Sir Matthew Harris

Matthew Harris portrait.1919 (mayor 1898-1900)

Sir Matthew Harris (1841-1917) was born in 1841 in Ulster. In 1844, when his father inherited part of Surgeon John Harris’s estate, the family migrated to Sydney. Matthew was educated at the Normal Institution, Sydney Grammar School and the University of Sydney (BA, 1863). In 1868 he married Frances Lane.

Like his three brothers and his sister, he built an impressive house, Warrane, at Crown Road, and surrounded it with terraces. He did not take up a profession but devoted his talents to the management of his real estate.

From 1883 to 1900 Matthew Harris represented Denison Ward on the Sydney Municipal Council, and represented Sydney-Denison in the Legislative Assembly in 1894-1901. In the House he rarely spoke, but in 1896 he carried the Municipal Council of Sydney Electric Lighting Act.

He was mayor in 1898, 1899 and 1900 but faced with a large deficit—including that on the Queen Victoria Building – and allegations that the council was inefficient, he was unable to introduce his program of reforms (or electric lighting) and complained that the council lacked the power to sweep away slums such as Pyrmont. In 1899 he put forward a plan for a ‘Greater Sydney’ in which a metropolitan council would replace existing authorities and control water supply, sewerage, abattoirs, traffic, building regulation, parks, libraries, art galleries and fire prevention. He was grievously disappointed to have lost office when the Commonwealth of Australia was inaugurated.

In 1917 Harris died and was buried with Presbyterian rites.