Mayor John Harris (1838 - 1911):
John Harris served five terms as Mayor of Sydney, Australia, and was known for his generosity with his considerable wealth and his moves towards slum clearance in the city. He was born at Maghera, County Londonderry, son of John Harris, a banker, and his wife Nancy Ann, née McKee; he was related to John Harris, the surgeon. In 1842 the family emigrated to Australia, taking up residence in Sydney, where John was educated at Dr James Fullerton's school, the Normal Institution and the University of Sydney, though he left without a degree in order to manage the large metropolitan real estate he inherited from his father.
In 1874-83 and 1886-1911 Harris represented Denison ward on Sydney City Council. In 1875 he was appointed a magistrate and in 1877-80 represented West Sydney in the Legislative Assembly. In his first term as mayor in 1881, he made three dramatic and well-publicised inspections of the slums, a potential fever threat to the city. He never hesitated to condemn buildings, including the Central Police Court. Tall and robust, his private wealth gave him independence. As mayor he entertained in princely style and the Mayoress instituted popular monthly receptions. In December 1882 he was re-elected to the assembly for South Sydney, though when he accused his defeated rival of fraudulently acquiring a cheque the rival sued him for defamation, and though Harris lost, damages against him were set at one farthing.
In December 1886 Harris was re-elected to the council and in December 1887 was elected mayor again. Harris, a wealthy man, paid for his entertainment and donated his £1000 honorarium to the University of Sydney for the John Harris scholarship in anatomy and physiology, still awarded to candidates for the degrees of Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery for proficiency in the subjects of the second year medical examinations. He also, and popularly, campaigned against Chinese immigration
Harris was elected mayor for the fifth time in 1889 and on 27 November officially opened the new Town Hall. He left the city's finances sounder than he found them and fought for a modern building construction bill to regulate the height and fire-proofing of buildings. Known as "Honest John", Harris was honorary treasurer of the Benevolent Asylum and a director of the Randwick Orphan Asylum and Sydney Hospital. He died of nephritis, survived by five sons and three daughters, and buried in the Presbyterian section of Rookwood cemetery with Masonic rites, leaving an estate valued at £97,000.
|Born:||10 August 1838|
|Died:||7 November 1911|
Australian Dictionary of Biography; website, University of Sydney; Biographical Archive, Mellon Centre for Migration Studies
© 2018 Ulster History Circle