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James Donovan

1861 – 1922

James T Donovan (1861–1922), journalist, Catholic historian and amateur singer, was born into an Irish Catholic family in Sydney and grew up in Womerah Avenue, Darlinghurst. His mother, born in Limerick, was a long-time resident of Sydney. His father, Denis Donovan, had run a business in King Street that was the first outlet for the Freeman’s Journal, a Sydney-based journal of Irish and Catholic news and affairs. James began work for the paper at a young age; he was sub-editor of the Freeman’s Journal for many years, as well as a contributor to several other Sydney and Melbourne newspapers. While in his early twenties, he wrote The most Rev. Roger Bede Vaughan, D.D., O.S.B., Archbishop of Sydney, life and labours : containing an account of his career from opening to close, a review of his writings, speeches and ecclesiastical work : together with some personal sketches never before published (1883). Over the 1890s Donovan established a reputation as a singer and elocutionist; he studied under Steffani. In 1890, with Miss Naylor, he sang the romanza ‘Ah non avea’ from Donizetti’s Maria di Rudenz at a concert in aid of the proposed College for Women in the School of Arts, Pitt Street; ‘Mr Donovan appeared to be suffering from a slight cold, but it was a pleasure, nevertheless, to listen to his excellent voice’, said the reviewer. The same year he sang ‘Here Upon my Vessel’s Deck’ at a Liedertafel concert in the Parramatta Town Hall before a ‘large and fashionable’ audience. In 1899, at the Town Hall, he sang ‘The Wearin’ o’ the Green’ and ‘Who Fears to Speak of ’98’ ‘melodiously and with perfervid expression’. His literary and musical talents combined with his knowledge of Sydney’s history, his amusing discourse and his pleasant manner to make him very well-known about town; after his death, several papers lamented that he had only just started on an account of his own life and times, which would have been very interesting and useful. His biography of Moran, His Eminence, Australia's first cardinal, prince of the church and public man: an appreciation of Cardinal Moran's work as prelate and philanthropist, scholar and statesman: in celebration of his sacerdotal golden jubilee was published in 1902. His mother died in 1910, and he married Ellen Dwyer the following year; they had no children. For eight years up to the time of his death at 47 Womerah Avenue at the age of 61, he was on the staff of the Sydney Morning Herald.

Updated 2018
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