Friday, September 4, 2009

Bishop James Quinn

Irish-Catholics were very prominent among Brisbane's early settlers, and the Catholic church was involved in the development of many aspects of the city: religion, education and property to name a few. The church appointed a Bishop of Brisbane in 1859 - prior to that Brisbane had been seen as part of the colony (and therefore the archdiocese) of New South Wales. The first Bishop was James Quinn, a forty year-old Irishman, who was sent out here from Ireland and arrived in 1861 with Mother Mary Vincent Whitty and other Sisters of Mercy. Quinn must have got cracking fairly quickly, establishing a school at St Stephen's with the help of the Sisters, and then starting to buy property for the expansion of the church in Queensland. According to the John Oxley Library's accompanying records, the following image of Quinn dates from around 1860, but perhaps that information is not accurate. Firstly, Quinn didn't get here until 1861 - not in itself an issue. But he didn't call himself James O'Quinn before 1875, according to the Australian Dictionary of Biography and John Oxley's own records. Seeing that the document records the date of Quinn's death, I believe that the photograph of him is more likely to be one taken later in his life, rather than when he first arrived here.

(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #63315)

The following image is annotated as being from 1865, and shows a much younger-looking Quinn.

(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #177993)

It seems that Bishop Quinn was a doer. He set about improving the church's finances, he organised the immigration of thousands of his fellow Irishmen into Queensland to help the colony grow. In fact, such was his zeal in this area that the government stopped it, fearful of being so overrun by the Irish that the place would need to be known as "Quinn's land", not Queensland. He was also an autocrat, convinced that he was God's instrument and therefore not to be trifled with. Stories of feuds with the Sisters of Mercy and fellow priests are thick on the ground. For further information on Bishop Quinn (including the reason for the change of name to O'Quinn), I recommend that you read "James Quinn: Monarch of all he surveyed", the 1979 Aquinas Lecture delivered by Dr TP Boland, which can be read here. It is an enlightening and entertaining portrayal of a man Boland describes as an enigma.
(Photo: © 2009 the foto fanatic)

Perhaps it is the Cathedral of St Stephen in the centre of Brisbane with which Quinn is indelibly associated. It became a cathedral upon his appointment, and he laid the foundation stone of the larger new cathedral, built next door to the original, in 1863. A statue of Bishop O'Quinn stands in the cathedral grounds, and it is shown in my photograph above.

Click here for a Google Map.


Centenary - what centenary?

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