Who followed Fr Therry to Maitland?

When Fr Therry was suspended as official Catholic Chaplain, Rev Fr Daniel Power was appointed to replace him.

Fr Power arrived in the colony on 3 December 1826. He was a sickly man and died on 14 March 1830. Governor Darling then appealed to the British Government to send two chaplains to the colony. It was not for concern of the Catholic people who were without an official chaplain but more to displace Fr Therry who though deprived of his chaplaincy and salary, was held in high regard and affection by the people. The Governor’s hope was that the new chaplains would work obediently with the government. Fr Vincent Christopher Dowling and Fr John McEnroe were nominated.

Fr Dowling arrived in Sydney on 17 September 1831 on the ’Mary Ann’ accompanied by his sister, Mary Theresa who married David Chambers, a solicitor, on 8 May 1832. Fr Dowling soon gained widespread support and secured government funds for the education of Catholic children.

It was not long, however, before difficulties began between Fr Dowling and Fr Therry and this continued until the arrival of Fr John McEnroe in August 1832. Fr McEnroe was very patient and tactful and became a great friend of Fr Therry until his death in 1864.

Fr Dowling was appointed chaplain for the Hawkesbury by Governor Bourke and went to Windsor where he established a school and became friends with John Macarthur who gave land and money for a Catholic chapel at Camden. Fr Dowling performed the first Catholic marriage and baptism at Windsor on 1 January 1835. He was later appointed to Maitland.

The Maitland parish covered the whole Hunter River district and extended north indefinitely. Ill health began to make it difficult for Fr Dowling to minister in the huge Maitland area and in September 1838 he was moved to Newcastle as its first resident priest. His health continued to decline and he relied heavily on assistant priests. He gave up his active ministry in 1863 and became a living legend in the district. He died on 14 December 1873 and, at his request, was buried in St Joseph’s Churchyard, East Maitland. [Australian Dictionary of Biography Vol. 4 (MUP) 1972]

In February 1833 Fr William Bernard Ullathorne, a young Benedictine monk, arrived in Sydney. W. P. Morris, the vicar apostolic of Mauritus, a mission embracing Australia, had appointed Fr Ullathorne as his vicar-general. Fr Ullathorne’s arrival was not received well by Fr Philip Connolly in Hobart or by Fr Therry in Sydney. However he took control without hesitation and put things into an organised system welding the two factions among the three priests who were residing in New South Wales into one band. He visited the Hunter Valley many times as noted in the following extract from his autobiography.

Fr Therry often made visits into the more populous parts of the interior. I visited Maitland, on the Hunter River; St Patrick’s Plains, higher up in the country; Newcastle, at the mouth of the Hunter; the beautiful district of Illawarra; Bathurst beyond the Blue Mountains, and sometimes Parramatta. Our usual way of travelling was on horseback, with a servant on another horse carrying the vestments and an altar-stone.”

Maitland was again mention in another interesting quote from Fr Ullathorne.

“Riding at Maitland along the fertile banks of the River Hunter, it was impossible not to admire the beauty of those primitive forests and the fertile abundance produced by the deep and rick alluvial soil. Then there were the varied notes of the birds. I was riding through the woods with Mr Walker, the chief supporter of our religion in that locality, when I heard at some distance first a whistle, then the crack of a whip, than the reverberation of the lash. I asked: ‘What road is that over there?’ ‘There is not road,’ he replied. ‘But I heard a man driving, and there again.’ ‘Oh, that’s the coachman.’ ‘But the coachman must have a road’. ‘The coachman’s a bird,’ said he; and bird it was, exactly imitating the whistle of a coachman and the crack and lashing of his whip. Then the bellbird rang its silver bell, and another species cried like a child in trouble, whilst flocks of parrots made a croaking din, and flights of black cockatoos spread over the fields of maize with a noise like the rusty hinges of an old castle all flapping together in the wind.”

Fr Ullathorne only remained a short time in Australia but during his time here he established the Church on a legal footing and set up the first real administration of the church in Australia.

When was St Joseph’s Church, East Maitland built?

It is well known that the first church built north of Sydney was St Joseph’s at East Maitland. When it was exactly built is not known but historical evidence seems to indicate that it was built over a period of years and more than one of the early priests were involved.

When Fr James Watkins took up the position of first resident priest of St Joseph’s in 1835, it was described as having ‘a roof of sorts and an earthen floor, excepting the Sanctuary, where it was of wood’. In the original plan of the town of Maitland (East Maitland) drawn up in 1829 by the Surveyor-General, Sir Thomas Mitchell, the corner of King Street, East Maitland and the present Newcastle Road is marked for the Roman Catholic Church. The site was opposite the gallows and as tradition states was the place that the priest camped and waited for the prisoner to arrive. The land became known as the priest’s paddock.

Further evidence that St Joseph’s church was built prior to 1830 can be taken from an article written by D J Ryan that appeared in the Sentinel in 1932.

“The late Mr Frederick Crew, who arrived in Maitland in November, 1830, gave some information in an interview with the writer when he was speaking of early days in Maitland in these words: ‘I arrived in Newcastle late in November, 1830, when there was a rough track, called a road, between Newcastle and Maitland, and came in a dray to Maitland from Newcastle on November 30, 1830.

As I came over the hill from One Mile Creek, two things struck me. I saw on my left, on Stockade Hill, a gallows, and on my right hand side, the unfinished walls of the Roman Catholic Chapel which was not roofed over.’ As Mr Crew was at that time in his 23rd year, he was old enough to form impressions as he passed along, and he may be regarded as a reliable witness in the present investigation. There is historical record of the fact that on the morning of November 30, 1830, five men had been hanged on Stockade Hill, and we know that Fr Therry was present at the execution.”

The structure described above is thought to be of a previous temporary chapel as there is evidence that Fr Therry laid the foundation stone of old St Joseph’s Church on Tuesday, 12 August 1834 as was reported in the Australian newspaper of 22 August 1834.

Mr Editor. – Will you have the goodness to make known to the public, that the Rev. J. J. Therry, laid the foundation stone of a Catholic Chapel here on Tuesday last. The ceremony was novel and interesting, being the first public building commended here. Great praise is due to the worthy and indefatigable Clergyman alluded to – surely the people will bestir themselves, and endeavour to obtain him a salary. As funds are wanting to complete the undertaking, it is hoped the liberal minded will contribute to so good a work. Yours, &c. &c. W.J. Maitland August 14, 1834

(We trust that the public will take into their consideration the high importance of instructing a large body of the community, in their moral and religious duties. And although they may not agree in sentiment, with the promoters of this design; yet being assured of the good that must result, they will liberally contribute to carry into effect an object so desirable in itself and so praiseworthily commenced. – Ed.)

Funds for the building of the church came from government grants and private subscription and both Fr Therry and Fr Ullathorne had input into the design. Stone from the nearby Glebe quarry was used and it is believed that the church was completed early in 1835.

Fr Ullathorne tells us in his autobiography: “…I had also to look after the completion of the church begun at Maitland, and to start another at Parramatta. I had the assistance of the Government Architect in devising the plans. But, what to my surprise, on arriving at Maitland, to find that without my knowledge, Father Therry had been there and had doubled the number of windows in the walls. This was one of his singularities, to put as many windows in a building as the walls would allow of, without any consideration for the intense glare of heated light…….At Maitland he spoiled what would have been a well-proportioned nave in the old lancet style. His taste in architecture was for what he called opes; if a plan was brought to him, his first question was: ’How many opes would it admit of?’ He could not, understand the principle of adapting the light of a building to the climate.”

The parish registers of East Maitland did not begin until late 1835 with the arrival of the first resident priest, Fr Watkins. Whatever baptisms or marriages conducted in the early years of the Catholic Church in Maitland were recorded in the registers of St Mary’s Church on Fr Therry’s return to Sydney. St Joseph’s was an outstation of Sydney.


This is part of a series about the history of the church in the Maitland area:

Read Part One – The Catholic Church in Maitland

Read Part Two – Who was Fr Therry?

Read Part Four – Ship wrecks and close calls with cannibals



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