Daniel James (Dan) SWEENEY


SWEENEY, Daniel James

Service Number: 885
Enlisted: Not yet discovered
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 5th Infantry Battalion
Born: Ballarat, Victoria, Australia, 15 November 1889
Home Town: Ballarat, Central Highlands, Victoria
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Skin and Wool Buyer
Died: Died Of Wounds, Killed In Action, To Be Determined, France, 8 December 1916, aged 27 years
Cemetery: No known grave - "Known Unto God"
Australian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux, France, Villers-Bretonneux Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux, Picardie, France, Etaples Military Cemetery, Etaples, Nord Pas de Calais, France
Tree Plaque: Ballarat Avenue of Honour
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Ballarat Avenue of Honour, Villers-Bretonneux Memorial (Australian National Memorial - France)
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World War 1 Service

21 Oct 1914: Involvement Driver, SN 885, 5th Infantry Battalion
21 Oct 1914: Embarked Driver, SN 885, 5th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Orvieto, Melbourne
7 Dec 1916: Involvement Private, SN 885, 5th Infantry Battalion

Help us honour Daniel James Sweeney's service by contributing information, stories, and images so that they can be preserved for future generations.

Biography contributed by Evan Evans

From Ballarat & District in the Great War

Dvr Daniel James Sweeney, 5th Bn, KIA 7/12/1916

The foundations of Ballarat as we know them, were brought about by a remarkably intrepid group of pioneers, men and women who all added their special layers to the community we now enjoy. All too often those names have been lost with time and their exploits forgotten. At the time of the Great War the name Dan Sweeney as the “father of Ballarat cricket” was so well known in the city his soldier grandson had to be referred to as “Young Dan” to tell them apart. And whilst this story is indeed about Young Dan, the family background should not be forgotten.

In 1819, Daniel Sweeney, a 20 year-old labourer from County Cork was convicted of highway robbery and transported to New South Wales. His marriage to Mary Whitfield produced three sons, including Dan junior who was to make (and lose and remake) his fortune in Ballarat. His success, despite the continued re-offending of his father (he eventually died at Moreton Bay Penal Settlement in 1838 when his son was just 10 years-old) was a credit to his own determination.
According to sources, Dan Sweeney arrived in Ballarat during ‘the days of the gold excitement.’ He and his brother, John, showed a degree of business acumen by opening a slaughter yard in Black Hill, providing fresh meat for the thousands of miners. He later owned the license for the North Grant Hotel in Bridge Street. But it was his achievements on the cricket field that was to open up the sport in the city. Dan was considered one of the colony’s best cricketers and was regarded as its best wicketkeeper. He was selected in a Melbourne representative side against visiting English team. It was reported that he even played against the legendary W. G. Grace. Dan founded the Ballarat Cricket Club and captained the first eleven for many years.

Dan’s untimely death in 1882 left his only son, James, as head of the Sweeney household. Unfortunately, James, who had trained as a teacher, suffered the loss of his sight when he was still a young man, which had ‘undoubtedly checked a promising career,’ and to a large extent prevented him following in his father’s footsteps. He was, however, well known for always being ‘on the sunny side’ and that made him very well liked.

His marriage to Mary Jane Wilson produced just two children – Daniel James, born at Ballarat on 15 November 1889, and Minnie Hillary, who was born two years later. Sadly, like so many babies of these early years, Minnie died soon after birth.

Young Dan, as the boy quickly became known (to differentiate between him and his well-known grandfather) was an intelligent, likeable lad. It goes without saying that he would have been the proverbial apple of his parent’s eyes. The small family lived in a house on the corner of Inkerman and Balaclava Streets that they called Rosemore.

When he was of school age, Dan was enrolled at the Urquhart Street State School, which was then regarded as one of finest architecturally designed schools in Victoria. He did well at school, but it was his ability with horses that was to shape many aspects of his future.

The death of his father on 14 June 1910 after a short illness was a pivotal moment for Young Dan. He eventually went into a business partnership with an associate of his father, William Penney, running Penney and Sweeney Skin Merchants of Ballarat.
In many ways, the death of his father, when Dan was still just a young man, plus a considerable inheritance of £900 appears to have driven him to undertake several risky business ventures. He speculated in a skating rink that ‘ended disastrously’ and his investments in trotting ponies were not handled well enough to protect his outlay.

By March 1913 his partnership with Penney had ended acrimoniously with Dan fronting the insolvency court. He stated that ‘I went in for anything to make money.’ The judge overseeing the case, replied, ‘Judging from your recent history, you went in for anything to lose money.’ This financial failure followed hard on the heels of a dreadful fire in the large stables at the Balaclava Street house on 28 January. One of Dan’s top ponies, Dolly B, perished in the blaze.
The year wasn’t all bad for Dan – on 18 March 1913 he married Sarah Olive Rickard, the daughter of an Inkerman Street neighbour and friend, at St Peter’s Anglican Church in Sturt Street. The young couple’s son, Daniel James, was born just three days earlier and was baptised on their wedding day.

From his school days, Dan had participated in military training. He spent nearly three years with cadets and held the rank of sergeant with the senior cadets. Dan continued on to the local Light Horse regiment and by 1913 he was acting as recruiting sergeant.
When war was declared, Dan Sweeney was one of the very first to offer as a volunteer – he enlisted at Ripponlea on 17 August 1914 and was apparently living at 19 Downshire Road in Elsternwick at the time.

People who knew Dan described him as physically ‘robust’ – the medical officer certainly concurred. He was recorded as standing 5-foot 10-inches and weighing 11-stone, with a 35-inch chest. Working as a horsebreaker, Dan needed to be particularly strong. Photos show him to be a pleasant-looking young man, possessed of a strong jaw, a fair complexion, brown eyes and blonde hair. He had no difficulty passing the stringent requirements as laid out during the early stages of the war.

Dan immediately went into the Broadmeadows Camp and was originally posted as a driver to H Company of the 5th Infantry Battalion. When transports making up the First Contingent sailed in October 1914, Dan was onboard HMAT Orvieto.

The 5th Battalion arrived in Egypt on 2 December. Along with other units of the AIF, the men of the 5th settled into a routine of training and sightseeing that was to fill the early months of 1915.

In the build up towards the landing of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force on the Gallipoli Peninsula, transports filled with troops began to embark from Egypt in late March and early April. Dan sailed from Alexandria onboard the transport Novian on 5 April.
According to several sources, Dan was with the 5th Battalion during the Landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, however, his service record maintains that he did not land at ANZAC until 13 June. Unfortunately, at this point there is no way of confirming when he arrived in the firing line.

Dan took part in the Battle of Lone Pine in August, suffering a slight wound to his arm. Although the wound was mild enough to allow him to remain on duty, the conditions in the trenches were not conducive to a healthy outcome. On 26 August, after the wound became infected, he was admitted to the No3 Field Ambulance, where it was also discovered that he was suffering from gastritis.
After being transferred to Lemnos, Dan’s condition was deemed serious enough to warrant evacuation to Malta. He was admitted at St Patrick’s Hospital on 10 September suffering from rheumatic fever – a dangerous condition noted for the damage it caused to the valves of the heart.

On 8 October, Dan boarded the Hospital Ship Panama and was invalided to England, where he was admitted to the 3rd London General Hospital in Wandsworth on 16 October.

Seemingly never able to quite stay out of trouble, Dan was back in front of a court on 31 January 1916. This time it was a military court at Abbey Wood and the offence was being absent without leave. According to the report, Dan was eventually apprehended by Military Police at Clapham Junction on 7 January 1916, having overstayed his leave pass by 42 days. Despite being fully cognisant of his breach, Dan, who conducted his own defence, entered a plea of Not Guilty.

His only defence was the following statement,
‘…On leaving Hospital on the 6th of November 1915 I was granted three weeks furlough, during this time I was suffering with boils on my face. On the expiration of my furlough I reported to 130 Horseferry Road and was sent to Abbey Wood for medical treatment. I applied for further furlough, which was refused. I went back to my friends for my kit on being ordered to Abbey Wood and stayed at home. I was suffering with heart trouble during this time. When arrested I had my kit packed up all ready to go back having no intention to desert. The address I gave on going on furlough was the one I stopped at. I have already done 26 days detention and ask that this may be taken off my sentence. This is my first offence. I have never appeared before a CO…’

Sergeant E. J. H. Barker, of the 5th Battalion, gave a character witness statement on Dan’s behalf.

‘…I had an opportunity of knowing him ____ big landing at Gallipoli. He had nothing against him. He was always ready to do his work, and never attempted to shirk. His behaviour whilst in detention has been exemplary and was always good…’
After a brief adjournment the Court gave its finding – Dan was found guilty and sentenced to 42 days detention without pay.

On 7 June, Dan left Weymouth Camp and embarked for France. He finally rejoined the 5th Battalion in the forward trenches at Pozieres on 21 August. Fortunately, the battalion was relieved later the same day and Dan was able to settle back with his unit in the relative calm of billets outside Albert.

Following a period in the “nursery” sector of Belgian Flanders, the 5th Battalion moved back into the frontline trenches at Gueudecourt near Flers on 7 December 1916. D Company, including XIV Platoon to which Dan belonged, relieved men of the 13th Battalion at Goodwin’s Post and Grease Trench.

It was around 9 in the morning, and Dan was sheltering in a dugout at Goodwin’s Post alongside Private John Keefe when the Germans opened up a bombardment on the Allied trenches. Accounts of how Dan was killed that day varied from him being buried alive by the blast, to being hit in the throat by a piece of shell. His body was buried in the parapet by Sergeant E. C. Crawford, Private Keefe and a Private McKay. Sergeant Crawford later said there was no cross put up as ‘it was impossible under the circumstances.’

Tributes from his comrades stated that Dan was ‘well known and liked by all’, but perhaps the most telling praise was the simple, ‘He was a good soldier.’

When Ballarat’s Corporal Vic Sharp heard the news of Dan’s death, he wrote home about the incident to his wife, Mabel, although by this time the number of casualties had grown considerably…
‘…You remember me telling you in my last letter about the bivouac we were in and the shelling we got from the Germans. Well, this time poor old Dan Sweeney, from Ballarat, was in one of the bivouacs with his battalion when a shell got them, and I am told he was killed along with eight others and 20 wounded, so the Germans scored there…’

Amongst Dan’s personal effects that were returned to his family were post cards, an Arabic book, a wallet, a pair of spurs, a broken fountain pen, his razor, cuff links, a watch chain, two cigarette cases, and a map of London.

When General Sir William Birdwood visited Ballarat in February 1920, he was presented with a collection of heartbreaking cards handwritten by so many grieving local families. Amongst those bereavement cards was one inscribed,

‘Mrs Sweeney, widow, mother of only son – Driver D. J. Sweeney 5th Battalion 1st Expeditionary Force D Company No885 – On active service August 17th 1914 Killed in action at Pozieres (sic), France Dec 7th 1916; age 27yrs.’

By February 1922, it was clear that Dan’s widow had not been informed of his burial, and that combing of the battlefields following the end of the war had failed to locate his remains. She had selected an inscription for his headstone and, despite concerns, was prepared to bear the cost ‘if it is within my reach of paying.’

In September of the same year, Sarah was still asking how she could acquire a photograph of her late husband’s grave. Within days she received a reply stating that ‘in the absence of official advice of registration it must be reluctantly concluded that the Graves Services have not succeeded in locating his resting place…’ She was then informed that it was the intention of the authorities to erect permanent memorials and as such his name would be inscribed on such. Sadly, there is no record of the words Sarah chose for her husband’s grave as no provision was made for such memorialisation at the large monuments to the missing of the Great War. The name of Daniel James Sweeney now appears on the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux.

Many years after Dan’s death, an intricate court case centring around the Will of his grandfather, “Old Dan” Sweeney, was played out in Australian newspapers. I will leave his story with a detailed article from the case and allow the readers to pose their own questions and conclusions…

Complicated Issue Involved.

The High Court, consisting of the Chief Justice (Sir John Latham), Mr. Justice Starke, Mr. Justice Dixon, Mr. Justice Evatt and Mr. Justice McTiernan, yesterday heard argument in an appeal from the State Full Court in connection with the administration of the estate of Daniel Sweeney, late of Lyons-
street, Ballarat.

Sweeney died on 13th September, 1882, and by his will he directed that dividends on 27 £40 shares in the Bank of Australasia should be paid to Mrs. Lily Rose Eugenia Evans, now Mrs. Smith, widow, living at Shepparton, during the minority of or until the marriage of her daughter, Ethel Adelaide Evans, the reputed daughter of Sweeney. Mrs. Smith was to maintain and educate her daughter during her minority.

It was further directed that upon Miss Evans marrying or attaining the age of 21 years the dividends should firstly be devoted to paying Mrs. Smith an annuity of £104, the surplus being payable to Miss Evans. In the event of Miss Evans's death, the surplus above the annuity should go into the testator's residuary estate, which was left to testator's son, James Sweeney, for life, and then to his child.

James Sweeney died at Ballarat on 14th June, 1910, leaving a widow, Mary Jane Sweeney of Balaclava-street, Ballarat, and one child, Daniel James Sweeney, who was born in 1889, and who died on active service in France on 7th December, 1916, leaving a widow, who was now Mrs, Zimmer, and no issue. He died intestate.

Except for the 27 shares, the estate of James Sweeney had been collected, the corpus being paid to Daniel James Sweeney on his majority. From August 1890, to June 1901, the dividends from the bank shares were paid to Mrs Smith, but after Miss Evans reached her majority in 1901 the annuity only was paid to her. The surplus from the dividends was paid regularly to Miss Evans till 9th October, 1916.

Soon after that date Miss Evans left her mother's house at Tunstall, and said she was going to spend a few days in Melbourne. Sometime later her mother received a letter written by Miss Evans from Japan, stating that an attendant on a lady travelling in the same ship as she was to Japan had been taken ill, and that she (Miss Evans) had taken the attendant's place. She told her mother in the letter that she would be home shortly. Miss Evans did not return home, and no trace had since been found of her.*

The question of what was to be done by the trustees of the estate of Sweeney with the accumulated income from the shares on the presumption that Miss Evans had died, and died unmarried, came before Mr. Justice Lowe. On the evidence before him his Honour made a declaration that Miss Evans was dead that her mother was only entitled to receive an annuity of £104, and that the undistributed money and income should go into the estate of Ethel Adelaide Evans, and not into the residue of the estate of Sweeney. The State Full Court, on appeal, upheld the decision of Mr. Justice Lowe, and from that an appeal was made to the High Court. The amount involved in the matter is about

The appellant is Mrs. Sarah Olive Zimmer, of Ballarat, widow of a grandson of Sweeney, representing her former husband's estate, and joined in the appeal are the Ballarat Trustees, Executors and Agency Co. Ltd., as executors of the estate of Sweeney, and Arthur H. Nevett, of Ballarat, representing the estate of Ethel Adelaide Evans. Mrs. Zimmer asks for an order that the corpus and accumulated investments and moneys from the bequest should fall intothe residue of the estate of Sweeney. The grounds of appeal were that the State Full Court judgment was wrong in law; that on the proper construction of the will, and in the events which had happened, the undistributed income and investments and moneys were not payable to the estate of Ethel Adelaide Evans, but should have fallen into the residue of, and were payable from the estate of Sweeney's grandson, who was the life tenant of Sweeney's residuary estate.

Mr. Walker (instructed by Messrs. Arthur Phillips and Just, as agent for Messrs. D. Clarke and Sons, of Ballarat) appeared for Mrs. Zimmer; Mr. Herring (by Messrs. Woolcott and Madden, as agents for Messrs. Pearson and Mann, of Ballarat) for the trustees' company; and Mr. Fullagar, K.C., and Mr. Little (by Messrs. Madden, Butler, Elder and Graham, as agents for Mr. O. H. Glen, of Ballarat) for Mr Arthur H. Nevett, representing the estate of Ethel Adelaide Evans. It was argued on behalf of the appellant that the money was original and accumulated investments and the income thereof was not applied under any of the trusts herein before declared within the meaning of those words in the residuary gift to the children of testator's son, James Sweeney.

It was also contended that the Full Court was wrong In holding that the gifts contained in the will of surplus income to Miss Evans was a gift of income in perpetuity and was equivalent to a gift to
the corpus.

The court at the conclusion of argument reserved its decision…’
*Ethel Evans was believed to have died during the 1923 earthquake in Japan.