(The master version of this biography, which includes images, is maintained at http://dorneyfamilyhistory.net/famtree_web/History_kiernan.pdf)
John Joseph Kiernan was born in Ireland and baptised at St. Nicholas (without), Dublin on 3 April 1826. He was the son of Patrick Felix Kiernan, a woollen draper at 4 & 5 Francis Street, and Maria Teresa Dunne.
He studied at Saint Patrick’s College, Carlow.
John Joseph went to America as a young man and may have been in the Carribean as he had a knowledge of Spanish. He arrived in Melbourne on 11th August 1854 from London on an unassisted passage on the Sigisbert Cezard as ‘J. Kernan, aged 30, American’. John worked as a teacher or schoolmaster. He was first employed in Australia at Saint Patrick’s College, East Melbourne, where he was the Classical and Mathematics master. The foundation stone for Saint Patrick’s had been laid in December 1854 and the school was to operate until 1968. The Catholic elite of the colony sent their children there, and people that we know John taught there as students, were Chief Justice John Madden, Dr. Patrick Moloney, physician and poet, and Sir Robert Wallace Best, Victorian MLA.
The following information about Saint Patrick’s comes from the official website (http://stpats.xavier.vic.edu.au/our-pastors )
“Bishop Gould hired some of the most competent educators of day, including Whyte, Bleasdale (who is well known for his connections with Australian wines) and Dr John Barry. They dreamed of a great school and indeed they fulfilled their dreams with substantial dining rooms for the boarders, a stable for horses and a house in Brighton which served as an infirmary. The curriculum was the equal of any in the colony, the results were outstanding and the parents delighted. It was a classical style education and the languages offered included, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, Portuguese and German. Unfortunately the bankers were not quite so impressed and the school was bankrupt twice in ten years. The bankruptcy of 1862 resulted in legal action against Dr Barry which few of those involved little credit and dragged on for months. Peter O’Farrell, the bishop’s solicitor did not help matters by the advice he tendered and eventually had to flee the colony himself. Twenty years later, and slightly insane he returned to Melbourne where he shot and wounded Archbishop Gould.”
It’s probable that one of the bankruptcies led to his departure from the school. He was still teaching at Catholic schools in 1870, where the following statement was made about him, “The Catholic school at Pentridge under Mr. Kiernan is an example of what a teacher, by unabated industry may do...”.
John was 38 and a tutor to Margaret McDonald, who was 16 at the time of their marriage. He had been in the same Volunteer Rifle Regiment as her father. It’s not sure for how many years he was in the Regiment, but in July 1867 he passed an examination and was promoted to be a non-commissioned officer. He was named as the Honorary Secretary of the Pentridge Rifle Association in a newspaper notice postponing a meeting in August 1873.
Margaret’s father thought John Joseph was ‘ne’er do well’ and also that ‘it was better to marry a hard-working dustman than a penniless gentleman.’ Margaret’s parents gave consent for the marriage but later tried unsuccessfully to annul it.
John and Margaret married on the 27th July 1865 at St. Paul's in Pentridge, Melbourne. John was the Honorary Secretary on the St Paul’s Committee at around this time.
They lived in Bell St, Pentridge until about 1873 and had three children there; Catherine, John Joseph and Felix Patrick. In 1874 they were living in Wodonga where they had two more children - Richard and Maude. They returned to Melbourne in 1875, and lived and taught in Oakleigh. Over this period they had seven more children - Charles, Marie Louise, Margaret, Esmond Laurence, Farrell, Theophilus and Stanislaus.
John matriculated from Melbourne University in 1871, having passed exams in Latin, English, Arithmetics, Algebra, Euclid and Geography. He also passed, in late 1870, the Ordinary Examination for the Civil Service of Victoria.
John was an intelligent, well educated man but erratic in his behaviour and he had a drinking problem.
These following excerpts from Education Department records should convey an impression of the man. Some snippets include:
All payments to school stopped until discrepancy in the accounts is explained. (1872).
Charge of withholding salary from pupil teacher. (1875).
Censured and to be removed to another school for engaging in a fight with a Mr. Bates and conduct considered highly unbecoming. (1878).
Inspector Tynan complains that certain insulting Latin phrases have been made in the school register that ‘can only be the work of Mr Kiernan’(1880).
Does not seem to endeavour to perform his duties in any but the most perfunctory manner; nor does Mr Kiernan appear to pay any attention to the directions and suggestions given by me (1888).
Fined five pounds for (a) unpunctuality of attendance (b) irregularity in curtailing the afternoon meeting (c) keeping the school records in a slovenly and inaccurate manner….It has been decided in the public interest to forward his name to the classifiers for transfer to a school of the smallest size (1889) and finally
Dismissed for negligence and carelessness in the discharge of his duties, and for making false statements on the school roll (1890).
However, despite all these negative comments, he must have had some continued competency or he would not have stayed employed for so long.
One bit of advice that John passed on to his daughter Marie was ‘Never look down, always look up’.
John died on 3rd April 1902 at 40 St. George’s Road, North Fitzroy, aged 76.
Browse newspaper items about John here http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/result?l-publictag=John+Joseph+Kiernan+1826-1902&q=
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