1788First European settlers arrive in Australia
May 1848NSW sheriff Adolphus William Young conveyed two lots of land at Balmain to Archbishop Polding as a gift.
4 September 1848Foundation stone laid for first St Augustine’s church at Balmain, by Archbishop Polding.
13 April 1851First mass celebrated in old St Augustine’s church
27 February 1852St Augustine’s denominational school first opened in rented accommodation in Balmain. In subsequent years the school was conducted in the church building.
May 1854Fr Downing OSA was appointed the first resident priest for Balmain.
May 1856Fr Therry became parish priest in Balmain
April 1864The old St Augustine’s church had been extended westward by 20 feet, and a choir gallery had been added.
25 May 1864Fr Therry died in St Augustine’s first presbytery
7 September 1864Five sisters of the Good Shepherd came to Balmain to form the first branch convent of the Order.
1865A temporary schoolhouse (called Fr Dillon schoolhouse) was built next to the old church to house the school.
22 April 1877Blessing and opening of the convent of the Immaculate Conception
17 April 1887Blessing and opening of the Christian brothers monastery and school in Thames Street.
7 October 1906Foundation stone laid for current St Augustine’s church, by Cardinal Moran.
1 December 1907Dedication of the current St Augustine’s church
1908Girls school moved into old church, following the opening of the new St Augustines church. The girl’s school remained there until 1917.
April 1917Fr Rohan purchased the public school building on the corner of Eaton Street and Gladstone Street.
10 March 1918Blessing and opening of St Augustine’s girls school (where the current Fr John Therry school is)
30 November 1952Blessing and opening of Fr Michael Rohan Memorial building, after adding a second floor to the St Augustine’s girls school.
23 May 1996Blessing and opening of the Fr John Therry school, following the amalgamation of St Joseph’s school Rozelle with St Augustine’s Balmain school.

Father John Therry

Fr John Therry was born in Cork, Ireland in 1790 and was ordained in 1815.  He came to Australia as an officially appointed Chaplain along with Fr Phillip Conolly in May 1820.  Previously the colony had received 3 convict priests.  In 1800 Frs Harold, Dixon and O’Neill were transported to Sydney and soon started gathering Catholics together and celebrating Masses.  However, Catholics were viewed with suspicion and the Masses and gatherings were soon banned.

Fr Jeremiah O’Flynn arrived in 1817 with no official appointment to the colony.  Governor Macquarie would not accept him and he was deported in 1818.

By the time Frs Therry & Conolly arrived, conditions for Catholics were dire.  Governor Macquarie, who was partial to the Protestant church made it difficult for the priests to do their job, issuing rules that prohibited the priests ministering to Catholics.

Fr Conolly left for Van Diemen’s Land in 1821, Fr Therry was left to look after the mainland.  He covered a lot of lands, often travelling through the night and in dangerous conditions.

In response to the Orphan Schools that were established by the Government, and where Catholic children were forced to receive Protestant instruction, Fr Therry opened two small Catholic schools in Parramatta and Sydney in 1822.  Unfortunately, the schools were not successful due to a lack of funding and closed soon after.

Fr Therry constantly agitated and irritated the government of the day, for the rights of Catholics and the marginalised Aboriginal people.  From around 1825 Fr Therry was fired as Catholic Chaplain.  He was misquoted in The Gazette, and consequently was removed from his post.  However, he continued ministering in spite of this.

In 1826 Fr Power was appointed Catholic Chaplain in place of Fr Therry.  Fr Power was not a well man and he died in Sydney in 1830.  In 1831 Fr Dowling arrived in Sydney and took over as official chaplain to the colony.  Fr Therry was not reinstated as the official Catholic Chaplain until 1837 – all the while not receiving a wage, and living off the kindness of others and his own resourcefulness.

Fr Therry had a grand plan for a Catholic Church in the new colony from the time he first commenced his chaplaincy, and in 1821 Fr Therry and Governor Macquarie set aside their differences to lay the foundation stone of St Mary’s Cathedral, however it took another ten years before the roof was laid.

Fr Therry purchased land, was gifted land and was granted land to build the churches and schools that are now part of our rich Catholic history.  Fr Therry is noted as being the priest to build more churches within Australia than any other priest that has come after him.

Father John Joseph Therry was appointed Parish Priest of Balmain in 1856 and died there in 1864.


Mort’s at St Augustine’s

Thomas Sutcliffe Mort is well known as a pioneer businessman, pastoralist and entrepreneur and for the significant contribution he made to the development of Balmain through the establishment of Mort’s Dock and Engineering Co.

The fact that he was a father of eleven children is less know, and what became of them even less is known. We do know his first son James Laidley Mort (1844-1907) remained heavily involved in the family business and probably to the disbelief of his father, a prominent Church of England (Anglican) layman who donated the land for St Mark’s Church, Darling Point, and commissioned Edmund Blacket to design the church as well as contributed to the building of St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney and St Paul’s College, University of Sydney, had become a Catholic!

We see from the report of James’ very well attended funeral at St Joseph’s Wollahra in the SMH Friday 23 Aug 1907 that by that time he was very respected by the Catholic community with “The following clergy (taking) part in the service at the grave:- The Rev. Fathers Kennedy, Coleman, Birch, Lawler, Begley, and Sheridan.”

A full description of the funeral can be read at https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/14881073

James’ son, John Laidley Mort was an Electrical Engineer who made his home in Balmain for some time, probably working in the family business. John lived with his wife Lucy, firstly at 8 Wharf Road and later at 23 Ballast Point Road. Records tell us that John had at least three children Baptised at St Augustine’s, Thomas in 1915 and twins Erskine & Charles in 1918. Later the funeral for Thomas’s five month old son John Laidley Mort was held at St Augustine’s in May 1948. No further records have been found. BH:ADLAH

William Roger : 1886-1945

William Rogers’ funeral was held at St Augustine’s Balmain in late April 1945

His death had occurred during the sealing off of the Birthday Shaft at the Balmain Coal Mine on 20 April 1945. Rudimentary tests of the work being undertaken had ignited escaping gas and caused an explosion below the seal. The explosion caused massive damage to the mine while houses and buildings in the locality shook as if an earth-quake had taken place, the explosion was heard miles away.

No coal has been taken from the mine since 1930, but it was being developed as a source of methane gas. One of the shafts was about 2,600ft, probably the deepest coal shaft in the

Commonwealth at that time. The owners of the property were Natural Gas and Oil Corporation, Ltd., which produces and sold the gas to Tullochs Pty., Ltd., of Rhodes.

Sale of gas from the mine averaged of 50,000 cubic feet a day, with the last annual report of the company stating that if the mine could be hermetically sealed, the maximum output of gas could be obtained. To achieve this, it was planned to seal off all the old workings which gave access to the coal face from which methane is derived. Justification was that more than 200 vehicles in the metropolitan area had been using the methane gas from the mine, giving a saving of more than 100 gallons of petrol a day.

As well as causing the death of Mr Rogers, the company Manager and the Watchman were also killed in the accident and another two men injured. Mr Rogers was a married man who lived in Reuss St Birchgrove. Employees at the mine were not members of the Miners’ Federation, and so were not covered by the miners’ pension scheme probably meaning that his family would have struggled to survive after the accident.

In the 1950s the Birthday and Jubilee shafts were filled in with fly ash from the nearby White Bay Power Station and concrete seals placed on the shaft heads. In the half century since then, it is assumed that most of the workings have collapsed and filled with water. The site was used as an industrial depot for several decades and is now occupied by Hopetoun Quays, a development of more than a hundred townhouses. BH:ADLAH

Read more at https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/balmain_colliery

Mr. James Fleming 1878-1938

James Fleming was manager of Callan Park Mental Hospital. He died in September 1938 and his funeral was held at St Joseph’s Rozelle. He was described as “an excellent Catholic” in the Register. Mr Fleming had been associated with the Mental Hospital Department for 42 years as manager at Stockton, Kenmore and most recently Callan Park. He also served at Parramatta, Rydalmere, Gladesville and Morisset.

Continuing James’ involvement in medical areas, his son, Justin graduated from Medicine at Sydney University in 1940 and took up a residency at St Vincent’s Hospital. During WW2 he joined the medical branch of the Royal Australasian Air Force, serving at home and abroad for three and a half years. On demobilization he took on further study building up a large practice that was noted for his technical skill and his kindness to his patients. He was highly regarded by his colleagues as an original thinker: he introduced and fostered the idea of surgical audit and developed new methods in teaching and patient care. He was a pioneer of peripheral vascular surgery in Australia where he was one of the first to resect an abdominal aortic aneurysm. He travelled abroad extensively to visit vascular centres in Britain and the USA and was deeply concerned with achieving the highest possible standards throughout Australia.