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The Early Church in Australia. A Testament of Faith . The First Fleet and Early Settlement . Revie w and Brainstorm what you know about the First Fleet and early settlement in Australia. Rev. Samual Marsden.

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the early church in australia

The Early Church in Australia

A Testament of Faith

the first fleet and early settlement
The First Fleet and Early Settlement

Review and Brainstorm what you know about the First Fleet and early settlement in Australia.

rev samual marsden
Rev. Samual Marsden

The Rev. Samual Marsden arrived in Australia in 1800 as the Senior Anglican Minister in the New South Wales Colony.

He, like many other English (Protestant) settlers in the colony had great concerns about the growing number of Catholics – the vast majority of convicts.

rev samual marsden1
Rev Samual Marsden

Marsden identified through a number of letters to the Governor of the colony and British Government that should Catholicism continue, the British Empire would loose control of the New South Wales Colony.

“…The colony would be lost to the British Empire in less than one year.”

For Marsden and many others, this threat was real, and more distressingly, possible, due to the colony being made up of large numbers of Catholic convicts from the lower Irish class.


According to Marsden these Irish Catholics were a most repulsive people, uncivilized and mischievous. They were seen as a “…most wild, ignorant and savage race,” which had been brought up in a society of murder and crime and of which they had brought with them to Australia.

Marsden believed that these Catholics were lacking “…of every principle of Religion and Morality”. They are a people who are dangerous to society governed only by “…the impulse of passion.”


“If they (Catholics) were allowed to assemble together, they would do so not to celebrate mass but instead they would inflame one another’s minds with some wild scheme of Revenge.”

Marsden identified that Catholic were “…extremely superstitious, artful and treacherous.”

“They (Catholics) have no true concern whatsoever for any religion nor fear of the Supreme Being. They are instead more often involved in riot drunkenness.”


Why do you think Samual Marsden spoke so critically of the Catholics in the New South Wales Colony?

Could Marsden’s views towards Catholics been justified considering most Catholics in the colony were convicts? Explain.

governor lachlan macquarie
Governor Lachlan Macquarie

Lachlan Macquarie became Governor of NSW in 1810.

He envisaged a colony which went beyond a convict settlement.

However, like Marsden, viewed the Catholics in the colony with great suspicion and distain.


Most notable was Governor Macquarie’s encounter with the (uninvited) arriving Catholic Priest, Father O’Flynn. After six months in hiding, performing Catholic masses, baptisms and marriages, O’Flynn was arrested on Macquarie’s order and deported back to England.

According to Macquarie, should O’Flynn have remained in the colony he would “… do a great deal of mischief amongst the lower order Catholics.”


Macquarie acknowledges the people of the colony are presently “quiet and peaceful” and those who are convicts “attend divine worship in the regular Protestant Churches in the colony.”

However, if Fr. O’Flynn were to remain in the colony “…their religious feelings might be worked upon by a designing Artful Priest, so as to excite a Spirit of Resistance, Insubordination and Insurrection.”


In your own words, explain Governor Macquarie’s justification for sending Fr. O’Flynn back to England.

Compare Marsden’s account of the colony to the impression given by Governor Macquarie. How are they different? Are their any similarities in their accounts?


In 1800 the first Catholic Priests arrived in the colony – as convicts!

One of these priests was James Dixon who was granted freedom and permission to say mass of the Catholics of the Colony (the vast majority of convicts).

This continued until March 1804 when the Castle Hill rebellion alarmed the Governor (King) and Dixon’s privileges were withdrawn.


The Castle Hill Rebellion was a large scale rebellion of Irish convicts against British colonial authority.

The untrained, uneducated convicts stood little chance… The ‘battle’ lasted only 15 minutes!

The rebel leaders and participants were rounded up and arrested.

9 convicts faced the gallows. Many others were given between 100 – 500 lashes.


Dixon returned to Ireland soon after the Castle Hill Rebellion, having been banned by the Governor from saying mass.

The Mass was not celebrated legally again in the colony until Father John Joseph Therry and Phillip Connolly, arrived in 1820, appointed by the British Government.


Generate reasons as to why you think the Irish convicts decided to rebel against British authority?

To what extent could this event support Samual Marsden’s harsh comments about the Catholics in the colony?

Do you think that withdrawing Fr. Dixons Mass privileges was the best course of action? Would you have done differently if you were Governor King?

enter bishop polding
Enter Bishop Polding!

Bishop John Bede Polding was an English Benedictine.

After numerous requests from the few priests and now between 16 -18,000 Catholics in the Colony for more clergy and a Bishop, Polding was appointed in 1835.


Polding wished to establish a Church in the Colony founded on monastic ideals (as he himself had been a Benedictine monk).

In particular he wished to establish a Benedictine Seminary in Sydney to minister to a country which “…the foot of European had not previously touched.”

As Polding saw it, the seminary would be established to account for the vast continent “…wherein are thousands of uninstructed Natives in the lower state of barbarism, thousands of Catholics without sacramental means of salvation; numbers of well intentioned individuals prepared to embrace truth.”


Polding also saw the Seminary as a means of the Church establishing a permanent existence in Australia.

“In the absence of a Missionary, …our children will be baptized by them – parents, careless at first, will be subverted – the Natives will perish in their ignorance – Ruin must ensure!”


However, the there were strong feelings against Bishop Polding from both the clergy and laity in the colony – in part no doubt, because the majority of them were Irish!

  • (Right) Downside Abbey

England, where Polding

had began as a Benedictine



Why do you think the British Empire relaxed its colonial law to allow more Catholic priests and even a Catholic Bishop to stay in the colony?

Why do you think Polding – who is an English Catholic, was appointed to a colony with a majority of Irish Catholics

Why do you think the majority of the Catholic Clergy and Laity were against Polding’s idea of a Seminary?

stage 2a focus questions
Stage 2a - Focus Questions

How would you use the content covered to answer these questions:

To what extent did the the Catholic Church influence the development of early Australian society?

To what extent did early settlement in Australia influence the Catholic Church?

the early church in australia2

The Early Church in Australia

The Church Established


Transportation of convicts to the east coast of Australia ceased in 1840 after a report by Fr. William Ullathorne on “The Horrors of Transportation.”

Bishop Polding popularized the name “Australia” when he declared as early as 1840 that the people in Australia were no longer English, Irish, Scottish etc. but Australians.

He implored his people to leave the quarrels and the prejudices of the countries from which they came, and to begin as ‘One people – Australians.


catholic education
Catholic Education

With the arrival of Fathers Therry and Connolly on 1820, significant developments began in the way of Catholic education in Australia.

By 1833 there were about 10 Catholic schools in Australia .

Between 1833 until the end of the 1860’s, the Catholic schools received some government funding, however, between 1872 and 1893 each of the colonies (states) passed an “Education Act” removing aid to Catholic schools.


St. Mary's Cathedral in 1830's. The Cathedral is in background. The school-house erected in 1824, called the Josephian School, is on the left. At the right is the first Cathedral Presbytery, while behind it (partly obscured) is St. Joseph's Chapel, first Catholic church build in Australia


The Bishops and people persevered with the Catholic education system. With no money to pay teachers, the bishops appealed to religious orders in Ireland and other European countries, and soon religious sisters and brothers were responding to the crisis.

growth of religious orders
Growth of Religious Orders

There were already a few Religious Orders in Australia before the educational crisis. Bishop Polding had founded the Good Samaritan Sisters in 1857, and the Sisters of St. Joseph, founded by Fr. Julian Tenison and Mary Mackillop in 1866.

By 1871 the ‘Josephites’ were running 35 schools in the Adelaide diocese.

By 1880 there were a total of 815 sisters from all orders teaching in schools.

By 1910 the number exceeded 5000!

All of this with very little money and facing considerable hardship.


The largest of the male teaching orders, the Christian Brothers, had 115 brothers teaching in 30 schools by 1900.

Under the influence of religious orders, Catholic schools not only survived but flourished; the sisters and brothers were to be the mainstay of the schools for one hundred years!


What do you think would be some of the ‘hardships’ facing the Orders of Sisters and Brothers as they tried to establish and maintain the Catholic schools?

Write a journal entry for a day in the life of a student attending one of the Catholic schools run by the sisters of St. Joseph.

Consider factors such as; how you get to school; what you write with; the lessons that would be taught; discipline etc.

the swan river colony
The Swan River Colony

The Swan River Colony is established in 1829

Unlike the Eastern Coast, the Swan River Colony was not established as a Convict settlement, and was made up mainly of free settlers.

By the 1840’s there were over 300 Catholics living in the colony. However, there was no Catholic priest to minister to them.


In 1841, a local school teacher by the name of Robert D’Arcy made a request to Church Authorities in Sydney for a priest to be sent to Perth.

father john brady
Father John Brady

In 1843 approval for the request was granted by the Vatican and Fr. John Brady, Father John Joostens (Belgian) and Patrick O’Reilly (Irish Catechist) soon arrived in Fremantle on the ship ‘Water Witch’.

Fr. Brady only stayed in Perth for 2 months, however, was able to requisition land for the Church on Victoria Avenue. This was to be the site of the first Catholic cathedral for the colony: The Church of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist. Construction began during Brady’s brief stay.


St. John’s Pro-Cathedral, Perth (Present Day)

(The Pro-Cathedral still contains the Bishop Brady’s chair that he bruoght with him from Europe)


On the 6th of May 1845 the Diocese of Perth was established by the Apostolic letter of Pope Gregory XVI.

In 1846,the Vatican sent (now) Bishop Brady, together with 27 Missionaries (including Benedictines, Sisters of Mercy, heart of Mary priests and brothers, diocesan priests and catechists) back to the colony, believing that there were now over 3000 Catholics in the Colony (which there were not!).

They arrived on the ship ‘Elizabeth’ in January 1846.

At this time very little was known of the interior of WA and its inhabitants.


Swan River Settlement


The missionaries face many hardships, but they were never deterred from establishing Catholic missions in sometimes the most remote and difficult places.

the sisters of mercy
The Sisters of Mercy

The Sisters of Mercy concentrated their efforts in the Perth Colony itself.

As the Pro-Cathedral was being established, the Sisters started a small school.

A cottage on St. George’s Terrace was obtained by Bishop Brady and given to the Sister’s of Mercy. Under the direction of the Reverend Mother – Ursula Frayne, the First Covent of the Holy Cross was established.


A few months after Bishop Brady’s return to he colony, he sent an expedition party to find suitable land to start missions for the Aborigines. The party included Dom RosendoSalvado and Dom Joseph Serra both Benedictine monks.

In 1948 New Norcia was founded with the granting of 7,500 hectares of ‘freehold’ land to the Benedictines to develop a missionary.

The monks at New Norcia worked to be self-sustaining, growing their own food and produce.


Read “The Story of the Catholic Church in Western Australia”

Answer the Questions below:

Where and how did Fr. Brady celebrate the first mass in Perth?

When was the foundation stone of the first church laid?

How did Dom Salvado raise the money for the mission?

List the achievements of New Norcia by 1882.