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John (Happy Jack) McNamara (1867–1915)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published:

This entry is from People Australia

John McNamara, alias ‘Happy Jack', also known as John Macnamara, John Agnew or John McGrath (1867-1915) shearer, gaoled trade unionist, bootmaker, cyclist and shop proprietor

Birth: 1867 in England, parents possibly James Agnew [or McNamara], cab-proprietor, and Anne, née McCarthy. Marriage: probably the ‘John Agnew’ who on 23 October 1895 at St Paul’s Anglican Church, Roma, Queensland, married Amy [Emily] Turner and had one daughter. Death: 10 August 1915 in hospital at Toowoomba. Religion: Catholic. 

  • Arrived in Queensland on 21 July 1871 aboard the Indus 2.
  • Arrested at Auguthella on 30 March 1891 and charged with having set fire to grass at Lorne station on 19 March. In April he was committed to court in Roma. In May his and other detainees’ treatment at gaol in Blackall was widely publicised. After more than six months in custody, on 8 October in Rockhampton he was sentenced to 3 years penal servitude by Judge Real.
  • Prison records indicate he was a shearer aged 24, born in England, 5 feet 8¼ inches (173 cm) tall and stout, with a fresh complexion, brown hair, brown eyes and could read and write. On his right arm he had two stab scars and tattoos of the American and Australian coats of arms. On his left arm he had St Cecilia and clouds and crossed flags. He gave his religion as Roman Catholic.
  • In prison he worked as a bootmaker. Fellow prisoner Julian Stuart later recalled that McNamara “beat all comers at draughts”.
  • His sentence was extended after he was twice punished for gross insolence. Though most other strikers were released in 1893, McNamara was held until 27 April 1894. His appeals for his time in custody to be calculated in his sentence were refused.
  • After release he was a boot- and shoe-maker at Charleville. He was also a bicycle racer and had a bicycle shop in Charleville.
  • McNamara cut his own throat in a hotel yard in Toowoomba.
  • The death certificate for John McNamara is annotated to suggest he was also known as James Agnew, born in Melbourne, who had married Amy Turner, and had one daughter Amy Maud Agnew. His wife and daughter both subsequently used the name McNamara.

Stuart Svensen, The shearers’ war; the story of the 1891 Shearer’s Strike (Brisbane, 1989).

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'McNamara, John (Happy Jack) (1867–1915)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 20 June 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Macnamara, John
  • Agnew, John
  • McGrath, John



10 August, 1915 (aged ~ 48)
Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia

Cause of Death


Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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