In 1858 the area bounded by Warrigal and Highbury Roads, Burwood Highway (Ballyshanassy Road) and Gardiners Creek (Damper Creek) was named Ballyshanassy in honour of then Victorian Premier, John O’Shanassy.
O’Shanassy was in born 1818 in Tipperary of Irish Catholic parents and when his father died in 1831 his education was curtailed and he was apprenticed to a draper. In November 1839, aged 21, he arrived in Port Phillip District with his wife Margaret. He opened a drapery shop at 99 Elizabeth Street called O’Shanassy & Co. The ‘Co.’ was his wife and its huge success was said to be due to her shrewd business sense which supported them at a time when politicians were not paid.
Margaret may well have been the ‘power behind the throne’ because The Melbourne Commercial, Squatters’ and Official Directory for 1854 listed no less than 94 drapery businesses in Melbourne. The directory listed him on the Legislative Council, the shop at 99 Elizabeth Street and their home at 22 Little Collins Street (350m from the shop and 180m from Parliament House).
O’Shanassy stood well over six feet tall and his girth later in life gained him the title ‘the great round O’. Garbed in his blue cut-away coat with polished brass buttons, he was more frequently seen outside than inside his shop. During popular demonstrations O’Shanassy & Co. was conspicuous with floral decorations and illuminations.
News reports of his ventures include campaigning for separation from New South Wales (effective 1851), championing the rights of miners, and member of the committee of inquiry into the Victorian goldfields. By 1856, he was a member of the new Legislative Assembly.
In 1853 O’Shanassy paid £1200 for 16 acres in Camberwell where he built ‘Tara’, an imposing mansion (now Broughton Hall, an aged care facility). In the mid-1850s, as president of St Patrick’s Society he aimed to remove its exclusively Irish-Catholic associations. He actively promoted some early building and land societies, and 1855 –70 was chairman of directors of the Colonial Bank (the Diggers’ Bank). In 1857, he was Victoria’s second Premier (for 50 days) then in 1858- 59 with Charles Duffy as his Deputy and again in 1861.
The prominence of Victoria’s O’Shanassy and Duffy as Irish Catholic leaders may have been a first for the British Empire and he was knighted by the British Crown. Following a public dinner in Melbourne in May 1866 where he received a testimonial of £1500, O’Shanassy left for Europe. In Rome Pope Pius IX appointed him a knight of the Order of St Gregory in recognition of his services to Catholic education; in Tipperary he was feted as a prosperous emigrant and in London a banquet was held in his honour. He arrived back in Melbourne on 13 July 1867. In its heyday,
Ballyshanassy rivalled Box Hill in importance and could have become the seat of local government. In 1874 Nunawading Council resolved to change its name to Norwood but that never happened and five years later residents still complained about it. When Burwood was gazetted on 9 May 1879, Ballyshanassy disappeared into history. According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography:
When Melbourne was a village O’Shanassy was a practical and exemplary pioneer; in the hectic 1850s he was a vigorous politician who did not stint his energies in the public interest; and at his death he was entitled to a little of the credit for ‘marvellous’ Melbourne.