Dictionary of Sydney

The Dictionary of Sydney was archived in 2021.

John Ryan Brenan, Coroner for the Town of Sydney 1835-1856

Cite this

John Ryan Brenan, Coroner for the Town of Sydney 1835-1856

Born in Ireland to John and Maria Brenan (née Ryan) in about 1798, John Ryan Brenan arrived in Sydney in June 1834 on the ship Jessie with his second wife, Anna, and two sons, John and Joseph.

Brenan had qualified as an attorney in Ireland, and established his own private practice after arriving in Sydney. He soon became a solicitor for the Bank of Australasia.

In February 1835, Brenan was appointed as the Coroner for the Town of Sydney and its neighbourhood by Governor Richard Bourke. The position came with an annual salary of £100. In September 1836 his salary increased by £600 when he was also temporarily appointed to the position of Principal Superintendent of Convicts. His position as Principal was not confirmed in 1837 by the British Secretary of State Baron Glenelg however, and he was also made to withdraw from private practice.

Brenan was then appointed as the colony’s third police magistrate by Governor Sir George Gipps, a position that was highly controversial due to his performance and disputes with his magisterial colleagues. In 1844, Brenan lost his magisterial position when the new Sydney City Council could not afford his salary. Later appeals for reinstatement were not supported by the new Governor Sir Charles FitzRoy.

Brenan had arrived in the colony with independent assets, and quickly amassed a sizable estate in the colony, with property in Parramatta and Lilyfield, including the Garryowen Estate (now part of Callan Park)  which he named after his home in Ireland, and the neighbouring Broughton Hall which he built in 1841. He also founded the township of Smithfield, where a park is named after him. Frequent financial instabilities meant that some of these properties were also just as quickly lost however - he sold Broughton Hall and its grounds in 1845, and had to sell Garryowen in 1864. He also had large land holdings in Camden and Maitland.

In 1856 Brenan resigned as Coroner and stood as the prospective member for Cumberland in the Legislative Assembly in the first elections under responsible government. He had formerly stood unsuccessfully for the seat in 1843. His initial success in 1856 was overturned by the Elections and Qualifications committee after two months, but he did not run again, instead making way for, and supporting ,the candidancy of former Colonial Treasurer and Premier Stuart Donaldson.  Further attempts to stand were also unsuccessful and he went back to his work as a private solicitor in Maitland.

Brenan died in the morning of Friday 5 June 1868, while staying at Cohen’s Family Hotel at Wynyard Square during a visit to Sydney. A coronial inquest held at the hotel that afternoon determined that he died of disease of the heart.