Sydney Architecture Images- Central Business District

St. Mary’s Cathedral (see also the Original St. Mary's Cathedral- destroyed by fire 1865)

architect

William Wardell  

location

College and Cathedral Streets

date

1865-2002

style

Victorian Academic Gothic

construction

stone

type

Church

notes

English Geometric Gothic Style, with the main façade based on Notre Dame, Paris. 
 
 
  Above- the facade was based on that of Notre Dame de Paris.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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  Nineteenth Century images- State Library of New South Wales
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  The original St.Mary's
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  Image from the book "Sydney in 1848"
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  Above pillar is the only remains of the original cathedral, built in 1821 and destroyed by fire in 1865 (see below).
History

The first St Mary's foundations stone was laid by Governor Macquarie in 1821 and blessed by Father Therry. Sydney's first bishop, John Bede Polding OSB, arrives on 13 September 1835 as Vicar Apostolic of New Holland. St. Mary's Chapel became his Cathedral. Work on extensions to the cathedral commenced in 1851 to designs by A. W. N. Pugin, the celebrated English architect and promoter of a more correct Gothic style. It was destroyed by fire in 1865. Archbishop Polding, the first Archbishop of Sydney immediately commissioned William Wardell to design a new cathedral. In the meantime a second, temporary building was constructed but burned down in 1869. The third cathedral took more than 20 years to build. Archbishop Polding's replacement Roger Bede Vaughan, Patrick Francis Moran, who would become Australia's first Cardinal in 1885 and Archbishop Michael Kelly would all enthusiastically embrace the project in coming years, realising its importance. Fundraising activities triduum celebrations and an accumulation of small donations would all contribute to funding of the cathedral. Work began on the new cathedral in 1866 and was to be an outstanding example of Gothic Revival architecture. The incomplete northern section of the new cathedral was opened in 1882 and dedicated. After Wardell's death in 1899 responsibility for directing work was given to architects Hennessy and Hennessey who only slightly modified the Wardell design. Financial crash in the late 19th century saw the decision not to complete the spires originally proposed for the twin southern towers and changes to the ceiling construction of the southern nave. During this time the creation of a separate Catholic education system resulted, in part, in Archbishop Vaughan's desire to have more control over a larger system of Catholic schools. The Catholic School Board met in 1882 and in 1911 a new building to house two schools for the Sisters of Charity and the Christian Brothers was built on the site of the pro cathedral. The need for a symbol of the Catholic church had become inextricably tied up with the fight for religious education. St Mary's came to represent the solidarity of the catholic society as a community within a community. Cardinal Moran continued Vaughan's efforts to oversee Catholic education and by 1900 the Catholic community had become segregated by the fight for religious education. In 1900 the opened section and central tower are completed and dedicated. The cathedral was freed form debt in 1905 and solemnly consecrated. By 1928 construction of the Nave was complete and Archbishop Kelly opened the almost complete cathedral on September 2nd. (The total cost of construction amounted to approximately £700,000 over a period of 60 years.) In 1930 Pope Pius XI bestows on the cathedral the title and dignity of a Minor Basilica. In 1940 Norman Thomas Gilroy, the first Australian-born Archbishop of Sydney succeeded Archbishop Kelly and became Cardinal in 1946. Pope Paul VI visited Sydney in 1970 and celebrated Mass in the cathedral. Pope John Paul II visited St Mary's in 1986 and 1995. During 1998 - 2000 the Spires designed by Wardell were built. In 2001 St Mary's is the location for the celebration of the Ninth World Day of the Sick. The Chapter Hall is the oldest building on the site and may have been designed by Augustus Welby Pugin. It appears to have been commissioned by Archbishop Polding when visiting England in 1841 and was built between 1843 and 1845. Research suggests that the final design of the chapter hall was the result of successive amendments to earlier schemes for a larger structure. Colonial Architect Mortimer Lewis appears to have selected the site for the chapter hall and may have been responsible for overseeing its construction. The building contractor was Jacob Inder. Initially it was used as a catholic school but was converted to a chapter hall in 1910. From 1988 it served for a short period as a museum.(State Projects, 1995)

The Cathedral site is roughly trianglular in shape. Significant archaeological material is present on the site. St Mary's is high style Gothic Revival. It is constructed of sandstone with a slate roof over timber trusses to main aisles and over stone vaults to side aisles. Plan is cruciform with a bell tower over the crossing. The major axis runs north south. The sanctuary is the heart and visual focus of the cathedral and contains the tabernacle alter, the main altar, the cathedral and the choir. The cross section of the cathedral displays the traditional Basilica form, comprising a tall clerestoreyed nave flanked by lower aisles. Two towers rise over the main entry at the southern end. Great rose windows are found in the west and south facades, with a great geometrically traced window in the northern end. Contains a crypt, vestries, smaller chapels and choir loft. There are many ancillary areas including eight sets of confessionals. Internally there is a sense of spaciousness and grandeur.

The CHAPTER HALL is a rectangular stone building approximately 40 metres east of the Cathedral Sacristy. It has a steeply pitched roof clad with recycled slates. The main hall section is two storeys and measures approximately 20 x 9 metres. There is a single storey stone entrance porch across the northern end of the building which faces St Mary's Road. The stonework of the northern and southern wall carry through to create parapeted gable ends to form of the roof. A narrow stone pediment crowns each gable. The northern pediment contains a recessed sculpture niche and is surmounted by a cross. The southern gable is surmounted by a stone bell cote. It is also finished with a cross. The interior is an open rectangular space with a timber board lined ceiling, decorative timber cornices and exposed dressed stone walls. Flooring is timber, inlaid at corners to the centre of the hall. (State Projects) (RNE)

Thanks to http://www.heritage.nsw.gov.au/index.html 

 

 

The Story of the first St. Mary's Cathedral

James Dempsey was my g. g. g. g. g. grandfather.

He was transported to Sydney in 1802 on the "Atlas II" for his part in the Vinegar Hill Rebellion in Ireland in 1798 (he was a member of the United Irishmen in the Ballymanus Division and was implicated in the deaths of a number of British soldiers- he was sentenced to death but this was to be repealed to life servitude in the penal colony of NSW).

Upon arrival he was put to work in his trade of stonemasonry. The infant colony had no infrastructure, barely any houses and no skilled labour. Dempsey oversaw the construction of the first bridges over the tankstream (one of these bridges is now deep below Australia Square) and built a number of houses and the hospital.

His fortune and his reputation soon grew and he was held in high esteem by the Governor and given a complete pardon in 1809. In the same year the only Roman Catholic priest in the colony was expelled and NSW was to remain priestless until 1820. Open catholic worship for this period was banned. An unconsumed Host was left behind by the priest and Dempsey kept this at his house on Kent St. and used it as a rallying point for the large catholic population.

Meetings at his house were common and on Sundays large crowds would spill out onto the street. Dempsey organised a number of men into a group of lay-Carmelites and they lived at his house. His house became a spiritual and communal centre for the considerable disenfranchised Irish/catholic population. He fell out of favour with the Governor, needless to say.

When a priest finally arrived in 1820 Dempsey was still filled with zealous zeal and went about the construction of the first RC chapel in Australia. On an undesireable piece of land at the outskirts of the town (the present-day site of St. Mary's Cathedral) he started work. He was to sink his whole fortune into it and it was to become his life's work- it sent him bankrupt and he went traveling the world to raise funds for it. It was finally completed before his death in 1838. It burnt to the ground 27 years later and was replaced by the present grand structure.
The following history was written by my grandmother in 1971.
Tom Fletcher

The James Dempsey Story

Veronica Walker

"In every man, there is an abyss that man can only fill with God." -Pascal.

In the last quarter of the 19th Century, the dreadful burden of the English penal laws had finally begun to bow to the very ground the humiliated shoulders of Irishmen.

The American and French Revolutions had excited in the minds of oppressed men new ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity. Borne on the breath of hope, a small wind of change began to stir and agitate.

Restlessness and hope were not primarily of a religious nature, and certainly not wholly concerned with Catholics. Irish Protestant non-conformists were equally penalised politically. But, Protestant or Catholic though the ideas might have been, the British Government found them particularly unwelcome at a time when it was at war with France, the home of such revolutionary schemes.

Pitt, who was the English Prime Minister of the day, was prepared to be moderate and considerate of many of the new demands; but he was practically alone in this, and the rock on which he finally split in 1800 was the king's refusal to accept the principle of Catholic Emancipation.

To meet the situation in Ireland, the British decided on what they called a policy of "pacification",and it was this system which ultimately led to the Rebellion of 1798. Not having a large enough British Army to spare for Ireland, the Government compromised by relying on "local yeomanry" to keep matters under control. This showed a brutal and totally unsophisticated lack of knowledge of the Irish. An Irishman could possibly bear to be spied upon by an Englishman, but to be betrayed by one of his own countrymen must have been bitter indeed. Protestants and Catholics alike at last found something common in rebellion. The whole scheme was on open invitation to civil war. Old scores were paid off, property "confiscated", and religious differences flared into bitterness and hate.

The early part of 1798 saw the "troubles" infesting first Ulster in Northern Ireland, then extending to Deinster in the south-east. This part of Ireland includes the counties of Wexford and Wicklow, south of Dublin.

The risings in these parts ended in a welter of blood and punitive raids, marked by cruelty and more terror. This savagery was matched in turn by the excesses of the Irish -atrocities were not one-sided. It settled nothing at the time, and here and now, nearly two centuries later, its legacy of hate is still to be seen on the television broadcasts from Derry and Belfast.

The Irish have never been winners in a material sense. If there 1s one standard they have carried gallantly into the thickest and bloodiest battles, one empire for which they have united in continuing effort, it has to be Christ's. Ireland has been a seething, striving hotbed of rebellion and outraged nationhood for as long as the Irish themselves can remember. Moore, one of her own sweetest singers, wrote of her:

"Erin, thy silent tear never shall cease,

Erin, thy languid smile ne'er shall increase

Till, like the rainbow light

Thy various tints unite

And form in Heaven's sight one arch of peace."

Moore should have known his own countrymen, but it seems an awful lot to ask of Irishmen.

Dungeon, fire and sword have failed to quell their love of Christ with the result that Ireland has been the greatest missionary parent from whose loins have sprung sons and daughters to travel to the four corners of the globe, carrying His word, one way or another .

Back in 1978 in Wexford lived one such son who, although he did not know it, or perhaps would not have chosen it, was destined to become a most ardent disciple of Christ and one of the first Confessors of the Faith in a strange unknown land, more than ten thousand miles away. His name was James Dempsey.

He had a wife and four children, one of them only a small baby. He supported them well at his trade of stone mason. He was probably born in Wexford, whose records abound with the Dempsey names. It has been 1aw to keep all such records since Cromwellian times, but no actual record of this particular Dempsey has been found in Wexford. Neither do the records reveal just what part he took in the 1798 Rebellion. We only know that he was tried, at Clonmel, in 1802, and given a life sentence of transportation to Botany Bay for his "pretended" connection with Father Dixon at the Battle of Vinegar Hill.

He was never to see his wife again, because she died probably some time before 1820. There is no record of any of his children, except Cornelius, ever going to Australia.

Any and all of the Australian history books can tell of the frightful conditions in the early days of the colony of N.S.W .To this period, however, has to be contributed one glorious and grateful fact -the firm Catholic faith which we now enjoy. It grew from the tenacious roots thrust into the strange unknown soil then, and was fed and watered by the blood and tears of many of the convicts.

Archbishop Eris O'Brien, in his .'Dawn of Catholicism in Australia" says: "From 1795 to 1841, when transportation ceased, 24 799 Irish convicts had been deported. Although not all of them were Catholics, Irishmen formed the bulk of the Catholic population. There were besides many Catholics of other nationalities."

In the first priestless decades of the colony, the Irish settlers evidently clung to their well known prayers and well-worn Rosary Beads in ceaseless petitions for spiritual and temporal relief. When it came, it was in a form which would not really have surprised them, accustomed as they were to the inscrutable will of God.

When the people of Ireland flared into rebellion in 1798, a rebellion which was crushed with ruthless ferocity, the courts went into familiar action, and the result was a fresh wave of deportees flung up like scum on the alien far away shores of Sydney Cove. King was Governor in 1801, and he expressed his opinion thus: "The Irishmen," he said, "were the most desperate and diabolical characters that could be selected throughout the Kingdom."

Among the men so described was Father O'Neill, whom Philip Gidley King described as "a Catholic priest of most notorious seditions and rebellious principles." What King did not say was tbat Father O'Neill must have been hardy too, having received 275 lashes with a wire "cat" before he even went to trial! With Father O'Neill came Fathers James and Harold, and Father James Dixon. They were treated as ordinary convicts. Permission to execute their priestly functions was refused. In his book,"Builders and Crusaders", T. F. Luscombe writes: "However, one is entitled to believe that there were clandestine activities. It is highly unlikely that men of this calibre would be over-awed and cowed by the prohibitions of officialdom. They were both Catholic priests ,and Irish rebels, and it can surely be assumed that, following their arrival,there were many secret Baptisms and whispered prayers and benedictions, perhaps a hidden Mass when opportunity presented itself on rare occasions. In this fashion, the priests brought grace and renewed hope to the neglected Catholic community."

On the second voyage of the ship 'Atlas" to the colony, there arrived over one hundred Irish deportees, among them, James Dempsey. They disembarked at Sydney Cove on October 3Oth, 1802.

Several outlines of James Dempsey's part in the dawn of Catholicity in the colony of N.S.W. have been written. They all say, in essence, that he was, and remained, a devoted practising Catholic. He held his Faith firmly and dearly. He was not a troublemaker and was held in esteem, even by his gaolers and the Government, but no wish for peace, no fear of reprisals, no loss of fortune or favour could make him attend any other Church services other than Catholic. He remained loyal and firm to his Church to the day he died, and by so doing, earned the love of the Catholics and the respect of the Protestants alike.

J.W. Colagon, writing in the Catholic Weekly of May 14th, 1953, says of him, among much else, that he was a man of "genuine piety". In the Catholic Archives in Adelaide were found some anonymous scribbled notes which read: "James Dempsey, a stone mason, sent out for the part he took in the rising of 1798 was a native of Wexford. A man of genuine piety, he often wept in his captivity, for though his irreproachable character caused him to be allowed to execute his trade and exempted him from being 'assigned', he felt his deprivation of all religious aid as keenly as the Jews who "could not sing the songs of the Lord in a strange land, who wept when they remembered Zion".

The first official record of James Dempsey in New South Wales is found in the General Muster of August, 1806, which reports that as a prisoner he arrived in the ship. Atlas'. on its second voyage in 1802, and that he was working on the Dawes Point Battery in Sydney.

Governor Macquarie's Register of Conditional Pardons (1810) shows that Dempsey had been granted a Conditional Pardon Certificate by Lieutenant Governor William Patterson on June 3, 1809, which he surrendered on Feb 8. 1810. The reason for his surrender of the pardon is disclosed in a petition which Dempsey addressed to Governor Macquarie soon afterwards, seeking confirmation of what he regarded as an Absolute Pardon. His petition read in part: "Petition to his Excellency, Gov. Lachlan Macquarie, from James Dempsey, overseer of stone-masons, who is nearly 11 years in trouble and never charged in this colony". (Eleven years of patient acceptance of his bitter sentence, and no reproaches, either by word or conduct! No seditious rebel, this "man of genuine piety" and "irreproachable character". The petition was of course drawn up for him. Later letters to Father Therry in his own hand reveal an unfamiliarity with written English. He probably knew Gaelic better.

The petition added that "he held the overseer position for the last four years (1806-1810), and has gained the goodwill of Governor, Engineers and Officers-in-Command. On request of his Engineer and recommendation of Foveaux (Lieutenant Governor) he obtained from Colonel Patterson an Absolute Pardon on 4th June last. And at the petitioner being possest(sic) of the greatest desire of seeing his wife and four children which he left behind, yet his fidelity to those gentlemen from whom he received so much kindness would not allow him so much as to quit Government employ until they were fully satisfied, and willing to discharge him, he remains. Your Excellency being pleased to call in those grants by proclamation (the pardon) I am yet emboldened from your Excellency's speech in being a father and protector of the poor, that you, in your gracious humanity, will be pleased to sanction that grant which I hope by inspecting into my character I will be found deserving, and as in duty bound, your petitioner shall stay. James Dempsey.

In 1810 Macquarie also received a notice from John Ahearne (Superintendent of the New Store and Assistant Engineer) and James Dempsey (Overseer of Stonemasons) which sets out that this partnership had purchased a piece of land in the Rocks area and they were applying for the necessary grant -which was given. This was the first indication of this partnership between Ahearne and Dempsey which was to be a long lasting one; and involved many real estate transactions.

There is a record on Nov 1, 1810, that Mr D'Arcy Wentworth, as Superintendent of Police, paid James Dempsey, on instructions from the Governor, £24 in cash for work on three bridges across the Tank Stream. The Tank Stream, now hidden far beneath Australia Square, still goes chattering and tumbling along its bed to come out in Sydney Cove. Traces of the old stone bridges were found when excavations for Australia Square were being done. A workman, who knew my connection with James Dempsey, gave me a piece of stonework and I held it in my hand and wondered if my great-great-great grandfather, James Dempsey, had also held it in his, long ago, in 1810.

In the census taken in 1811, James Dempsey is listed (though only at that one time) as coming from Wicklow.

On March 11, 1811 (just in time for St Patrick's Day), in Governor Macquarie's despatches, are notices of absolute pardon for James and John Ahearne.

In 1811 also, Dempsey was paid £37 for work as a stonemason, engaged on the building and enclosing of a house for Ellis Sent, the Judge Advocate.

On May 26th, 1812, Dempsey and Ahearne purchased for £30 Sterling land and a dwelling house at No 2 Church St. (now York St) The Rocks, the vendor being Mrs Sarah Wills.

In the 1814 Muster his entry read: "Dempsey James, arrived by 2nd Atlas; off stores: (meaning that he was entirely self supporting) free a stone mason, residing at Sydney."

Indicative of James Dempsey's real estate and other activities are the following records: "Sydney Gazette" March 25 1815: To be sold by private contract, a neat and commodious house, behind the Barracks (presumably in Kent St.) the property of James Dempsey, from whom particulars may be known.

Aug 28th 1815: Governor Macquarie requested D'Arcy Wentworth to pay £20 to James Dempsey for having provided an inscription stone for the new Military Barracks at Sydney. The Wentworth papers also record that on Sept 8 1815 James Meehan (the famous Jimmy "Mane", one of the men of the '98) by then the Deputy Surveyor-General, requested Wentworth to pay Mr James Dempsey £21.6.0 from the Police Fund in currency, in payment of a house near Cockle Bay (now Darling Harbour) "intended to be taken down to form a new street".

Sept 16th, 1815: "To be let or sold by private contract on the most reasonable terms, a neat and commodious stone dwelling house, 2 storeys high, consisting of four rooms, a kitchen and granary, and a large outhouse, which may be converted into a stable with pure water and an extensive allotment of garden ground. The premises are well worthy of the attention of a purchaser, being eligibly situate in Prince St. (which stretched from Charlotte Place to Dawes Pt) -Apply to James Dempsey, Kent St.

It would appear then, that by the end of 1815, James Dempsey, through hard work as a stone mason, was acquiring a modest fortune and some property. In addition, he was now also entered the liquor trade in a small way. In the "Sydney Gazette" of July 27, 1816, there appeared a notice which informed one and all "For Sale at James Dempsey's Kent St., some very capital rum, lately from the Isle of France 101- sterling per gallon.Upon taking 25 gallons an abatement will be made."

Writing in the Catholic Weekly on May 1st, 1953,in an article entitled "Catholics of the Dawn Era", J.R. Cologon has this to say of James Dempsey "His abilities as a stone mason freed him from 'assignment' and left him free to exercise his trade. He devoted all his earnings to supplying the great need of Catholics in those days -a house where they might practice those duties of their religion possible in such circumstances. This house was in Kent St, and here Fr. Jeremiah O'Flynn met the flock for a while."

To jump ahead a little, a report in the 'Sydney Gazette' of Saturday Jan 6, 1827, is possibly connected with the traditional story that around him, James Dempsey had gathered a fraternity of elderly needy men. He was himself a Carmelite tertiary , and his 'lay community' of men used to pray together and live together in the Kent St. house. Now this report came out in 1827, long after Fr O'Flynn's arrival, and subsequent deportation -but whether the community was formed then or before Fr. O'Flynn even came, is not clear .

James Dempsey seems to have been an ideal prisoner, and later, free citizen. He must have been manna from heaven to Macquarie, the building Governor, who had so few free men who were skilled or willing enough to enable him to transpose his dreams into stone and mortar. Dempsey was skilled and willing. Whatever his role or his associations in the Vinegar Hill rising away back in Ireland, he seems to have been the least recalcitrant of men in his bondage. He certainly could have had no part in the last desperate ill-advised stand the Irish convicts made at Castle Hill in 1804, when an abortive attempt was made to overthrow the Government. For does he not confidently write of himself in his petition for pardon to Governor Macquarie in 1810 "--- James Dempsey ---who is nearly eleven years in trouble and never charged in this colony". As to that, Father Dixon, with whom James Dempsey's name is associated in the Irish rising of '98, "exerted himself nobly on the side of order and humanity" in the 1804 rising at Castle Hill, thereby winning the approval of the Government. "Curious facts of old Colonial Days." James Bonwick F.R.G.C.

It seems unlikely that either Fr. Dixon or James Dempsey either did or said anything heinous enough to ever merit the terrible punishments they received.

Sydney as seen from Flagstaff Hill in the early Twenties The small rocky island mid channel is Pinchgut. To it’s right is Garden Island stretching towards Woolloomooloo Bay. On this island once reposed the ashes of Ellis Bent, Judge Advocate of NSW 1810-1815. Immediately below Pinchgut or Mattewaiye is Fort Macquarie. To the right of the shipping is Custom House and the Lockup. The immediate foreground is the medical officer attached to the military hospital and to its right is High Street and the old Hospital buildings To the extreme right of the obelisk is the residence of the Chief Justice, the Colonial Secretary and then the Guardhouse. The three story building in front of these is the residence of Simeon Lord To the left and above the obelisk is Government House.


Dr P O'Farrell says in his "The Catholic Church in Australia" -"it was criminals proper, thieves and men of violence and cunning who had made up the great majority of Irish transporters --earlier, one third and overall one fifth were not common criminals". James Dempsey clearly belonged to this saving '"one third."

One of the transporters in connection with the 1798 Rebellion, who was soon emancipated, was Michael Hayes. By unflagging correspondence with his brother, Richard, a Franciscan monk in Rome, he finally managed to impress upon the Church Authorities in England and Ireland the dire need of a priest for the Catholics in Australia, and the end result was that Fr Jeremiah O'Flynn left for Sydney and arrived there in November 1817. His credentials were never in order as far as Governor Macquarie and his administration were concerned -in fact they never arrived at all, although he was in the Colony for six and a half months before he was deported.

The mists of time and reverent remembrance have drawn a gentle veil over Fr O'Flynn for many Catholics, thereby obscuring the blatant mistakes of a well-meaning egotist. He emerges as a Catholic folk hero and martyr (a) because he was deported (through his own fault actually!) by Macquarie, and (b) because he left the Blessed Sacrament behind.

My grandmother who was the great granddaughter of James Dempsey, often unwilling to condemn a man out-of-hand (but knowing him to be unworthy of commendation too) used the phrase: "He was a well-meaning foolish, poor fellow!" She could have been describing Fr O'Flynn. Certainly, he had zeal and piety, but Fr O'Brien, who seems to be his most discerning critic, refers to his "unbalanced character and lack of practical sense." He laments the fact to, that well meaning though Fr O'Flynn mIght have been, he "never sought advice and could not bear restraint."

He was nevertheless a Catholic Priest and the Catholics, particularly the Irish of good intent, desperate for1he comfort of their long withheld religion, took him deep into their hearts and starved spiritual lives.


Many accounts have bee written by historians of this period on the lives of the first Australian Catholics, their information having been taken from word of mouth accounts on the whole. As far as I know the only recorder of these times who also lived the events was Columbus Fitzpatrick. In a series of letters and articles, contributed to the pages of the "Southern Argus" of Goulburn, he covered many aspects of the colony's religious and social life from 1811, when he reached Australia as a very small boy, till about 1865 when he was a man of 55. He was still writing in 1876, 7 but the 1818 to 1838 period is the time that most nearly concerns James Dempsey.

In 1820, Fr Therry arrived. Columbus could only have been about 10 years of age, but as he wrote himself " there is no man living who has had so many and such great opportunities of seeing and hearing all that was in any way connected with our holy religion since the time Fr O'Flynn came to this country ."

The Fitzpatricks were evidently the first native Australian Catholic family to attain a high educational standard. There were three sons, and their mother had been a Catholic school mistress in Dublin. She taught the boys herself and was a devoted catechist while the colony had no priest. Particularly, she established and developed the love and knowledge of music among those good and zealous citizens she managed to find -Catholic and protestant alike. No man loved music more than James Dempsey. His love, carefully fostered and lovingly transmitted exists right throughout his descendants today. It was not at all surprising then to learn from the *letters of Columbus Fitzpatrick that James Dempsey delighted in making his home available for "a few good people who could sing in church services --My mother and a man named McGuire used to meet at Mr Dempsey's to teach the youth of both sexes to sing. "

* Monsignor Duffy has edited them, and they are published by the Catholic press Newspaper under the title "Catholic Religious and social life in the Macquarie Era." Price 40c.

In the years following the arrival of Fr Therry, this love of music among the Irish Catholics, and many other denominations, was so fostered and nourished, that by the time Dr Polding arrived in 1835 he was 'quite astonished to hear Mozart's mass sung in Botany Bay, and well sung, too'. But I digress in wishing to point out that Columbus Fitzpatrick grew up in close association with James Dempsey and other pioneer Catholics, and the boy must have been in and out of the house in Kent St, next door to the residence of Thomas Day, the boat builder, described in an old "Sydney Gazetten as "situated by the water In Cockle Bay". Since Columbus must have seen much and heard his elders discuss much that happened, following the arrival of Fr O'Flynn in November 1817, (when Columbus was about seven) it seems reasonable to take his word (written as a man of 55) as to what actually happened in and about James Dempsey's house in Kent St. Other historians mention use of this house by Fr O'Flynn. J. H. Cologon, in the Cath. Weekly of May 14, 1953, writes: "This (Dempsey's) house was in Kent St. and here Fr Jeremiah O'Flynn met the flock for a while.'

In some anonymous scribbled notes found in a folder in the Adelaide Archives is written of Dempsey: "He was at the period we write of a widower and he now devoted all his earnings to supply a want, so much felt, of having a house to shelter those few good men who, despite the floggings ordered by Clerical Magistrates for not attending the Protestant Services on Sunday, kept their faith without faltering. This house was situated in Kent St. and a few doors from Erskine St. This house was "the upper chamber of Jerusalemn. In his "The Catholic Church in Australian, Dr Patrick O'Farrell writes: "Dempsey's house had more than local importance, it was a meeting place for Catholics from other settlements, such as Parramatta, Liverpool and Campbelltown, where Catholics formed themselves into committees for prayer and society."

Columbus Fitpatrick again writing for the Goulburn " Argus" says: "the real Catholics still continued to meet at Mr Dempsey's until the arrival of Father Connolly and Father Therry; in fact, it was no " unusual thing to see Catholics from the most distant part of the colony assembled there. After the Departure of Fr O'Flynn the Catholics formed themselves into committees ---so that there was a union in prayer and an intercourse of intelligence amongst all classes of Catholics in the country, all emanating from, and culminating to the great centre in Kent St. In those days when there was no railroad, no coaches and very few horses, it was not counted a wonder to see a man walk, from Campbelltown to Sydney, or from Windsor to Sydney, on purpose to hear from some of the late arrivals, something about the home (Ireland) they loved so dearly. To these men Mr Dempsey's house was more than St Mary's was to us". (This letter was written after the fire which destroyed the first St Mary's).


Father Jeremiah O'Flynn arrived in the colony on Nov 9, 1817. According to accounts ot1hose days written by Michael Hayes, Fr O'Flynn was an illegal immigrant from the points of view of Governor Macquarie and the British Government. He was never properly accredited as a Catholic minister to the colony, and nothing he did or said to the Authorities after his arrival advanced his case in his own favour. He gave himself the impressive title of Vicar General, and even Macquarie, on hearing this, hesitated to take any positive action against his entry at first. His papers were supposed to follow him, but they never did arrive of course and after six and a half months, he was deported.

If Fr O'Flynn had been a little less cocksure and a little more inclined to listen to the advice of cooler headed men, his story might have been different. He was needed, and Macquarie, who was no fool, would probably have been much more sympathetic, knowing the softening influences and the fountain of grace their religion might well prove to the Irish Catholics, many of them so hardened in sin and rebellion. Instead, with what was and is so often only remembered reverently as heroism and unflinching devotion to his faith and calling, but which in reality bordered on plain pigheaded stupidity, he ranged far and wide between Sydney, Windsor and Parramatta, being passed secretly from one courageous Catholic settler to another, thereby placing many of them in horrifying jeopardy.

He managed to elude Macquarie's soldiers until after the "Duke of Wellington" sailed. Then he came out of hiding and openly ministered to the 10 000 Catholics in the young settlement.

When in Sydney he frequently celebrated mass at Dempsey's. The present day James Dempsey, who lives at Emu Flat, has in his possession an old crucifix and two brass candlesticks which, in the family tradition, were used at the first Masses said in Australia. It is very likely that they were used on the table which would have been Fr O'Flynn's altar in the first James Dempsey's house in Kent St. They must surely be among the most valuable Catholic relics in Australia. Of course, this situation did not last long, and, finally, on May 15th, 1818, Macquarie's soldiers arrested Fr O'Flynn, he was taken on board the ship "David Shaw" , and with no further chance for communicating with anyone at all on shore, he sailed out of Sydney Cove on May 2Oth, 1818. His story is a sad one, as is the story of most silly men who do not know themselves to be so.

However, he was a Catholic priest, and he had six and a half months in which to minister to his battered, tattered flock. In that time, who can calculate the efficacy of the grace that poured through his administration of the sacraments to the sad children of God in N.S.W.? Certainly he must have put peace and hope into the hearts of many troubled living men, by baptising the children, regularising unions, and hearing confessions, and perhaps even greater peace and hope into the hearts of the dying. When a man is about to face God, he needs a human hand to hold. What peace to the soul of a dying Catholic if the hand he holds is that of a Catholic priest.

However, time and Macquarie's soldiers marched inexorably on, and one tradition has it that when Fr O'Flynn was arrested on May 15th, 1818, he had no time to consume a previously consecrated host, which was therefore left at the home of James Dempsey. Another tradition has it that, in imitation of his Divine Master, he left the Sacred Host on purpose, to be a consolation to the bereaved Catholics he was leaving behind. There is no written proof that either version is correct, but surely he was forced to leave the Host, having no choice in the matter. He was quixotic, and headstrong to a degree, but surely even he would not have so flagrantly disobeyed strictest Canon Law. Common sense, and the law of averages, dictate that he simply had no time to go back and consume the Host. All his vestments and books were left behind too.

For years it was belieyed that the house in which the Sacred Host was left was that of William Davis is Charlotte Place (noW the Sisters of Mercy Convent at St Patrick's, Church Hill.)

The more generally known and accepted accounts of this tradition were taught in Catholic schools throughout Australia, relying mainly on references in history books by Dr Allathorne, Bishop Polding, Dean Kenny, Dom Birt, James Bonwick and Cardinal Moran. Actually, there was no first class documentary evidence to prove that the Sacred Host was ever left at all, in anybody's house, and certainly Fr O'Flynn appears never to have mentioned it. Whether he would have, in any case, is debatable.

(For more info on the Davis story, see the St. Patrick’s RC Church page)

The Sacred Host is supposed to have been eventually found intact and consumed by the chaplain of the French frigate "Urania" which put into Sydney Cove on November 18, 1819. He was Abbe Florence Lewis de Cuellen de Killeglee. The ship remained until Dec 26.

Governor Macquarie notes in his journal for Nov 25 1819 that Captain Preycinet, accompanied by Madame Preycinet, the Abbe and officers, went to Government House, Parramatta, and stayed as guest until Nov 26. Macquarie makes no mention of the Abbe's contact with the Catholics of the colony, or of his finding the Sacred Host. The Abbe, in fact, according to Columbus Fitzpatrick's account "could not understand or speak English". Columbus says he used an interpreter in James Dempsey's house, an old French gentleman called Louis, who was "of great service to the Catholics" and certainly the mind boggles at the idea of his trying without English, to convey to Macquarie what it must have meant to him to find the Sacred Host.

All things and the times considered, and remembering that the Abbe was a guest in a Protestant Governor's house -a Governor whose Government had just uneasily concluded a war with France - it was doubtful if the matter came up at all. Columbus insists that the French Abbe's "Communion with the Catholics showed our separate brethren one of the advantages of our religion, and raised the Catholics in the eyes of the Governor and the public, who were astonished to find that the enlightened gallant officers of the "Uriana" worshipped God at the same altar, and in the same manner as did their poor and depressed Catholic fellow townsmen. That these officers, who were so polite and who were on visiting terms at Government House should kneel down with the poor Irish --kneel in that small room, jn that obscure house, was to the Protestants a source of astonishment "


Lacking first class documentary evidence, the whole story is judged by many students of the times and lives of the early Catholics, to be a mass of contradictions, based on second class, or indirect evidence. But I know the story, in essence, is true, because my grandmother told me of it no more that forty years ago. Her name was Jane Mary Lynch, and she lived in Narooma. She had been Jane Gallagher, and her mother, Mary Gallagher (nee Dempsey) had been the third child of Cornelius Dempsey. Cornelius was the only child of James Dempsey who followed him to Australia. She used to tell us about her own and her mother's childhood spent about thirty miles from Braidwood, and of our forbears who had come from Ireland.

As I remember the story, she used to speak with great reverence of someone called "grandfather", and she would say: "We are a greatly honoured family, you know, because when Fr O'Flynn was sent back to Ireland, by Governor Macquarie, he left the Blessed Sacrament behind in Grandfather's house".

James Dempsey was her Great Grandfather, but the house in Kent St was for a short time also the house where her grandfather (Cornelius) lived with his father, James. I did not question her very closely about this story from, of all reasons, a sense of embarrassment that she, my elder, was making a mistake. We had been taught at school that the Sacred Host had been left in the house of William Davis. I would not have dreamed of contradicting her. I loved her so much; so, to my everlasting regret, I did not question her closely. I was very young then.

She was a most marvellous storyteller, but she would not have made up a story like that, and besides, with hindsight, I realise now that she had probably not heard of William Davis. However , as I grew older and read the contradictory stories myself, I felt sure that she was simply stating what she had been told, and felt to be true, and so do I. As well as the story of her Great Grandfather's house, she gave me Mary Dempsey's little bible, and I treasure them both.

So when Fr O'Flynn sailed out of Sydney Cove of May 15, 1818, I think that we can believe that James Dempsey found, to his mingled awe and anxiety, that he was in his own house, host to a Divine Guest, that he was the protector, in this vicious and violent land, of the King of Kings. I hope he prayed for help to St Joseph.

I have already mentioned his care of the poor and needy men in his home. Now he formed them into "Guardsmen", and they took turns; day and night. in watching before the little pyx that contained the Lord of the World. Columbus Fitzpatrick, who saw the scene with his wondering child-eyes, described it thus: "---he (Fr O'Flynn} left the Blessed Sacrament in a pyx with Mr Dempsey, who consecrated the best room in his house for the safe keeping of what he prized more than any earthly treasure. To guard against any misfortunes, and to insure the safe keeping of the Blessed Sacrament, Mr Dempsey secured the assistance of five or six other religious old men, whose whole duty and pleasure it was to watch and pray in that room, in which an altar had been erected and a tabernacle "placed to receive the holy pyx".

Thus the house in Kert St became the Catholic Centre of Sydney. Fr Therry's diary of July 7, 1821, has an entry: "Heard Confessions at Dempsey's". So it must have remained for quite a while, even after the advent of Fr Therry and Fr Connolly.

Now James Dempsey began to lose some of the Official favour he had previously enjoyed for his irreproachable conduct and skilled workmanship. His open support and sheltering of Fr O'Flynn did not advance him in Macquarie's favour, and since after Fr O'Flynn's departure, Dempsey not only refused to attend Protestant services on Sundays, but openly made his house free to all Catholics for the practise of whatever religious exercises were possible without a priest, he was put on the Governmental list of "incorrigibles".

Macquarie had, of course, very good reason to watch even the faintest signs of rebellion or sedition with very wary and narrowed eyes.

It surely could have been at this time, when he was under a cloud officially, and his house must have been watched fairly closely, that James Dempsey, conferring with his fellow Catholics of sense and caution, might have decided to move the Sacred Host to William Davis' house for safer keeping. Perhaps this is how the contradictions arose, as to where it was left in the first place. This, however, is only conjecture on my part.


After the coming of Fr Therry and Fr Connolly on May 3, 1820, James Dempsey became involved in the Catholic life of the Colony to an even deeper extent, Not only was his home still a refuge for the old and the needy, and an unofficial presbytery for Fr Therry , but at a meeting held in Sydney Court House of June 30, 1820, it was decided to build a chapel. James Dempsey being the infant colony's best stone mason, was made overseer of the work.

The "Sydney Gazette" of July l' 1820, reports that James Dempsey and William Davis were appointed to the committee of subscribers set up at the meeting in the Sydney Court House, to manage and conduct and select a site for the building of the first Roman Catholic Chapel in Sydney -old St Mary's. Dempsey's name appears separately in the published list of subscribers to the chapel building fund.

In the "Sydney Gazette" of April 28,1821, James Dempsey was listed among "old settlers who are to have additional lands allocated to them in the year 1821 ". I could not find out where this land was. It was not the property which the Dempsey's still hold at Emu Flat, 30 miles from Braidwood. Emu Flat was a land grant of 1030 acres made to Cornelius Dempsey in 1838, and has remained in direct descent in the family ever since. He owned land at Wiberforce too, but this had already been offered for sale, thirty cleared acres, on Jan 15, 1820.

No doubt, James Dempsey was very much to the fore on the memorable Spring day in 1821, when Governor Macquarie lard the foundation stone of the first St Mary's with an inscribed silver trowel, which he afterwards Wiped with a silk handkerchief and tucked away in the breast of his tunic! (The trowel, not the handkerchief.)

The "Sydney Gazette" of Dec 1 st 1821, discloses that James Dempsey's subscription to the Chapel fund was £30.


On Dec 15, 1821, the "Sydney Gazette" reports a happening that must have given James Dempsey great joy. The ship "Minerva" arrived from England and on her passenger list was Mr Cornelius Dempsey, aged 21 -the baby son that James Dempsey had last seen in 1802. No doubt there had been exchanges of letters over the long, bitter years, but how the lonely aging man must have feasted on every expression on his son's face, drinking in each scrap of news, asking for details, and wishIng for repetitions.

"In every man there is an abyss that man can only fill with God". God had truly filled the abyss of James Dempsey's life. To God's work he had, as far as he understood it, devoted his toil and his love, and God had seen him honoured and prosperous, though men sought to dishonour and break him.

He had nearly filled the abyss of his exile with God by filling it with the needs of his fellow men. But a father longs for his son -a man's family is the greatest part of God in his heart -the abyss had never been quite filled till this day.

He was as he revealed in a letter written to Fr Therry from Whitechapel on Oct 24, 1828, eventually to become very disillusioned with the young man who sat facing him, giving him news of home and loved ones. But he could not foresee the future, and on that wonderful day in December, 1821, ten days before they celebrated Christmas together, his pride and longing must have drawn them both close in magic bonds of mutual love.

' Now a good yarn should not spoil for the want of a touch of embroidery and this lace-edged (Irish lace, that is!) story, I give you now. It seems that one evening at dusk, the young Con Dempsey was leaving an Irish fair, he crossed a gypsy's palm with silver, and she told him this fortune: "One day, you will cross wild strange oceans,and, stepping ashore in an even wilder and stranger land, you will there marry a woman you pick out of the gutter ."

Young Con crossed himself hastily, and hurried on, hoping no one had heard. And the gypsy smiled a white smile in her dark and dusky face, and the silver hoops in her ears circled and swung in the waning light. One day in 1824, as young Con Dempsey went whistling along a crooked street in Sydney Town, enjoying the early winter sunshine, and with no particular cares at all, a horse in a gig suddenly reared and bolted, the gig swaying and lurching in the ruts and holes left by bullock drays. A white-faced, terrified girl clung desperately to the sides and the reins trailed dangerously. In no time at all the gig overturned, and she was thrown out at Con Dempsey's feet. He picked her up gently from the muddy gutter. She was shaken but not much hurt. Her name was Jane McGuigan. He told her the story of the Irish gypsy some time after they were married by Fr Therry on 16th August of that very year, 1824. James Dempsey was witness, with his friend James Norton, to the wedding of his son. Later, Jane told the story to her little girl Mary, who told it to herlittle girl Jane, my grandmother, who told it to me.

 

Cornelius Dempsey


After the arrival of his son in 1821, James Dempsey continued to live at Kent St for some years, as subsequent advertisements in the "Sydney Gazette" seem to indicate. On July 4th, 1822, he transferred one Kent St holding to Joseph Moore. Dempsey's name appears in the 1822 muster of colonists as a free man, a stone mason, resident in Sydney. On Nov 15, 1822, he advertised for sale or letting a house near the waterside, in Suffolk St, and still gave Kent St as his address.

It is not known where Cornelius and Jane lived directly after they were married. Their first two children, James Nicholas and Esther were registered as born in Sydney and baptised by Fr Therry - James Nicholas on 11th Sept 1826, and Esther at George's River on Monday, March 31st, 1830. After that, Cornelius and Jane must have moved up Braidwood way. The grant of land for Emu Flat was not until 1838. But Mary Dempsey, their third child, and my great grandmother, was born at Molongolo on Sunday, June 15th, 1834. She also was baptised by Fr Therry. At this time, Jane had a married sister, Mary Ann Campbell, living at Gundillion, which was only two miles from Emu Flat. She also had a brother John, married and living somewhere near where Canberra stands today. (John, incidentally, had eight daughters, one of whom pecame Mother Francis McGuigan, Superior of the Sisters of Charity for 26 years.)

Old entries in a Dempsey bible show that after the birth of Mary Dempsey, my great grandmother, at Molongolo, Cornelius and Jane Dempsey had five more children, all born upBraidwood way.

John was born on Wednesday, Oct 19, 1836 at Molongolo and was also baptised by Fr Therry. Cornelius was born on May 19, 1839 at Emu Flat and was baptised by Fr Murphy; the Vicar General. Denis, who was the grandfather of James Dempsey who now, in 1971, owns Emu Flat, was born on May 17, 1841, at Emu,Flat and was baptised by Fr Hogan. Ambrose was born at Emu Flat on Aug 12, 1843, and baptised by Fr Brennan. Myles was born at Emu Flat on Nov 17th, 1845, and was baptised by Fr Welch, To continue the story of the line to the recent day, 1971, Denis had a son Cornelius, (Con) Dempsey who was born on 27th June, 1876 and died on 24th May, 1937. Con's son, James, now owns the Emu Flat property .He has a son, Denis, who has a son, James, aged 14 months. Little James being the seventh generation Dempsey living in Australia.

From 1823 onwards, any "mention of James Dempsey in old Sydney papers and records serves to emphasise the fact that he was very active in helping Fr Therry with his plans to erect a Catholic chapel in Sydney Town, 'Also James Dempsey apparently still offered hospitality and devoted some of his money to the care of the old men who prayed together and lived together as a religious "lay community". Early in 1827 this following new item appears in the "Sydney Gazette.": "On Wednesday night, Colour Sergeant Hutchinson of the 3rd Regiment (Buffs) living at the house of Mr James Dempsey Kent St ---was taken suddenly ill ---and expired. The deceased was an old soldier." No mention could be found of the other men who lived and prayed at Dempsey's except one John Butler who is described as one of Dempsey's "guardsmen" and helped on the building of St Mary's.

James Dempsey's expenses with regard to his work on the Chapel and his maintenance of his house of hospitality must have been considerable. Time after time his name appears as having given sums of money, as donations, and in the "Sydney Gazette" of Oct 3, 1825, we read that the Colonial Fund Statement disclosed a payment to the Rev J. J. Therry of a donation being the amount of 250 pieces of scantling, purchased by J. Dempsey at the Lumber Yard sales for £72."

However, the financial burdens, seemingly, began to weigh a bit too heavily, and from "The Therry Papers" we read this letter, written in Sydney on Dec 31st, 1823.

"Revd John Joseph Therry,

Revd Sir,

It is with reluctance that I am obliged to inform you that I can no longer continue to carry on the work of St Mary's Church, as my means is completely exhausted, for along with expending my own money, I have trespassed on that of others entrusted to my charge. I was unwilling, that anything disrespectful should be said of that building, or that the men should have any cause to complain of bad payments. I also relied on your word and promise, when it appeared you were not satisfied to stop the work. This last fortnight, I have been called upon by two persons of whose money I had sums in charge, and were I to be called by every person whose money I am entrusted with, I assure you I would be obliged to sell either my homes of cattle to meet the demands, and I should think it were hard, should such be made, if I could not discharge them without those resources. It is wholly impossible for me to carry on the building any longer on my own accounts, for the great expense which is likely to be incurred now, with sawyers, carpenters, masons and labourers, will require a great deal of money to commence upon.

The mason work on the main building will require 14 or 16 men, between the quarry and the building. Carriage of stone will not be less than 10 or 15 shillings per day. Two pounds ten shillings per week will hardly defray the expense of time. Watchmen, blacksmiths, etc. will add to the expenditure. The sum now advanced by me on account of the building is very little less than three hundred pounds, and this I hope you will see settled and acknowledged, as I expect to be paid by some means. My subscription to the Chapel I consider has been fair and liberal according to my means (which are not indeed so great as may be imagined), for on examination it may be found that between me and my son, it amounted to not less than ninety pounds.

Respecting the men you have on the store building to the Chapel, if it meet your approval, I shall endeavour to keep them employed myself for some time, or until means shall have been procured for the carrying on the work again, and I shall give the Chapel funds credit for them, equal to the charge to it of the Government for their service."

(The following is the remainder of the letter, in Dempsey's handwriting, and with the original spelling.)

Reverent Sir, this is known only between you and me. I wish to remind you that some time back you promised me that you would settel with Me pay me with some of them nots of hon you hold belonging to the Chapel fonds. You were pleast to say also that you would Draw mony from Government Before you would have the work stopt. I have told you frequently that I should stop the work. But is appears you seems to take But very litel notice of what I says of leat. You seem very much offended when your own mony was layd out on the Chapel, and told me you never was so munch offended since you came to the Colony as you were by me. But I return thanks to the Almighty God for having it in my power to make i t good out of my own. But it is no use for me to be offended for being out of my mony ever since the Chapel commect as I have. Even when there was plenty of mony in the Bank I was generally advanct from £20 to £100 pounds. But I hope in God that my simpel generasidy wont be the mains of any cooness between you and me. The Builders had being Carred on to this without any complaints respecting the payments, and I hope in God that nothing will take place that will ever bring disgrace on theat Building or on the Minnester of Christ Whome God will be pleasd to in trust with its inspection.

I remain Sir yours truly

James Dempsey.

I hope you will escues the indefernt maner this las is dun as I did not wash to let any other person see or know it.

Poor Fr Therry, who dreamed so eagerly of a church for which many Catholics of the time could not see the pressing necessity -not so large a church, anyhow. People would have supported him willingly if he had been more careful. But Fr Therry was temperamentally unfit for any but grandiose schemes. Francis Green, the wonderful convict architect, employed by Fr Therry to draw up the plans, tried to tell him that he had,no idea what such a large building would eventually cost, and that the Catholics would not be requiring such a large church for at least one hundred years!

Fr John Joseph Therry

Poor James Dempsey who has to bear the brunt of Fr Therry's impossible dreams in terms of worry and financial stringency! It was just as well for their courage and endurance that neither man could foresee in 1832, that by 1865 the whole structure would have burnt to the ground.

In June 1824 this notice appeared in the "Sydney Gazette":

"The Roman Catholic Chaplain has thus publicly to express his thanks to Mr James Dempsey for having allowed £100 to be deducted from a debt recently contracted with him on account of the Catholic Chapel, now erecting at Hyde Park, as an additional donation in Aid of the reduced funds of that building." , 75 Pitt St. June 8, 1824.

Six months later James Dempsey called for "proposals for supplying timber for the Catholic Chapel, Hyde Park."

James Weldersee, in a paper read to the Australian Catholic Historical Society, Sydney, June 5, 1968, remarked that "the circumstances surrounding the building of the first St Mary's" possessed a "similarity to those relating to ---the Sydney Opera House ". He went on to observe that "it is difficult to keep interest and subscriptions up for a project that has only a history of grinding to a halt for long periods at a time." And, of course, Fr Therry did not have a lottery and James Dempsey could not, like Utzon, take the first plane home. Up till August 1824, the funds collected for the building did not include any of the promised pound for pound subsidy from the Government; and yet Macquarie and Brisbane are often lauded by Catholic historians as being tolerant of, and helpful to the Catholics. It need not be forgotten that both Governors had axes to grind -especially Macquarie. His name comes out strongly in history on the side of the emancipated Catholics, but if the picture is to be a fair one, it must be conceded that almost all the emancipists, besides being Catholics,' also had the right skills for Macquarie the builder, from Francis Green the architect right down through the whole gamut of masons, blacksmiths, carpenters and labourers.

In James Wildersee's paper "Old St Mary's" (Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society 1968. Vol 2 Pt 3) he mentions pay sheets which James Dempsey made out in his capacity as overseer. Everyone could see where the money was going. It is interesting today to read the wages received a century and a half ago. Each week's pay sheet averaged twenty to thirty workers "and the skilled among these, mostly masons, were being paid up to £2 and more. Dempsey paid himself £2.2.0 a week as overseer." There were other difficulties besides the financial ones. Fr Eris O'Brien writes as evidence of discrimination against Fr Therry, that when he asked for carpenters, he was sent weavers! Fr Therry did not suffer alone in this regard, for skilled tradesmen of any kind were rare, and to do Macquarie and Brisbane justice, there was more going on in the infant colony than the building of St Mary's.


Dr P O Farrell in his "The Catholic Church in Australia" says that "some Catholic emancipists had grown successful, as property owners and in commerce, a few to the point of considerable wealth. Little of this wealth found its way to the assistance of the Church". Moreover, Fr Therry's ministry tried, with incredible fortitude, to be "a ministry of the sick bed, suffering, death and burial." His dynamism inspired others "to try to match his stature in selflessness and love of his fellow Catholics. His own special charisma surrounded him like a nimbus. Catholics thought nothing of carrying their "children for miles to be baptised by him. His particular ministrations, his very presence, was felt to bring a special blessing. But he was a minister of God's work, not a chartered accountant.

He even began farming and stock breeding in order to raise money for his dreams, but his financial affairs were afways chaotic. No doubt in an effort to help him keep accounts straight, Mrs Winifred Redmond seems to have become a sort of unofficial banker for him. A letter among the Therry papers dated Sept 18, 1824, reads:"J. J. Therry to Mrs W Redmond.

Dear Madam, The public funds being exhaysted, I am obliged on account of the Chapel and through fear of Mr Dempsey's tongue to infringe this evening on my own resources for the sum of fifty pounds." The general opinion of historians, as well as contemporaries of Fr Therry is that there was a great deal of mismanagement.

James Wildersee says of James Dempsey "(Old St Mary's -Journal of the Aust. Cath. Hist. Society 1968)" the more we learn of Dempsey's role in building the first St Mary's, the more we have seen him here as foreman of works, and as financial gadfly, pushing Therry to keep his promises; as well he was a substantial contributor ."

For ten years James Dempsey was in charge of this most frustrating project. His letters tell us only too clearly how hard it was to get the money from Fr Therry, though in justice, it was just as hard for Fr Therry to get it in the first place.

At this time Dempsey made a trip to India to try and collect funds for the Chapel, hoping to interest soldiers in the British Army in India who had known and remembered Fr Therry with gratitude. In October 1825 he sailed in the "Norfolk" for Calcutta. A letter is found among the Therry papers written by James Dempsey, in which he laments his poor reception. He writes: "I took a horse and chaise and a guide to visit the Bishop. It was about five miles distant to Madras. I hoped to have had the pleasure of seeing his Lordship, but as I could not speak Portuguese, he would not come downstairs to see me. I sent him my translation, trying as well as I could to make the messenger understand I wanted approval. He sent it down, having written 10 rupees marked PAID! I had a good mind to send them back again, but was unwilling to give offence, or deprive the funds of one rupee."

No wonder Columbus Fitzpatrick was later to write "--- standing out prominently before them (the early Australian Catholics) is James Dempsey's name, which ought to be inscribed on St Mary's in , letters of Gold; ---he then it was who carried up those good old walls under every advantage '

He returned to Sydney in the "Prince Regenf' which left Calcutta on February 27, 1826. Back in Sydney, his name appears again in an old letter written on Aug 4, 1826. The letter was really a deposition signed by one Elizabeth McKeon with her mark. The letter mentions that James Dempsey was walking with two prisoners, Hugh McLear and Collins, on their way to execution. James Dempsey was attending the prisoners, reading prayers for them at the time.

There is no mention of his name on the 1828 Census, which was the first really comprehensive document of its kind in the Colony. It is possible that he went home that year. He leaves no record of being reunited with his relatives in Ireland, but he did write a letter to Fr Therry from Swan Hill, Whitechapel, dated Oct 24,1828. He described with obvious interest and enthusiasm chapels and Cathedrals he had seen. He sent news of mutual friends and messages for Fr Therry to deliver to AustralIan settlers from loved ones.

sketch of the first St.Mary's by Tiffanie Brown (special thanks to Dennis Dempsey).


About this time of his life some trouble of misunderstanding must have arisen between himself and his son Cornelius. There is no account that I could find, nor any recollection of stories told in the Dempsey family, as to what took place. But bitterness and disapproval mark the concluding paragraphs of the letter to Fr Therry from Whitechapel. The now aging man writes sadly:

"Rev. Sir, the ingratitude I received from my son cannot leave my mind, but he is like many others I met with in that land (Australia) that consider themselves better entitled to what I work hard for than what I was myself. I hope the Lord will accept of the ingratitude on many occasions as part of the punishment due to my numerous sins.

That debt that remains due to me by my you, as you did not think well of paying it to me for I know not what reason, I hope you will pay or cause it to be paid to Chas R Chamber Esq. for the use and benefit of my grandson, James Nicholas Dempsey, as I consider him the same as an orphan from having a bad father and a dilatory mother. That I intend, Mr Chambers, to apply, in giving him education and a good trade. As to his father, if he don't alter his way of life he followed in my time, I would sooner never hear from him, for he has set me entirely against him. I pray that God may send him and give him grace to do better for Soul, and body as for being any comfort or assistance to me, was I in want of it, never expected. I hope you will be kind enough to give my respects to all my friends, they are too numerous to mention all their names.

I remain your humble servant

James Dempsey

Swann Inn, Whitechapel 24th Oct. 1826.

How, and where, he spent the intervening seven years we do not know, but we hear of him again in 1835 to Bishop Folding, on behalf of Fr Therry , who had been threatened with removal from Sydney just before Bishop Polding arrived on Sept 13, 1835, to become the first Catholic Bishop in Australia. This is the last public act of James Dempsey to be found in the old records.

In 1838 his son Cornelius was granted his property then, and still, known as Emu Flat -one thousand and thirty acres on the upper reaches of the Shoalhaven River, 30 miles from Braidwood.

Apparently by this year also James Dempsey made his peace with Cornelius, for in January 1838, he made his Iast will and testament, naming Cornelius as one of his executors and setting out explicit instructions as the the care of his grandchildren, four of whom were born by this date. He provided for the disposal of his pictures and works, his beloved crucifix, and his shaving caddee on which the crucifix always stood. Mr Timothy Maher of No 40 George St, Sydney and Andrew Higgins of the "Cheshire Cheese" Inn, Parramatta Rd. were co-executors with Cornelius. When probated, his personal estate was found not to be in excess of £500, certainly dividing him sharply from the early Catholic emancipists whom Dr O'Farrell describes as "grown successful as property owners and in commerce" but little of whose wealth found its way to the assistance of the Church". No mention is made in his will of the Kent St house, which by now must have passed out of his hands. He died on or about February 6, 1838 and was buried in the old Devonshire Street Cemetery on February 7th,1838. When this old cemetery was closed in 1902 for the building of Central Railway Station, his remains were transferred to Botany Cemetery, where they lie today in company with those of other fabled and enduring men of '98. within sound of the waves that ceaselessly roll on back to Ireland.

St. Mary's (before spires!)


A Dempsey Bibliography

Dempsey, Dennis. "Where first I took two small steps; The Dempsey Story, 1802-2002" Goanna Print, Canberra, 2002 ISBN 0646419439.

Flannery, Tim, 1999, "The Birth of Sydney", Grove Press, New York.

Kee, Robert, 1980, "Ireland a History", Wenfield and Nicholson Ltd, London.

Kerridge, Veronica, 1991, "High Country Heritage", self-published, Sydney.

Northwood, Ted, and Speer, "Albert Charker Otherwise Chalker -His History"

Waldersee, James; O'Farrell, Patrick; "Duffy, Monsignor C J and others", 1971, St Marys Cathedral Sydney 1821-1971, Devonshire Press, Sydney.

Walker, Veronica, 1971, "The James Dempsey Story",.self- published, Sydney.

Whitaker, Anne-Maree. "Unfinished Revolution: United Irishmen in NSW 1800-1810" ISBN 0 646 17951 9 Published in 1994 by Crossing Press

 

 

 

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