Flawed genius rediscovered

Described as a "flawed genius", Society of St Vincent de Paul Australia founder, Captain Charles Gordon O'Neill, has been rediscovered following the publication of a biography of the Irish engineer and architect, who also designed plans for a Sydney harbour tunnel.

The St Vincent de Paul Society NSW officially launched the book Captain Charles: Engineer of Charity, authored by Stephen Utick at the University of Sydney last week, the Society says in a statement.

Utick who has been a volunteer for the St Vincent de Paul Society for 35 years, researched the life of Charles O’Neill, together with retired professional engineer, Vince Dever.

According to the biography, Charles Gordon O’Neill was a brilliant young Irish Scot engineer and architect, a man torn between professional ambition and desire to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ to serve the poor.

He founded the first conference of the Society in 1881, at St Patrick's Church Hill in Sydney's Rocks district.

As a brilliant young architect in Glasgow, at just 30 years of age, Charles O'Neill earlier led volunteers to assist thousands of that city’s poorest citizens through the St Vincent de Paul Society.

In 1885, he submitted plans to the government of the day, for two harbour tunnels from Circular Quay to North Sydney.

Despite his technical skill, his access to capital and political connections, Charles O’Neill died a pauper in 1900, and was buried in Rookwood Cemetery, Sydney, where he remains to this day.


Vinnies launches the lost history of a “flawed genius” after more than a century (Vinnies NSW, Media Release, 22/4/08)


Society of St Vincent de Paul Australia

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