In Waverley Cemetery, Sydney, overlooking the sea, lies the neglected grave of an Irishman who was once the first non-Labor Catholic Premier of New South Wales. Surmounted by a tall cross it bears the words, “a good name is better than great riches and good favour is above silver and gold.” This is the grave of Patrick Alfred Jennings, the son of Francis Jennings, linen merchant, and Mary O’Neil of Mill Street, Newry, Co Down.
In 1852 aged only 21, he travelled as an unassisted passenger aboard the barque the Chaseley from Liverpool via Melbourne to Sydney. His name appears on a list from a letter of thanks to Captain Slaughter. The Ballarat and Bendigo Gold rushes had drawn many young men to Australia. Patrick prospered there, taking part in the 1855 gold rush as a merchant. By 1857 he was a Justice of the Peace. He opened a store in what was to become St. Arnaud and operated a quartz mine at Bendigo. With the proceeds he went into partnership with another Irishman, Martin Shanahan, and bought a sheep station called Warbreccan. His mother, sisters and brother having followed him to Australia, they took over the running of the store. His sister, Mrs. Quigley, a widow, later married Thomas Gormley and the store then took that name. The Jennings family were Catholics and the first Mass at St. Arnaud was celebrated at their residence. For almost eight years Patrick lived and played an active part in the growth and development of St. Arnaud. There is still a Jennings Street in St. Arnaud. In 1863 he married Martin Shanahan's daughter Mary Anne at their Marnoo Homestead on the Richardson River and they made their home at Warbreccan. Patrick and Mary Anne had one daughter and two sons.
Patrick continued to acquire land and property, Garawilla, near Gunnedah, and Denobillie and Ulimambri, near Coonabarabran.
A Patron of the Arts, he was a trustee of the National Art Gallery of New South Wales 1876-87, and president of Sydney Liedertafel. He was an enthusiastic patron and performer of music and he contributed £1100 to Sydney University towards the cost of an organ. In St. Arnaud he had, according to a biographer, led local amateur concerts and sometimes joined visiting professional singers in public performances of Rossini and Verdi. His enthusiasm for Wagner was one of the few radical traits in a consistently conservative character. Patrick also donated a considerable sum of money through his friend, Archbishop Vaughan, to finance the building of a Library at St. John’s College. As a token of his generosity a window commemorating him was included in the building.
He became Premier of New South Wales and Colonial Treasurer in 1886 but resigned in 1887. He was not a great Parliamentarian. During his Premiership he lived in Colebrook, a house noteworthy for its impressive ballroom and cast iron decorative work. Banjo Paterson wrote an unflattering poem about him called “The Deficit Demon” in which he describes how
“…the people put forward a champion known as Sir Patrick the Portly.
As in the midnight the tomcat who seeketh his love on the housetop,
Lifteth his voice up and is struck by the fast whizzing brickbat,
Drops to the ground in a swoon and glides to the silent hereafter,
So fell Sir Patrick the Portly at the stroke of the Deficit Demon.”
In 1887 he revisited Ireland and received an honorary LL.D from Dublin University. Two years later his wife died, aged only 42, and was buried in the family grave in Waverley Cemetery. In the Lady Chapel of St. Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, there is a stained glass window dedicated to Dame Mary Anne Jennings by Patrick Jennings.
By then Warbrecccan had been sold and he continued to live in Colebrook until 1892. In the 1890s through drought, financial crisis and his own failing health he lost all his property except Westbrook. He went to live in Westbrook, near Toowoomba, which comprised 80,000 acres on the Darling Downs. There he led a quiet retired life but took a keen interest in benevolent and social movements.
He was decorated by Pope Pius IX, Knight of St. Gregory the Great 1874 (Papal Order) and by Leo XIII, Knight Commander of Order of Pius IX 1876, Grand Cross of that order conferring title of Marquis 1885, making him Sir Patrick Alfred Jennings.
Anecdotal evidence describes him as travelling everywhere with a man carrying water bottle. There may have been some truth in the story as the cause of death was diabetes, a symptom of which is thirst.
He died in Brisbane having travelled there to attend a wedding. His body was returned by rail to Sydney (via Jennings township) for burial. A man of equable temperament and a range of informed interest, he was an organiser, administrator and benefactor and had attractive personal qualities. His obituary in the Sydney Morning Herald on the 12th of July 1897 stated that “As a politician it may truly be said that he made no enemies…. those who were privileged to know him personally can bear not less generous testimony to his private qualities… He acknowledged the influence of culture, and represented in our public life a high standard of personal character,”