The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Ullathorne, The Most Rev. William Bernard

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Ullathorne, The Most Rev. William Bernard, D.D., O.S.B., first Vicar-General of Australia, was born at Pocklington, Yorkshire, on May 7th, 1806. His father was a grocer, draper, and spirit merchant in the town, supplying it with coal and discounting bills for its inhabitants in the absence of a bank. The family history is somewhat curious. The Archbishop's great-grandfather was a gentleman of property in the West Riding of the county of York, having acquired an estate through his marriage with Miss Binks, one of the lineal descendants of the great Sir Thomas More and a connection of the Waterton family. The property was forfeited through Mr. Ullathorne being mixed up in the 1745 rebellion, the Archbishop's grandfather and his brother being placed in charge of Dr. Lawrence, of York. At his residence they were frightened by discovering a skeleton in their bedroom cupboard, and ran away, the former becoming apprentice to a shoemaker, and the latter a chemist in London. The Archbishop's mother was a native of Spilsby,in Lincolnshire, of which county her father was Chief Constable. Mrs. Ullathorne was also a cousin of Sir John Franklin, the Arctic explorer and Governor of Tasmania. His parents were both engaged prior to their marriage at Townsend's great drapery establishment in Holborn, London. Mr. Ullathorne having converted his future wife to the Catholic faith, married her, and they then started in business on their own account at Pocklington. The Archbishop was educated at Protestant schools at Burnby and Scarborough, to which town his father removed in 1815. When twelve years of age he was employed in his father's business for twelve months, and then went to sea on the brig Leghorn, of Scarborough. After being several years a sailor he went back to his father's business, but in Feb. 1823 was sent to be educated at the Benedictine Priory at Downside, Bath. Here Father Polding, afterwards Archbishop of Sydney, was prefect and director. After completing his course at Downside, Dr. Ullathorne was for a time an assistant master at Ampleforth College, in Yorkshire, and in Sept. 1831 was ordained a priest of the Roman Catholic Church. He then returned to Downside, where he found that Dr. Polding had just been offered the appointment of Visitor-Apostolic to the Mauritius, with jurisdiction over Australia. Dr. Polding, however, declined the preferment, but subsequently recommended Father Ullathorne to Dr. Morris, who now undertook the duties. After much hesitancy Father Ullathorne decided to accept Dr. Morris's proposal that he should go out to Australia as a missionary priest. Having got together a good library, he was all ready to start, when a despatch was received at the Colonial Office from Sir Richard Bourke, then Governor of New South Wales, urging the desirability of a Roman Catholic ecclesiastic being sent out to Sydney invested with greater authority to transact the affairs of the Church in regard to the acquirement of land, etc., than was possessed by the then senior priest (Father Therry), with whom disputes had arisen. The Church authorities having been applied to in respect to this suggestion, Father Ullathorne was appointed Vicar-General for Australia, Van Diemen's Land being alone excepted from his jurisdiction, whilst the Government gave him the title of "His Majesty's Catholic Chaplain in New South Wales," with a stipend of £200 a year and an allowance for voyage, outfit, and travelling expenses when on duty. In this more dignified capacity, Dr. Ullathorne sailed for Sydney in the Sir Thomas Munro on Sept. 16th, 1832, arriving in the New South Wales capital in Feb. of the next year. Here he found a divided state of affairs, but he very soon enforced unity by the exercise of his ecclesiastical authority. Father Therry and two others were the only priests in the colony at the time of his arrival. He was very cordially assisted by the Governor of the colony, Sir R. Bourke, who in Sept. 1833 sent a despatch to the Home Government making recommendations for the sustentation of the Anglican, Catholic, and Presbyterian Churches and clergy in Australia, which were ultimately adopted (1836). Dr. Ullathorne also wrote to the Colonial Office asking for four more chaplains, and to the Roman Catholic authorities in England urging them to appoint an independent bishop for Australia. In pursuance of this, in May 1834 Dr. Polding (Archbishop Ullathorne's old Novice Master) was appointed first Bishop of Sydney by Pope Gregory XVI., and brought out with him three other priests, whose outfit and passages were paid for by the Imperial Government. Lord Stanley, in his letter informing the Governor of the appointment of Dr. Polding, expressed regret, at Vicar-General Ullathorne's supersession and offered him a similar position in Van Diemen's Land, if he wished to quit Sydney. But the latter preferred to remain in New South Wales, and loyally prepared the way for Dr. Polding, who arrived on Sept. 13th, 1835, and who was greatly assisted by Dr. Ullathorne in the organisation of the diocese. In the meantime the latter had visited Norfolk Island, with the view of preparing for death a large number of convicts who had been sentenced for complicity in an attempt to overpower the troops and warders and to capture the island. As proof of the terrible condition of the convicts in Norfolk Island at this period, it may be stated that when Dr. Ullathorne announced to the prisoners which of them were to be reprieved and which executed the former burst into tears, whilst the latter fell on their knees and thanked God, preferring death to the miseries of confinement on the island. Bishop Polding now decided to send Dr. Ullathorne to England and Ireland to beat up recruits for the Australian Mission and to obtain additional funds. He accordingly left Sydney on May 10th, 1836, and after assisting the Bishop in reorganising the affairs of the Church in Van Diemen's Land en route, sailed from Hobart Town for England, where he arrived after a six months' voyage, during which he commenced writing a brochure on the convict system. During his visit he was summoned to Rome to report to the Pope on the Australian Mission and also took a potential part in exposing "The Horrors of Transportation," giving this title to a pamphlet which he published at the request of Mr. Drummond, Secretary to the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland. In 1839 he gave evidence before Sir William Molesworth's parliamentary committee on transportation, which materially influenced the decision to discontinue the system. Whilst in England he also published a pamphlet entitled "The Australian Mission," which attracted a great deal of attention amongst his co-religionists, and much facilitated the objects of his journey, in connection with which he paid a long visit to Ireland and delivered a course of lectures in the churches of Lancashire. In the latter he also referred to the condition of the convicts in New South Wales and Norfolk Island, which excited much sympathy. He was successful in collecting a large sum; and having sent forward two detachments of missionary priests to Sydney, he himself set sail on his return to New South Wales in the Sir Francis Spaight in July 1838, with five sisters of charity, several school teachers, and three additional priests. Amongst the clergy whom he had engaged for the mission were three who were afterwards to become prelates of their Church in Australia—viz., the Rev. Francis Murphy, afterwards first Bishop of Adelaide; the Rev. F. Geoghegan, who became second bishop of that diocese; and the Rev. J. A. Goold, O.G.A., first Bishop and subsequently Archbishop of Melbourne. Dr. Ullathorne reached Sydney for the second time on Dec. 31st, 1838. On arrival he was hotly attacked in the press for the evidence he had given before the Transportation Committee, the colonists liking least his denunciation of the system of assigning convicts to private service. The storm seemed likely to render Dr. Ullathorne's further residence in the colony impossible, but he found a warm supporter in Judge (afterwards Sir Roger) Therry, and ultimately the Catholics started a paper of their own in Sydney, under the editorship of Mr. W. A. Duncan (q.v.), which effectually championed his cause. Dr. Ullathorne was now stationed at Parramatta, and in 1839 wrote his reply to Sir W. W. Burton's work attacking the Catholics of New South Wales. In 1840, as the result of a petition forwarded by the Catholic residents of Adelaide to Bishop Polding, he was sent to that city to organise a Church there and prepare the way for the appointment of a resident ecclesiastic. In this object he succeeded, though he was very coldly received by the civil authorities. On his return to Sydney, Bishop Polding pressed on his acceptance the proposed see of Van Diemen's Land, which was about to be formed under the scheme for the establishment of an Australian hierarchy then being prepared at the Vatican; but Dr. Ullathorne firmly repudiated the idea, saying that he had seen enough of bishops to compassionate them, not to envy them. Ultimately the Bishop consented to withdraw his name from a list (which it headed) of suitable appointees for the projected bishopric. About this time Dr. Ullathorne wrote to the Sydney press deploring the inflation of land values, which he justly predicted must shortly fall, to the great loss of the over-speculative community in Sydney. On Nov. 16th, 1840, Dr. Ullathorne left Sydney for what proved to be the last time, having decided to accompany Bishop Polding on a visit which he had resolved to make to Europe. They went viâ New Zealand and South America, having decided to pay a visit to Bishop Pompallier at Kororarika, N.Z., where they stayed a fortnight en route. Arriving in London in May 1841, Dr. Ullathorne did good service on behalf of the Australian Mission in England and Ireland. Bishop Polding, who was, it was now decided, to be appointed Archbishop of Sydney, then wrote to him definitely announcing his appointment to the subordinate see of Van Diemen's Land. In reply Dr. Ullathorne wrote declining, and the Bishop then sent him a letter stating that their connection was at an end. Subsequently, however, he wrote offering him the appointment of first Bishop of Adelaide, in South Australia. This too Dr. Ullathorne declined, and later on the new bishopric of Perth, in Western Australia, to which, on his recommendation, Dr. Brady, formerly of New South Wales, was appointed. When Bishop Willson was nominated to the Tasmanian episcopate, Dr. Ullathorne was inclined to go with him as Vicar-General, but the idea dropped through, and Dr. Ullathorne ultimately assumed in England the episcopal responsibilities which he had always shirked in the colonies. Having, for a while returned to Downside, he was then stationed at Coventry, appointed Vicar-Apostolic of the western district, and consecrated Bishop of Hetalona in partibus in June 1846. He was translated to the see of Birmingham when the Catholic authorities restored the English hierarchy in Sept. 1850. Amongst other works he published "A Reply to Judge Burton" (1836); "Horrors of Transportation," and "The Australian Mission" (1838); "Pilgrimage to La Salette" (1854); "The Immaculate Conception" (1854); "Pilgrimage to the Monastery of Subiaco and the Grotto of St. Benedict" (1856); "Letters on the Association for promoting the Union of Christendom" (1865); "Letters on the Conventual Life" (1868); "Letters on the Council and Papal Infallibility" (1870); "Mr. Gladstone's Expostulation Unravelled" (1875). As the diocesan of the late Cardinal Newman, he was on the most affectionate terms with that eminent man. Archbishop Ullathorne died on March 21st, 1889, having been allowed to resign the see of Birmingham a short time previously on the plea of age and infirmity. On his retirement the Pope appointed him an archbishop in partibus. His autobiography, written in 1868, with selections from his letters, was published in 1892 by the eminent Catholic publishers, Burns, Oates, & Co., of London, who have since published in a separate volume "Letters of Archbishop Ullathorne."