Stephen Utick

Date of Submission



This translocational biography provides an interpretation of the life of Catholic philanthropist, colonial parliamentarian and civil engineer Charles Gordon O’Neill (1828-1900). Focusing on the two most significant elements in his life, commitment to faith-based charity and professional ambition in pursuit of an empire career in civil engineering, it also examines the balance between O’Neill’s Irish Catholic and British identities. Covering O’Neill’s life in Victorian Scotland (1828-1863), colonial New Zealand (1864-1880) and pre-Federation New South Wales (1881-1900), the biography traces the sequence and patterns of these two respective elements through a broadly chronological theme-based historiography. This biography analyses O’Neill’s greatest professional achievements, particularly in New Zealand in such endeavours as town planning, and railways and tramways development. It also reveals his prescient environmental concerns, through his promotion of forest conservation and the advocacy of global forest-climate connection in the New Zealand Parliament between 1868 and 1874. Of more enduring memory was O’Neill’s commitment to faith-based charity through his pioneering of the St Vincent de Paul Society in all three societies. The defining moment of his life was to embrace a faith-based mission to the Australian colonies beginning in 1880, leading to the establishment of the St Vincent de Paul Society in New South Wales. The growth of the Society’s outdoor relief for the poor in Sydney owed much to the expertise O’Neill gained previously in Glasgow and Wellington. The thesis explains the Catholic religious influences that transformed O’Neill into a pioneer of non-intrusive charity during the 1880s. A key theme, examining three cycles of the vicissitudes of O’Neill’s life, reveals the pattern of fusion and fragmentation of the two elements of commitment to faith-based charity and professional ambition. The thesis concludes with a brief thanatography and analysis of subsequent hagiographic interpretations of O’Neill’s life that had ended with a final submission in faith.


School of Arts and Sciences

Document Type


Access Rights

Open Access


401 pages

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Faculty of Arts and Sciences