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australian rowers profiles and history

John H Connell

Yarra Yarra Rowing Club (VIC)

John Henry Connell was the second of ten children. Born on 24 May 1860 in East Collingwood, Melbourne, to William Henry Connell of Dublin, and Mary Connell (née Ingall) of London.

Although family circumstances forced Connell to leave school at the age of thirteen, he was to become an extremely successful businessman, a recognised connoisseur of paintings and antique furniture, and a respected member of the Melbourne art community.

Whilst we rowers are interested in the rowing interests of John Connell, he was perhaps best known as a prominent Melbourne publican and nephew of Thomas Joshua Jackson of Young and Jackson's Hotel fame. 

Thomas Joshua Jackson (Of ‘Young and Jackson’s Hotel’) by Andrew J Kilsby describes the connection as follows: Thomas Joshua Jackson was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1834, and emigrated to Victoria around 1852, but not much is known of these early years of his life. Research in Ireland has revealed little, other than that he was probably an only son. His life from 1852 was inextricably linked with those of his aunt’s families. Jackson’s aunt, Sarah Connell, née Heaton, married in Ireland for the second time at the age of forty, to Henry Young, a law clerk. The Youngs had one child, Henry Figsby Young, in 1845, and emigrated to Victoria in 1849 with three children. These were five-year-old Henry and the two youngest children from Sarah’s first marriage – thirteen-year-old John Connell and nine-year-old and only daughter Sarah Isabella Connell. Sarah Young’s eldest son, William Henry Connell, appears to have arrived separately in Victoria about 1851. William Henry Connell was the father of John Henry Connell.

To the art community, he is best known for his art collection which was donated to the Victorian Art Gallery. Quoting from an article written by Laurelee MacMahon on 13 Jun 14 'John Henry Connell: the man and his collection': "The National Gallery of Victoria’s Connell Collection provoked great excitement when first exhibited in 1914. It was predicted that John Connell’s massive gift, comprising furniture, decorative arts, and pictures, would ‘prove of inestimable value and interest to the student, to the connoisseur and to the inquiring public alike, inasmuch as it embraces certain branches of the crafts in which the gallery has hitherto not specialised to any exhaustive extent’. Today, the National Gallery of Victoria recognises the Connell Collection as having considerable historical significance. It laid the foundations for the Gallery’s specialised collection of decorative arts and established this area as ‘a vital part of the Gallery’s overall collection’. On a broader scale, it helped educate and form the taste of a whole generation of Melburnians, as had been predicted in 1914."

Back to his rowing:

1884 - Geelong and Barwon Regatta, Men's Maiden eight, two seat - First

1884 - Upper Yarra Regatta, Men's Maiden Eight, two seat - First

Unknown year - Vice-President, Yarra Yarra Rowing Club

1909 - Life Member, Yarra Yarra Rowing Club

1910-48 - Patron, Yarra Yarra Rowing Club

He was a great supporter of community groups which included Yarra Yarra Rowing Club and a great benefactor in Melbourne.

John Connell later in life

The article written by Laurelee MacMahon titled 'John Henry Connell: the man and his collection' is a great story and provides a great insight into this kind and generous man:

From the Yarra Yarra Rowing Club annual report 1952/53:-

Seventy years of continual membership, during which he held various official positions within the club, cumulating in those of patron and life member, formed a record that very few can ever hope to equal. 

The late Mr Connell was noted for his keen, genuine interest in his club and sport. One very fine instance being his donation of a racing craft to enable our former champion sculler Carl Peppler , to carry the Victorian title for 5 years. This same shell was used by Len Purves---another Yarra sculler--- and immediately following Carl Peppler’s retirement. From the championship events, it also assisted that sculler also holding the title for 5 years.  Indifferent in health in recent years retarded his usual active interest in the affairs of the club, but his ready and willing assistance was always available to it and any member  who wore the cardinal and navy blue.

Your patron, Col Stevenson accompanied by the secretary and, captain, paid last respects on your behalf, and sent messages of condolences and to his next of kin. In his passing, the State of Victoria and your club have lost a worthy citizen and great sportsman.

Also from the Yarra Yarra Rowing Club newsletter the 'Yarra Yabbie' no 69 1997-12-20  

John H Connell (whose name is remembered by Connell’s Tavern” in Elizabeth St) died in December 1952. It is possible that John Connell held the longest continuous association with any rowing club in the world!!! He had 75 years of continual membership. He had been a generous donor to the club especially as patron from 1912 until 1948.

From the 1971/72 YYRC annual report:-

John Henry Connell probably joined Yarra Yarra in 1878, then remained continuously associated with the club for 74 years, until his death I December 1952, John Connell was related to both Tom Young and Henry Jackson of “Young and Jackson’s” hostility, which was frequently used for formal meetings. He was also a public benefactor, especially the National Gallery.

Andrew Guerin
August 2021 (updated with some YYRC materials provided by Jim Skidmore)


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