolonial matches. The last bowling match he played in was on Australia Day 1900 in the New South Wales singles championship match. With the score at 11 to 2 in his favour he collapsed, and never played again.
From his collapse in 1900 onwards he was an invalid, managing his pottery business and maintaining his political involvement. His family life seems to have been touched by tragedy several times. He and Ellen had four sons and nine daughters, but only three daughters survived him and produced issue: Ellen Theresa (1868-1937, married Frederick William Priestly at Glebe in 1887), Anne Jane (1877-1939, married Charles Mackey in Sydney in 1902) and Violet Gertrude (1888-1921, married James Francis Sims at Glebe in 1911). A number of children died in infancy, others of accidents: Jane Emma (18721877) ‘was accidentally burned on 9th April and died on 3rd May’. 1902 was particularly tragic for the family. First, his nephew Arthur drowned when he fell from a fishing launch at Sans Souci while trying to retrieve his hat which had fallen into the sea. Then Michael’s wife Ellen died on 5 March at home, 20 Broughton Street, of hepatic cirrhosis and his ‘last and only beloved son’ Michael Joseph junior died six months later. In 1907 Michael’s infant granddaughter drowned while her family were living at his home: ‘a 17-monthold child named Eileen Theresa … lately living with her parents at Broughton Street, Glebe. It appears that the child was missed on Monday at about 6 a.m. Upon a search being made, her mother found her lying dead in a pool in a pottery yard. The pool contained a few inches depth of water’. On 26 November 1913 Michael Joseph Conlon died aged 72 at Carrara, his home in Alexandra Road Glebe Point. A requiem mass was held for him at St James’ Roman Catholic Church Forest Lodge before moving to Rookwood Necropolis. He is buried surrounded by his wife, children and extended family in a connected set of graves adjacent to St Michael the Archangel Chapel. The headstones are now in varying states of disrepair, but his still stands and reads
MICHAEL JOSEPH CONLON
BORN AT WOOLLONGONG (sic) 27TH SEP 1841
DIED 26TH NOVEMBER 1913 AGED 72 YEARS
Family Grave Of
M.J. CONLON OF 20 BROUGHTON ST GLEBE
The extended Conlon family were close, as attested by the number of funeral announcements for the family, and the fact that many of the Conlon family lived in Glebe. In 1902, for example, there were Conlons at 67, 69, 91 and 100 Glebe Point Road as well as others on Mitchell Street and of course Broughton Street. Over time it seems the name Conlon has disappeared from the Glebe area. The last marriage registered in Glebe was 1947, the last death registered in the same year.
Michael appointed his three sons-in-law as executors and trustees of his estate, the whole of which, with the exception of a legacy of £50 to his nephew Samuel Henry Walker, he bequeathed to his three daughters. He directed the trustees to carry on the pottery business as nearly as possible on the same lines as he had done, and to divide the profits equally among his three daughters every six months. The net value of the estate was sworn at £3063 5s 7d. The pottery works were carried on until around 1919 in this manner, though it is not known what became of the site after that time.
– Matthew Hall
Matthew Hall Matthew’s notes
>One of the advantages of writing this short biography is that there is a sound record of my ancestor’s activities. This is because of (i) newspaper coverage of his bowling and political activities, advertisements and death/funeral notices now readily accessible through the National Library of Australia newspapers digitisation project, (ii) research into the pottery industry in Sydney and (iii) the number of biographies of Michael which appeared in print during his lifetime and which were presumably drafted by himself. This last source has been particularly useful in gaining details that would be otherwise impossible to obtain, and where there is some conflict these latter have generally been relied on.
I would very much like to track down an example of Michael’s pottery – be it brick, tile or bottle. If anyone is aware of one please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact from other Conlon and Alleyn descendants is welcome! More information on events described above can also be found at my blog http://thehistoryofmatt. blogspot.com.