Mary MacKillop’s caring for the poor encouraged by the liberal strain in Adelaide Protestantism


Dedicated to educating poor children, Mary MacKillop was the first Australian to found a Roman Catholic religious order, in Penola, in 1866.

Although canonised as the first Australian saint in 2010, MacKillop had conflicts with Roman Catholic bishops to the extent of being excommunicated. The Victorian-born MacKillop was working as a governess in South Australia’s south east, when she was encouraged by parish priest Tenison Woods to found an order that eventually became the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart.

Poverty was central to the rule of life for the order that, starting with a school at Yankalilla in 1867, set up schools, orphanages and institutions throughout the Australian colonies.

A two-storey convent for the Josephites was built in Franklin Street (facing Gray Street), Adelaide, in 1869. The ground floor was a school for poor children in the city’s west.

By 1871, Adelaide bishop Laurence Sheil was facing complaints about the order’s members living in the community and begging for money to fund their work. (The Josephites refused government funds.) After MacKillop argued against calls that some members of the order be lay sisters and that each convent should be under a priest’s authority, she was excommunicated by Sheil in the Franklin Street chapel. Fifty other sisters were told to leave the order, and the convent in Franklin Street was transferred to the Dominican sisters.

While she was excommunicated, the wide respect for MacKillop and her nuns is reflected in the support they received from non-Catholics such as the Adelaide Jewish businessman Emanuel Solomon and MacKillop’s close (Presbyterian) friend Joanna Barr Smith.

Other related ADELAIDEAZ articles

Victor Richardson Gates honour top allrounder; Mackay-Kline, Port-Sturt 1960 highlights

Last batsmen Ken Mackay and Lindsay Kline held out for 109 minutes in one of Adelaide Oval’s most gripping cricket episodes to give Australia a draw against the West Indies in the fourth Test of the 1960-61 Frank Worrell Trophy series. Lance Gibbs took the oval’s only Test cricket hat trick in Australia's first innings. Another big day for the oval was 1965 South Australian National Football League grand final won by Port Adelaide over Sturt before a record 62,543. Next year, Sturt would start its five-year premiership reign. In 1967, the oval's eastern Victor Richardson Gates opened in honour of Sturt and South Australia’s greatest all-round sportsman. Victor York Richardson scored 27 centuries in first-class cricket, represented Australia at baseball, South Australia at golf and tennis, and excelled at lacrosse, basketball, and swimming. He captained South Australia and Australia at cricket, captained the South Australian  football team, and an outstanding gymnast, athlete, and hockey player. He later became a journalist and a radio commentator.  In 1965, South Australia had an astonishing 12-11 to 3-1 win in Australian football at Adelaide Oval over Victoria who kicked only one goal after the first term and were scoreless in the second and last quarters. Their final score was the smallest in 86 years of intercolonial and interstate football. Adding to Adelaide Oval's versatility for 15 years from 1960 were the Highland Games.

Elizabeth Webb Nicholls leads the temperance movement into broader range of social causes

Elizabeth Webb Nicholls was a founder of Adelaide's Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) branch.Elizabeth Webb Nicholls, daughter and niece of House of Assembly members Samuel and William Bakewell, made her public-speaking début at a Methodist women's conference in 1885. Nicholls took the temperance movement into wider causes, most notably votes for women. A councillor of the Women's Suffrage League, Nicholls helped gather, through the WCTU, 8,268 of the 11,600 signatures for the 1894 suffrage petition to parliament. Nicholls also campaigned on issues ranging from prison reform to sex education and working conditions.

Ita Buttrose a product of family history entwined into twists of Adelaide's early years from 1850s

Ita Buttrose, chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation from 2019, has a family background entrenched in early Adelaide history. The Buttrose name is from William Butters and wife Frances who sailed for Adelaide on the Washington from Scotland in 1851. William’s grandfather and father came from a Buttrose line but used the surname Butter. When he married Frances in Glasgow, William’s name was recorded as “Butters”; on the Washington passenger list it was  “Birtrouse”. These name anomalies became irrelevant when the Washington entered St Vincent Gulf and its drunken captain ran the ship aground on Troubridge Shoal. Among ship items lost were its log book with passengers’ names. The switch to "Buttrose” was simple. William was soon a policeman with Alexander Tolmer, bringing gold back from South Australian diggers in Victoria. He died in 1864 from a horse fall and/or diabetes, leaving Francis with eight children. She opened a school at Angaston and lived to 81. Her children included John Oswald Buttrose, a drinking womaniser whose son John was in the same mould, although he captained Sturt Football Club and played for South Australia in 1904 against Victoria. John/“Ossie" married Agnes, daughter of Murray Bridge publican Charles Kelly, whose father worked on the Adelaide-Darwin telegraph project. “Ossie” made an unsteady living in show business. He deserted Agnes and their seven children, the eldest being Charles, who got a job at 14 on Adelaide’s afternoon newspaper, The News. Charles, Ita Buttrose's father, became an eminent editor, war correspondent – and deputy manager of the ABC.

Molly Byrne, Anne Levy lead Labor women into House of Assembly and Legislative Council

In 1965, Molly Byrne led the way for South Australian Labor female parliamentarians as a member of the House of Assembly for the seat of Tea Tree Gully. Anne Levy in 1975 was first Labor woman in the Legislative Council and, in 1986, its president. This made her the first presiding office of any house of parliament in Australia. Barbara Wiese (1985) was the first Labor woman and Legislative Council member to be a minister, from 1985 to 1994, mainly in the tourism portfolio.

Charles Todd's grandson Lawrence Bragg the youngest Nobel laureate with his father in 1915

Lawrence Bragg had a head start in being the youngest person, at 25, to win a Nobel Prize. Born in North Adelaide in 1890, his early interest in science and mathematics could be expected to flow from his father, William Bragg, professor of mathematics and physics at Adelaide University. But his mother Gwendoline was the daughter of Charles Todd, South Australia’s postmaster general and astronomer general who completed the epic Adelaide-Darwin telegraph project in the 1870s.


Janine Haines impacts as leader of Australian Democrats with balance of power at federal level

Janine Haines’ election to the senate in 1980 started a high-profile phase for South Australian women in federal politics. In 1986, Haines was elected leader of the Australian Democrats who gained the balance of power in the senate. Haines used this to negotiate changes in areas such as health care and equal opportunity for women. She furthered the senate’s role as a house of review. In 1990, Haines resigned to contest (unsuccessfully) the South Australian seat of Kingston.

Contact Us

We welcome positive constructive feedback