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James Joseph Callaghan (1850–1908)

by Bruce Mitchell

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

James Joseph Callaghan (1850-1908), schoolteacher, was born on 25 March 1850 at Mulgoa, New South Wales, son of John Joseph Callaghan, farm labourer, and his wife Mary Ann, née Grymes. James attended the Roman Catholic school at Hartley in 1854-62, then at Bathurst, where he became a pupil-teacher until 1867. He was a student for a year, then taught at St Stanislaus' College, Bathurst, until March 1870.

Callaghan gave all his savings to his father and went to Sydney. He worked as a private tutor but soon joined the staff of the Freeman's Journal. At St Patrick's Church, Sydney, he married Mary Teresa Graves on 6 May 1871. He gave up a well-paid position in 1873 to fulfil his ambition to teach; bringing warm testimonials from Bishop Matthew Quinn and others, he was judged to have a gentlemanly appearance and a becoming demeanour, and was admitted to the Council of Education's Training School.

Callaghan went to the Armidale Catholic school in January 1874; next year he was transferred to Nundle and was briefly correspondent for the Maitland Mercury. In 1880 he moved to West Maitland and also taught in the Evening Public School. When state aid ended in 1883, he transferred to the Department of Public Instruction and taught at Hamilton, Newcastle; as the school grew to become a superior public school, he nursed grievances at the slowness of his promotions and other departmental conflicts and in 1894 attempted to use a member of parliament to advance his interests.

An able public speaker, Callaghan had a strong political conscience and strongly supported Irish Home Rule. He won repute among his opponents as a firebrand and was warned by the department to avoid public political discussions. He also reserved the right as an established headmaster to interpret freely some regulations which did not suit his pupils' needs and was occasionally in trouble for this.

Callaghan quickly became prominent in the New South Wales Public School Teachers' Association formed in 1899; he was vice-president in 1902-03, then president until December 1904, frequently visiting Sydney as the association emerged as an important trade union and pressure group. Callaghan was long remembered for his teaching abilities: his formative influence was acknowledged by educators such as Karl Cramp and C. B. Newling. He was also remembered for his hatred of smoking. He put much of his energy into evening teaching, debating clubs, and the Hamilton Mechanics' Institute.

Callaghan retired on 31 December 1906 on account of poor health and, survived by his wife and by thirteen of their sixteen children, died of cerebral haemorrhage associated with renal disease on 13 September 1908 at his home at Newtown, Sydney. He was buried in the Roman Catholic section of Rookwood cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • B. A. Mitchell, Teachers, Education and Politics (Brisb, 1975)
  • Australian Journal of Education, 1903-04
  • teachers records (New South Wales Dept of Education, Sydney)
  • school files (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

Bruce Mitchell, 'Callaghan, James Joseph (1850–1908)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 14 June 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


25 March, 1850
Mulgoa, New South Wales, Australia


13 September, 1908 (aged 58)
Newtown, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.