William Bede Dalley

Silver-tongued pride of old Sydney

"This remarkable book..."

wrote Paul Burns in Reviews in Australian Studies '...is a colourful account, not only of the torturous permutations of colonial factional politics in NSW, but of the social history of Sydney and its environs. Robert Lehane has captured the very flavour of late-colonial society, from the bushranging days to the 1888 Centennial.' He noted that the text was 'delightfully leavened by contemporary portraits and prints'.


Burns' is one of a string of enthusiastic reviews that greeted William Bede Dalley: Silver-tongued pride of old Sydney when it was first published in 2007. 'This is history as discovery,' wrote Michael McKernan in the Canberra Historical Journal. The book revealed 'a Sydney of sophistication, learning, and deep roots in shallow soil'. Those who read it would 'rejoice in a rich and meaningful life' and 'learn about an aspect of Sydney and colonial society that better-known historians have barely glimpsed.' In Bar News: the Journal of the NSW Bar Association, Andrew Bell SC described it as 'much more than the account of a fascinating and full public life. It brings to life the colony of New South Wales in the 30 years after the grant of responsible government.' He recommended it to 'anyone interested in biography and the legal and political history of this state'.

Dalley, a convict's son who became the first Australian appointed to the Privy Council, was a one-off. Charismatic and always popular, he made many and varied contributions to the colony's political, legal and literary life. Among his greatest speeches were passionate denunciations of sectarianism (and of Henry Parkes for stirring sectarian strife after the attempted assassination of Prince Alfred in Sydney in 1868). On his death in 1888, The Bulletin described him as 'a man of many splendours, both of intellect and heart' and 'in many respects the most notable man Sydney has given birth to'. Nine years later some ten thousand people gathered in Hyde Park for the unveiling of a statue of him funded by public subscription, Sydney's first of a native-born colonist.

Dr Michael McKernan It is odd that, apart from occasional mentions of his role in initiating Australia's first expeditionary force, the NSW Sudan contingent of 1885, historians have given Dalley little attention. At the book's launch, Michael McKernan observed that it rescued 'a person we deserve to know about' - a man of great learning, culture and integrity who was 'born for friendship', had 'an incredible capacity to enjoy life', and was 'one of the really great figures in NSW colonial history'. Reviewing it in the Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society, Gregory Haines recalled the aphorism: 'Those historians neglect, memory forgets'. This was 'so nearly...the case with William Bede Dalley (1831-88), a fascinating Australian'; the book had saved him from that fate.

Some more review extracts: In Australian Historical Studies, Professor David Walker called the book 'a very readable, ably researched, and interesting account of a figure who fully deserves the focus of a biography.' It was 'refreshing to find Dalley's sympathy for the Chinese in New South Wales', and 'Dalley's problematic relationship with Henry Parkes...makes for fascinating reading'. David Clune, in the Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, found the book very readable, solidly researched and well illustrated. Robert Richards, writing in the Law Society Journal (NSW), liked its 'various vignettes of the time - the Ben Hall gang, Trollope's visit to Sydney, the attempted assassination of Prince Alfred at Clontarf, the machinations of Parkes (no angel), the NSW expedition to the Sudan, even controversy over some of the frescos decorating the GPO'. The book gave 'a great insight into colonial Sydney', wrote Frances Devlin-Glass in the Australasian Journal of Irish Studies. In Sabretache, the journal of the Military Historical Society of Australia, Cheryl Mongan observed that it did 'ample justice to a remarkable Australian patriot'.

William Bede Dalley is available from the publisher, Ginninderra Press, and in both print and ebook editions from online retailers.