175 Years Serving in Australia
Celebrating 175 Years
A Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral on the 14 August will mark the end of a year’s celebration of 175 years since Sisters of Charity arrived in Australia. Other events have marked this anniversary in places associated with the Sisters. One of the most significant was that at Parramatta on Saturday 5 April at Parramatta, near the date of the first religious profession in Australia in 1839, that of one of the five pioneer Sisters, Sr Xavier Williams.
Parramatta was the location of the Female Factory where the Sisters came from Ireland in 1838 to minister to the neglected women sent out as convicts. The pioneer Sisters visited the Factory in the early mornings and in the evening, and taught children at the school during the day. Much of their activity revolved around the Catholic Church: teaching the faith, visiting the prisoners and the sick, helping the poor, and sewing for the clergy.
The Sisters continued at the Factory until 1847, as well as working in the broader Sydney community. Today the Sisters’ presence can be typically known by the name of St Vincent’s Hospital in most eastern seaboard capitals. Many of our Sisters work in the education and pastoral care ministries as well as health, and their stories are documented in this book beautifully produced for the occasion: Impelled by Christ’s Love: 175 years serving in Australia. The cover features a picture of Tarmons, the Sisters’ first hospital in Woolloomooloo (now Potts Point), Sydney, which opened in 1857. The book is available from the Sisters of Charity Congregational Office, Level 7, 35 Grafton Street, Bondi Junction 2022, firstname.lastname@example.org ($15 plus $10 p&h).
This beautiful room was photographed in 1909 when it was the Reception Room for St Vincent’s College. It is the front room of the historic ‘Tarmons’ villa at Woolloomooloo which was designed by John Verge. It was previously Sir Maurice O’Connell’s drawing room, and the first ward of St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney. It is now the site of the Exhibition Room of the Sisters of Charity Archives.
An interior view of the O’Connell’s drawing room at ‘Tarmons’ has recently come to light in a scrap album at the Mitchell Library belonging to Mary Jane Macarthur, c1837-48 (PXA 1278 Vol 1). ‘Tarmons’ was demolished in the 1960s and replaced with a new building, but this watercolour view (unsigned, undated and unfinished), reveals that the front drawing room in the new building, now our Exhibition Room, keenly replicates the ambience of 1830s and 1840s style of ‘Tarmons’. We are hoping to bring you the watercolour view in a future post following permission from the State Library of NSW.
Sisters of Charity Archives Exhibition Room. The original French doors from 'Tarmons' are opened.
This photo featured below is ‘Tarmons’ in 1962, a few years before it was demolished. You can see the two-storey verandahed villa at picture 27 under our Pioneer Sites tab above.
Archiving can be serendipitous work. Here is an extract from a letter found in our Archives just after our last blog posting where we delighted in our discovery of another site visited by our early Sisters:
The young ladies Boarding School established since our coming is going on very well. Mrs Davis will shortly have twenty boarders, amongst others my cousins, the Therry’s. They come to the Convent twice a week for Religious Instruction, preparation for their Communion, Confirmation etc. The good example the School gives attending daily Mass, singing in the Choirs etc is of much use to religious.
The letter from M.de Sales O’Brien (one of the first five Sisters to come to Australia from Ireland) was written from the Convent of St Mary’s, Parramatta in 1840, to a Sister of Charity in Dublin. We now know that the Sisters of Charity not only visited the boarding school, but also received students at St Mary’s Convent for religious instruction from 1840.
The Norfolk House Establishment for Young Ladies, run by a Mrs Davis, commenced at Parramatta in the early 1840s. Described as ‘an excellent boarding school for young ladies’ by Parramatta’s Rev. Michael Brennan, it transpires that the Sisters of Charity were regular visitors to the establishment from 1841 providing religious instruction to the girls.
Thanks to June’s index (see A Welcome Indexer below), I came across an article in the Australian Chronicle which stated that two young women, Margaret O’Brien and Mary Gibbons, entered the Sisters of Charity Congregation at Parramatta in 1840 with a special service where the hymns were sung by the pupils of the convent and Mrs Davis’s excellent seminary – of whom the Parramatta choir was principally composed. This would have been a happy meeting of voices as singing was very much part of the Sisters’ background. During this period they were also teaching singing at the Female Factory.
Later articles reveal that the Superioress of the Convent of the Sisters of Charity as well as Archbishop Polding were present at the ‘usual yearly examinations’ of the young ladies at Mrs Davis’s establishment in 1843.
Does Norfolk House still exist? I could only find one other mention of ‘Norfolk House’ in the early newspapers beyond 1845, when the name appears again in 1850 as being an educational establishment run by a Mr and Mrs Underwood.
Using research notes provided to me by the Parramatta Historical Society and information from the Australian Heritage Database listing (http://www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/heritage/photodb/imagesearch.pl?proc=detail;barcode_no=rt10007) , it seems that the Norfolk House that exists today in Parramatta was not the Norfolk House where Mrs Davis conducted her boarding school. The house still surviving was built by John Tunks in the early 1840s and kept in his family until the death of his wife in 1888. It was later purchased by the Methodist Church.