27 October, 2018

Will the Real "First Bishop of Maitland"
Please Stand Up?

At the turn of the twentieth century, the first Almanac of the Diocese of Maitland was released, "published by the Authority". An historical preamble, possibly written by the then coadjutor-bishop, Patrick Vincent Dwyer (1), states:

The name "Diocese of Maitland"...as far back as 1848 was in use, but merely as a title. The venerable Prelate who was consecrated Bishop with that title in 1848 was the Right Rev'd Charles Henry Davis O.S.B., who came to New South Wales in that year to assist the Archbishop of Sydney, Most Rev. John Bede Polding, O.S.B., as his Coadjutor. Dr. Davis...had never been able to visit his Titular See of Maitland, when in 1854 he succumbed to the prolonged attacks of illness from which he suffered. The remains of Dr. Davis, the first Titular Bishop of Maitland, rest in the cemetery attached to the Benedictine Convent at Subiaco, near Sydney (2) ... The district was administered as part of the Archdiocese of Sydney until the year 1865, when the venerable prelate who first ruled over the faithful of Maitland as Bishop, the Right Rev.'d James Murray, D.D., was consecrated ... The territory assigned by Papal brief to the Right Rev'd Dr. Davis was confined to the borough of East Maitland, and it was not until after Dr. Murray's consecration that the brief was issued by which an extended territory was assigned to his jurisdiction. (3)

Many historians when discussing Bishop Davis have regarded him in the same way as the writer of the above passage, namely as coadjutor of Sydney and Bishop of the titular See of Maitland. Cardinal Moran's history, published four years before the 1900 Almanac, is very specific that Maitland was originally a titular See; Dom Birt refers to it as a "territorial" See; John O'Brien" describes it as titular, as does Frances O'Donoghue in her biography of Polding  (4)  and R.A. Daly in his entry for Davis in the first volume of the Australian Dictionary of Biography. Likewise, when Father Harold Campbell wrote his Centenary History of the Diocese of Maitland in 1966, his conclusion was that the See was titular until the boundaries were extended in 1866 - which reflected the prevailing opinion in the Diocese at that time, before and since. Bishop Davis' successors, James Murray, PV Dwyer and Edmund Gleeson (5) pointedly refused to acknowledge Davis as Bishop of Maitland in any other sense than titular: their various documents all indicate their view that James Murray was the first Bishop of Maitland.

 An digital enhancement of a sketch of
Bishop Davis drawn during his time in Sydney.
The Collection of the State Library of NSW
The adoption of such an approach to Charles Davis is quite understandable: a coadjutor bishop receiving a non-residential See, perfectly normal practice before and since. Moreover, because the Diocese as constituted consisted of only one town - which Davis never visited - it makes perfect sense to assume that he was Bishop of Maitland in only a titular sense. Added to that, the principal Church in his one-town Diocese was never regarded as his Cathedral, and there is some doubt that the resident priests in Maitland were regarded as being priests of the Maitland Diocese. (6)  Whilst it is manifest that in practice Davis' appointment to Maitland was titular, there is no doubt that the Diocese of Maitland as constituted in 1847 was a regular, residential Diocese, and that Charles Davis was its bishop. Rome had, however, provided the Bishop with a special dispensation from residence in Maitland. In order to provide for special circumstances, an arrangement was made whereby Davis could simultaneously be the coadjutor with right of succession to Sydney and Bishop of Maitland: an arrangement which requires some description.

It is important to recall that most of the early episcopal appointments in Australia were based upon the specific recommendations of Archbishop Polding: he it was who conceived the creation of a hierarchy for Australia, with himself as Metropolitan Archbishop and those whom he recommended as suffragan bishops. It quite understandable that Rome would have been guided by his advice concerning a continent about which they knew little more than what was printed on a map and the reports they received from its clergy. The hierarchy of Australia was established by a Brief issued by Pope Gregory XVI on 5th April, 1842. (7)  On 22nd April, Gregory XVI issued a brief erecting the Province of the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Sydney and the Suffragan Dioceses of Hobart Town and Adelaide. (8)  Polding, of course, was made Archbishop and, after some delay, Father Francis Murphy was appointed Bishop of Adelaide and Father Robert Willson Bishop of Hobart Town. (9)

It is interesting to note that when Archbishop Polding proposed all these things to the Vatican Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (often referred to as "Propaganda", but in more recent years, The Evangelisation of Peoples) in February of the same year, he also included a request for the appointment of a coadjutor-bishop. When this request was placed before the Cardinal members of the Congregation on 28th February, 1842, they decided to recommend to the Pope that he appoint Father Francis Murphy as coadjutor to Polding. This appointment would have gone ahead, except that the original nominee for the See of Adelaide, Father William Ullathorne, declined his nomination; (10) as we have seen, Father Murphy was appointed to Adelaide, and the question of a coadjutor lapsed.

Only a short time passed before a third suffragan diocese was added to the Province, that of Perth, and only five years (1847) before Archbishop Polding was in Rome again requesting the erection of more suffragan dioceses. The priest who declined appointment to Adelaide in 1842, Father Ullathorne, was appointed Vicar Apostolic of the Western district of England in 1846, (11)  and consecrated on 21st June of the same year.    A short time later, Polding arrived in London from Australia and, according to Ullathorne, expressed "great regret at having arrived too late, as his principal object in coming to Europe was to solicit the Holy See to appoint me to be his Coadjutor." (12)

Before there was ever any consideration of making Maitland a diocese, Archbishop Polding had had a definite intention of obtaining a coadjutor, in the first instance, Father Murphy in 1842, then five years later, Father Ullathorne. It is true that Polding made his trip to Europe to obtain the creation of new suffragan Dioceses - Melbourne and Port Victoria (now Darwin) - and he wrote and discussed this proposal with the Prefect of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith in February, 1847. At that time, however, Maitland did not enter into the discussion: it was only in April that the first mention of erecting the Diocese of Maitland was made in a letter to the Prefect of the Congregation, Cardinal Fransoni:

English College
16th April, 1847

Memorandum concerning the erection of another See at Maitland with a Coadjutorial role for the Archbishop.

Most Eminent and Reverend Lord,

The undersigned Archbishop of Sydney, considering notice reported by recent English journals of the proposed four Anglican Bishoprics in Australia, believes it to be his duty to expound to your Eminence his conviction that the Anglicans are making every attempt to take possession of this immense province, with the consequence that more opposition should be made to their design.

I therefore petition that there be another Episcopal See at Maitland, not more distant from Sydney than from Morpeth (the site of one of the proposed Anglican Bishoprics), and that, without defining the boundaries for the present, the new Bishop should be named Coadjutor of the writer.

For such a See, I would believe suitable the Rev'd Fr. Burchall, already recommended in another document, and for Melbourne, the Rev'd Fr. Goold, who is also mentioned in that document.

Hoping that pardon will be given to the writer in making this new insistence, he submissively kisses your Sacred Purple.

The most humble, devoted and obedient servant of Your Most Reverend Eminence,

John Bede Polding
Archbishop of Sydney. (13)

Archbishop Polding
A carte-de-visite photograph 
taken in the 1870s.
In May, 1846, it was announced that the Queen had approved the creation of two Anglican Bishoprics in Australia, one in Melbourne and the other Morpeth, at the request of the Bishop of Australia, the Right Rev'd W.G. Broughton. The See of Morpeth was to encompass north-eastern Australia. Perhaps Archbishop Polding panicked at this prospect, and was determined to counter Anglican influence by having bishops appointed to Melbourne and Maitland. Melbourne, as was mentioned earlier, had been already suggested by Polding as a new diocese, but it seems that Maitland owed its selection to perceived Anglican threats, coupled with Polding's desire for a coadjutor. The proposed Anglican See at Morpeth was only a short distance from Maitland, but the latter had had from its settlement (twenty years earlier) a greater than average proportion of Catholics amongst its residents. In 1846, for example, the County of Northumberland, within which the town of Maitland lay, had a total population of 13,335; of this number a remarkable 30.6% was Catholic. (14)

This figure supports Archbishop Polding's choice of Maitland for a new diocese: not only was it reasonably close to Sydney, but its population was markedly Catholic. Ultimately, the Anglicans decided to make the seat of their Bishopric Newcastle rather than Morpeth (15) and, by a coincidence that is incredible, the Anglican Bishopric of Newcastle and the Catholic Diocese of Maitland were erected on one and the same day: 25th June, 1847 !

But we have gone ahead of ourselves: note in Archbishop Polding's memorandum that he asks that the boundaries of the proposed new diocese should remain for the present undefined. This has been taken to mean that the Diocese would be only a "titular" See for the new coadjutor, but there is no reference to an intention to make the See of Maitland “titular”, either in this memorandum or any of the other documents concerning the erection of the Diocese. (16)

On 3rd May, 1847, less than three weeks after the memorandum, Cardinal Fransoni presented all Archbishop Polding's proposals to a general meeting of the Cardinals of Propaganda. Firstly, Fransoni dealt with the erection of the Dioceses of Melbourne and Port Victoria, and thereafter he discussed Maitland. The Cardinals would have questioned the proposal that the boundaries of the new Diocese should not be fixed; but Fransoni reassured them that this manner of erecting a Diocese without fixing its territory has been followed in the case of the Dioceses of Oregon (17).  And so, having questioned the Cardinals on the Dioceses of Melbourne and Port Victoria, Cardinal Fransoni put the following question to them:

Should the Holy Father be asked to erect Maitland as an Episcopal See in the manner indicated by the Archbishop [Polding] and which person should be proposed to His Holiness for him to nominate as its Bishop and Coadjutor of the same Archbishop?

The Cardinals replied:

To the first part - in the affirmative, and the Holy Father should be asked to elect the Reverend Father Richard Placid Burchall of the English Congregation of S' Benedict in such a way that provision be made for the duty of residing in the See.  (18)

The last phrase of this reply should be understood in the sense that Polding proposed it, namely that the new Bishop be dispensed from the duty of residence in the Diocese.

Pope Pius IX received the proposals on 9th May, ratified them, and ordered that the appropriate Briefs be dispatched. Thus, on 25th June, 1847, under the Pope's seal, the Brief establishing the Dioceses of Port Victoria, Melbourne and Maitland was issued from S' Mary's Major in Rome. In part it read:

Therefore on our own initiative with definite knowledge, with Our complete deliberation and with the fullness of Apostolic Authority...

We propose and institute new Episcopal Sees in the towns or cities of Victoria [Darwin], Maitland and Melbourne.

We grant every right, faculty and perogative to each of their Bishops about to be selected by Us and the Apostolic See, and We bestow on them all that is proper to Bishops...

But We do not wish the See of Maitland, set up in the city of that name, to have any other territory...

We wish the three new Episcopal Sees to be established as Suffragans to the Archbishop of Sydney...

And so, the Diocese of Maitland was regularly established as a residential See (albeit a small one) on that day. On 9th July, 1847, Dom Placid Burchall was elected Bishop of the new Diocese, with the dispatch of the appropriate brief. When Archbishop Polding sent his memorandum to Propaganda, he included an assessment of Burchall to enable his promotion to Episcopal Orders. Dom Richard Placid Burchall in 1847 had been Superior of the Anglo-Benedictine Monastery of Saint Edmond in Douai, France, for eight years or so; he was around 34 years of age and was highly regarded. (20)

In fact, Father Burchall was so highly regarded that the Superiors of his Order declined to release him. (21)  So Polding wrote to Propaganda suggesting other candidates, in the first place recommending Father Charles Henry Davis, in the second, Father Benedict Tidmath. In an Audience of 5th September, Pius IX approved the substitution of Davis for Burchall. The decree was issued releasing Burchall from the appointment on 14th September.

On 24th September, 1847, Pius IX's Secretary for Briefs, Cardinal Lambruschini, issued the Briefs appointing Father Charles Henry Davis as Bishop of Maitland and Coadjutor to the Archbishop of Sydney, "with the right of succession". Davis was consecrated at Bath on 25th February, 1848 by Bishop Ullathorne, Polding's earlier choice for a coadjutor. Bishop Davis departed from England on 15th August and arrived in Sydney on 8th December, 1848. 

It is quite obvious from the documents relating to the erection of the Diocese that there was a definite intention to release the new bishop from the obligation imposed by Canon Law of residence in his own diocese. The chief aim of the appointment was to give Archbishop Polding a coadjutor, so that he would be able to carry out more fully the extensive pastoral visitations which he undertook with such zeal. Davis' appointment as coadjutor (with the right of succession), might also have been designed to avoid a long vacancy in the Metropolitan See in the event of Polding's sudden demise, such as happened after Archbishop Roger Bede Vaughan's untimely death in 1883.

There is evidence to suggest that Bishop Davis considered that he should have been resident in his own Diocese of Maitland. Writing in 1849 to the Prior of Downside Abbey, Dom Peter Wilson, Davis foreshadows a visit to his Diocese early in the following year:

On my return from Hobart Town I expect I shall have to make a visitation of the whole district of the Hunter in which my own little diocese (one small town) lies. This will occupy six good weeks, as I shall have hundreds of miles to go through the Bush. (22)

In fact, this proposed visitation did not eventuate; an episode of serious ill-health overtook the young bishop in that same year. As far as is known, Bishop Davis never visited his Diocese, despite original intentions. In 1902, John H.B. Curtis - formerly Brother Anselm Curtis of the Benedictine Community at S' Mary's in Sydney - wrote an interesting article on Davis. Curtis had almost daily contact with Davis, and attended the saintly bishop on his death-bed. Curtis makes these interesting remarks:

The Bishop arrived in Sydney in the year 1848. His title was Bishop of Maitland and Coadjutor to the Archbishop of Sydney, cum jure successionis. He fully expected to take up his abode in Maitland. But the Archbishop maintained that such was not the Pope's intention in appointing him. The Bishop was too deeply imbued with the spirit of holy obedience to enter into a contest with the Archbishop, but from some occasional remarks that he made, he evidently thought that Maitland should be his abode. As a matter of fact, he never went to Maitland. (23)

This extract is interesting in that it demonstrates that Bishop Davis fully expected to take possession of and reside in his See: but Archbishop Polding was quite correct in suggesting to Davis that the Pope did not intend him to take up residence in Maitland. The Cardinals of Propaganda had already decided that some provision would have to be made so that Davis would be released from his obligation of residency, but the brief of appointment makes no specific mention of such a dispensation, merely concluding with the words "a provision for the Bishop of the Church of Maitland, by Decree of the Congregation of Propaganda." Bishop Davis was dispensed from this obligation fully four years after his consecration:

Most Holy Father: Since there are very few Catholics - about 50  (24)  - in the city of Maitland (without any territory assigned outside the city) its Bishop, Charles Davis, has his residence 100 miles from the city of Maitland, in Sydney, and since there he helps the Archbishop, especially during a time of Visitation or absence from the Archiepiscopal City, the Bishop begs Your Holiness that you deign to dispense him from the law of residence, until territory be removed and assigned to the See of Maitland.

Pius IX gave his reply to this request in an Audience on 8th February, 1852:

Our Most Holy Lord, Pius, by Divine Providence Pope, ninth of that name, when I, the undersigned Secretary of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, presented this proposal, graciously granted the favour whilst the described circumstances continue, with the caution that no detriment to the Faithful of Maitland might arise therefrom. Anything to the contrary not withstanding.

Alexander Barnabo, Secretary.

Both before and after the provision of the dispensation, Bishop Davis remained in Sydney, except for occasional visits to outlying areas of the city and district and one voyage to Hobart, and tended to the administration of the Archdiocese and the local Benedictine Community at S' Mary's. Not long after Davis' arrival, Archbishop Polding was speaking of spending the next four or five years  (25)  in visitation all over the continent. It is interesting to note that Davis' ministry in Sydney lasted for five years six months, during which time Polding’s absences - when added up - amounted to two full years. (26)

On 21st March, 1854, Archbishop Polding sailed for Europe and specifically to Rome. Discussing again the question of new Sees, Polding suggested that Brisbane be made a diocese and that territory be added to the small Diocese of Maitland: presumably, he had discussed this matter with Davis before leaving for Rome. Polding wrote to Fransoni on 24th July, 1854, detailing his suggestions concerning Brisbane and Maitland; the Diocese of Maitland was to be extended to include all of New South Wales north of Newcastle and east of Narrabri. (27)  But by the time Polding had drafted this proposal to Propaganda, the Bishop of Maitland was dead. Bishop Charles Davis died at the Benedictine Monastery, adjacent to Saint Mary’s Cathedral, on 17th May, 1854, just a day short of his fortieth birthday. His body lay-in-state in old Saint Mary's Cathedral, whence he was buried on 20th May in the cemetery at the Convent at Subiaco (Parramatta).

When the news reached Rome, Archbishop Polding abandoned his plan to extend the boundaries of the Maitland Diocese, and whilst the nomination of Davis' successor and the extension of Diocesan boundaries were being considered by the Bishops of the Australian Province, Polding would be given administration of the tiny diocese. (28)  Just before the Archbishop left Rome, the Pope, in an Audience on 6th May, 1855, made him Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Maitland, with all faculties, both ordinary and extraordinary (which he currently enjoyed as Archbishop of Sydney), and with the right to delegate such administration to a suitable priest. The decision was put into the form of a Decree from Propaganda:

Since the See of Maitland, Australia, has become vacant by reason of the death of its Bishop, Charles Davis, and since there are serious reasons which favour deferring election of a successor, the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, when the undersigned Secretary had made representation, decided to request from His Holiness that the Most Reverend Lord John Bede Polding, Archbishop of Sydney, bearing the title Apostolic Administrator, should assume control of the same Diocese of Maitland either through himself or through a suitable priest.

When this decision of the Sacred Congregation was referred to our Most Illustrious Lord, Pius, by Divine Providence, Pope, the ninth of that name, in an Audience on sixth day of May of this year, His Holiness graciously gave it his approval and graciously conceded to the Most Reverend Lord Bede Polding Apostolic Administration of the Diocese of Maitland according to the reason put forth, which was pleasing to the Holy See, all things to the contrary notwithstanding.

Given at Rome at the office of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith on 12th day of May, 1855.

J. Th. Cardinal Fransoni, Prefect. 

Archbishop Polding returned to Australia in January 1856, visiting the Bishop of Melbourne, James Goold, before returning to Sydney.  Polding advised Goold that he had appointed his Vicar General, Henry Gregory O.S.B., as Administrator of the Diocese of Maitland. Two years later Polding recommended the same priest to be appointed as the new Bishop of Maitland; but Rome declined to appoint the controversial Abbot Gregory, and the matter lapsed again. Ultimately, the Dubliner Father James Murray was appointed Bishop of Maitland on 14th November, 1865, but by that time it was the Archbishop of Dublin, Cardinal Cullen, and not Archbishop Polding who was suggesting who would occupy which Episcopal thrones in Australia - another story altogether. 

Bishop James Murray
2nd Bishop of Maitland
1865 - 1909.
After much discussion between the new Bishop, James Murray, Archbishop Polding and the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, the boundaries of the Diocese of Maitland were greatly extended by a Papal Brief dated 13th April, 1866. The extended boundaries encompassed most of north-eastern New South Wales, although they were not identical with Polding's proposal of 1854, since by then, the Dioceses of Armidale and Bathurst had been established. It is worth noting that the boundaries were extended after James Murray had been consecrated Bishop of Maitland, further evidence of a regularly erected diocese needing only territorial expansion. There is an ample amount of evidence to suggest that Murray, who never knew or saw Davis, regarded himself as the first Bishop of Maitland.

One last point needs to be clarified: what constituted the original territory of the Diocese of Maitland? According to all the documents, the city town of Maitland. Yet what this precisely encompassed has eluded historians. Moran claims that it consisted of the "small township of East Maitland;" (30)  the Maitland Diocesan Almanac of 1900, which was quoted at the beginning of this article, says the same. The first reference that can be found to the thesis that the Diocese consisted specifically of the "borough of East Maitland," is in the Australian Catholic Directory of 1886. It is uncertain how this conclusion was reached, but it would seem that it is mistaken. In the first instance, in 1847 there was no such place as the "Borough of East Maitland." A notice in the Sydney Gazette in June, 1828, declared the Government's intention of founding a town at the head of navigation of Hunter's River. Subsequently this town was named Maitland; in fact, this was the area now known as East Maitland. On the other side of the Hunter River, however, private settlement had been taking place for ten years - this was Wallis Plains. Interestingly, the population growth and development of this latter area outstripped that of the Government town, so much so that by 1835, a number of protests about this anomaly reached the Governor of New South Wales, Sir Richard Bourke. Consequently, he ordered the following notice to be gazetted:

...His Excellency is pleased..to command that the said town [namely Maitland] shall be considered in future as consisting of two Portions...the Portion heretofore laid out by the Government shall be called "EAST MAITLAND"; and that...Portion situated on the N.W. side of Wallis' Creek...shall be called "WEST MAITLAND." (31)

In short, there was no "Borough of East Maitland" in 1847, only a town designated Maitland and divided into two sections. This would be sufficient to prove that the Diocese of Maitland was originally comprised of both East and West Maitland. We have, however, even more conclusive evidence, contained in Archbishop Polding's memorandum for the establishment of the Diocese in 1847:

Maitland has a beautiful Church dedicated to St. John the Baptist, and five or six thousand inhabitants. (32)

The Church of Saint John the Baptist, completed in 1846 (shortly before Polding left for Europe, seeking the establishment of the new Dioceses) is in West,  (33)  not East Maitland. 

Archbishop Polding, moreover, does not even mention the fine stone Church of S' Joseph's at East Maitland, which was well under way to completion when he arrived in Australia in 1835. 
(34)  So, it is evident that Polding also had West Maitland in mind when proposing the new Diocese.

This article, which has been primarily written to prove a case, has taken little account of the life of its subject: this has been discussed elsewhere in various historical and biographical works. Those who knew Bishop Charles Henry Davis OSB revered him for his sanctity: he led a holy life marked by reverence, fraternal charity, fair-mindedness and obedience. He was a scholar, an educationalist and a musician of great renown, whilst at the same time being a very able administrator. He died more than twenty years before the man whom he was chosen to succeed as Archbishop of Sydney and so he enjoys that anonymity which is the portion of most auxiliary bishops.  
The Bishop rests in the crypt of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, alongside Archbishop Polding and other pioneering Catholic priests; being there, he will always have visitors and be amongst the prayers of the Faithful. Although he never visited his small Diocese, he certainly wished to; regardless, the Diocese of Maitland can rightfully claim him as its first bishop and, equally, the Archdiocese of Sydney, as its first assistant bishop. 


(1)   This was the surmise of the late Father Harold Campbell, historian of the Diocese of Maitland. Patrick Vincent Dwyer was consecrated as coadjutor cum-jure-succesionis (with the right of succession) to Bishop James Murray in 1897 and succeeded Murray upon the latter's death in 1909.

(2)   The remains of Bishop Davis were reinterred in the crypt of S' Mary's Cathedral on 25th August, 1945.

(3)   Almanac of the Diocese of Maitland, 1900, pp.17-18.

(4)   c.f. P.F. Cardinal Moran, The History of the Catholic Church in Australasia, Sydney, [1896], p. 333; H.N. Birt O.S.B., Benedictine Pioneers in Australia, London, 1911, vol. 2, p. 131; John O'Brien, The Men of '38 and other Pioneer Priests, Revv. T.J. Linane and F.A. Mecham (eds.), Kilmore, 1975, p.83; Frances O'Donoghue, The Bishop of Botany Bay, Sydney, 1982, p. 90.

(5)   James Murray was Bishop of Maitland 1865-1909; Patrick V. Dwyer from 1909-1931; Edmund Gleeson, from 1931-1956. Even as recently as 2016, officials of the Diocese of Maitland were still misrepresenting the status of Charles Henry Davis as first Bishop of Maitland.

(6)   c.f. the 1854 Directory of the Catholic Church in Australia; for, although the directory is "for the use of the clergy of the Archdiocese of Sydney and the Diocese of Maitland", the Directory actually lists the resident clergy of Maitland as being priests of the Archdiocese of Sydney.

(7)   The document is quoted in The Foundation of the Hierarchy of Australia, 1804-1854, a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Canon Law, presented by Monsignor Ian Burns to the Urban University Rome, 1954, pp.209-212.

(8)    op.cit. pp.219-220.

(9)   On 29th May, 1842 and 14th August, 1842, respectively. Willson originally refused the appointment and fresh candidates were selected, none of whom were appointed. Willson was placed under obedience to accept the appointment by a decree issued on the above date.

(10)   Having served as Polding's Vicar-General for five years, Ullathorne returned to England in 1840.

(11)   This was before the re-establishment of the English hierarchy in 1850.

(12)   W.B. Ullathorne, Autobiography, London (3rd edition, n.d.), pp.242-43.

(13)   Cited from a microfilm copy of memoranda and briefs pertaining to the Diocese of Maitland, 1847-1866, compiled from Scritture Originali Riferite nelle Congregazioni Generali of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith and housed in the Archives of the Diocese of Maitland.

(14)   c.f. James Waldersee Catholic Society in N.S.W. 1788-1860, p. 281.Waldersee mentions the question of the large Catholic population of Maitland several times, referring to it as "an oasis of Irish Catholic Society": ibid, p. 183.

(15)   Nevertheless, the first Bishop of Newcastle, William Tyrrell, actually lived at Morpeth.

(16)   What we designate "titular Sees", have only been known under such an appellation for the last century or so. Prior to 1882, such sees were referred to as being in partibus infidelium, and were located, as the name suggests, in non-Christian lands. In fact, has a titular See or a See i.p.i. ever been created? The obvious answer is "no". Titular or i.p.i. Sees were once residential, which later became defunct, thus allowing their titles to be used by non-diocesan bishops. But a diocese would never be created merely to be a title for a non-diocesan bishop. This point alone would be sufficient to disprove the theory that the Diocese of Maitland was created as a titular See.

(17)   c.f. Propaganda Archives, Scritture Originali Riferite nelle Congregazioni Generali, a. 1847, vol. 969 2.226. Unusual methods had been resorted to in the establishment of the Dioceses of Australia, too. When the Hierarchy was established in 1842, the three dioceses which comprised it, Sydney, Adelaide and Hobart Town were confined only to the cities of that name. Each of the Bishops, however, were Vicars-Apostolic of the territory within which their Diocese lay, such that, for example, Francis Murphy was Bishop of Adelaide and Vicar-Apostolic of South Australia. This strange arrangement, a fore-runner of Davis' double appointment, was proposed by Polding so that the new Bishops might have both ordinary jurisdiction and extraordinary power as Vicars-Apostolic.

(18)   Propaganda Archives, Acta Congregationum Generalium, 1847, vol. 210ff 202 (printed) 167 (handwritten).

(19)   Propaganda Archives, Brevi dal 1841 al 1853 vol.5, as translated in Harold Campbell, the Centenary History of the Diocese of Maitland 1866-1966.

(20)   c.f. Propaganda Archives, Scritture a 1847, vol. 969ff, 231-32.

(21)  The documentation actually represents Burchall's refusal on the grounds of ill-health, but Polding himself indicates in his letter to Propaganda that because there had been too many recent losses in the Order "among its more outstanding Fathers", Burchall could not accept the appointment; c.f. Propaganda Archives, Udienzi del Nostro Signore a 1847, vol. 107 ff, 1009-1009v.

(22)  Davis to Wilson, Downside Archives, quoted in Birt, op. cit., vol. II, p. 156.

(23)  Downside Review, vol.xxi, p. 188ff, quoted in Birt, op.cit., vol.II, p. 208.

(24)  Davis grossly underestimates the number of Catholics in Maitland, which would have amounted at that time to several hundred, not 50. This petition and dispensation are written on a form in the Sydney Archdiocesan Archives.

(25)   c.f. letter from Sister Magdalen Le Clerc to Dr. Barber, President of the English Benedictines, 14th February, 1849, quoted in Birt, op. cit., vol II, p. 162.

(26)  This figure was reached by an analysis of Polding's journeys as itemized in "The Bishop in the Saddle", Tjurunga: An Australian Benedictine Review, 1977-13.

(27)  To be more precise, Polding suggested the following boundaries: to the east, the Pacific Ocean; to the south, the 33rd degree of latitude; to the west, the 150th degree of longitude and to the north, the 29th degree of latitude.

(28)  This decision was reached and ratified by Pius IX in an Audience given to the Prefect of Propaganda on 17th September of the same year; c.f. Propaganda Archives Udienzi a 1854, p. 11, vol. 120, ff. 2132v-2133.

(29)  This document was brought back by Polding from Rome and is in the Sydney Archdiocesan Archives.

(30)  Moran, op. cit., p. 333.

(31)  N.S.W. Government Gazette, 11th November, 1835.

(32)  c.f. Propaganda Archives Scritture a. 1847 vol 969, ff 2.226. Polding actually overestimates Maitland's population, which could not have exceeded 4000 at this time.

(33)  West Maitland is simply known now as Maitland.

(34)  Old Saint Joseph's was for a century the oldest Catholic Church north of Sydney; it was demolished in 1933. Ullathorne makes an amusing reference to this Church at the beginning of the eleventh chapter of his Autobiography, op.cit.


This article was first published in "Footprints" The Journal of the Melbourne Diocesan Historical Commission in 1989. I researched the article in response to a conversation I had with archivist and historian the late Sister M. Xavier Compton SGS one day in the Archives of Saint Mary's Cathedral Sydney. I was assisted in my understanding of the Church's law with regard to the appointment of bishops and in the interpretation of curial documents by the late Monsignor Ian Burns of the Archdiocese of Sydney, the late Monsignor Paul Simms of the Diocese of Maitland & Newcastle and the Rev'd Dr Ian Waters of the Archdiocese of Melbourne, all doctors in Canon Law. Select documents from the Archives of the Congregation for the Propagation for the Faith were kindly supplied by the late Monsignor Aldo Rebeschini of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. Other documents were examined in the Archives of the Archdiocese of Sydney and Diocese of Maitland.

This is the first time since 1989 that this article has been published and it has been slightly revised for an online format. The article may not be reproduced without the permission of the author.

Sorry to say, despite my findings, which were published and presented to respective Dioceses, the misunderstanding about the establishment of the Diocese of Maitland and the appointment of its first Bishop, Charles Davis continues to be held in 2018.

Michael Sternbeck
27th October 2018.


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