Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Holy Name Cathedral site

Here’s a man whose name has graced these pages several times before. He is the long-serving former Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane Sir James Duhig.
(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #195199)

Duhig was a priest for almost seventy years and archbishop for nearly sixty. His biographer, Catholic scholar and historian Father TP Boland, says that his “kindness and gentleness, his fondness for children, and his compassion were well known”. Duhig was a grand communicator, both orally and in writing, and an indefatigable traveller throughout his religious life. He mixed just as easily with royalty as with the common parishioner, and his commitment to education in Queensland was exemplary.

But it is not these admirable qualities for which James Duhig is most remembered. He had a significant impact on the architecture and the development of Brisbane as a city. His attraction to property and his ambition to increase the reach of his church saw him responsible for the construction of over 400 buildings in Brisbane, including hospitals, schools and churches. He became known as “James the builder”, and this is the story of the project that was at once his fondest dream, but also his greatest failure.

By the time he reached the position of Brisbane’s archbishop, his church was moribund due to the declining health of his predecessor Robert Dunne. There was no retirement for an archbishop then – his duties ended only at death. Dunne’s final years dragged on, and the business of the Catholic church suffered through lack of action. Once on the throne, Duhig’s remarkable energy sparked an immediate upswing in activity. Even as he commenced building churches and schools, James Duhig wanted to replace the venerable Cathedral of St Stephen with a more elaborate and striking cathedral to signify the importance of the Catholic faith in Brisbane.

Archbishop Duhig’s home was the opulent Dara, situated on Ann St opposite All Hallows’ school, an area known then as Duncan's Hill. The original Dara was built in 1850, but after being purchased by the church for use as the archbishop’s residence, a new Dara was constructed in 1891.  Duhig’s ambition to erect a grand cathedral was so powerful that he demolished Dara in 1928 and moved to Wynberg at New Farm, his residence for the rest of his life and still the home of the Catholic archbishop. His intention was to erect the Cathedral of the Holy Name on the site formerly occupied by Dara. Pictured below are the first Dara (bottom image) and Duhig's Dara (top).
(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #159874)

But the rapid expansion in the church had come at a cost. The proposed cathedral was out of reach financially. Already heavily in debt to the banks as a result of his building programme, Duhig needed to find another way to fund the cathedral project. He thought he found it in, of all places, western Queensland.


James Duhig, for all his other attributes, had the heart of a gambler and invested in oil exploration ventures at Roma. In Boland’s book this heartfelt excerpt from a Duhig letter appears:
"If we find oil, I shall never again have any worries about Church financing, for it will mean finding not thousands but millions. It would be a great Godsend to me, because I have had my share of worries, trying to provide Churches and Schools in the Diocese in which practically nothing was done for twenty-five years before I cane to it... I am praying hard that God may prosper us, because it will mean so much to our education, our charities and other works,"
(From "James Duhig" by TP Boland; University of Queensland Press; 1986)

Needless to say, the oil was a fizzer, not a gusher, but it doesn’t seem to have dampened Duhig’s willingness to speculate – later, interests in gold mining emerged, and even Queensland’s Golden Casket lottery scheme was a wishful source of funds.

Despite the lack of proper funding, Archbishop Duhig could not let go of his dream. He engaged his favoured architects, Hennessy and Hennessy, to prepare drawings for an immense cathedral, larger even than St Mary’s in Sydney, using Benedict stone for the exterior. The partnership between archbishop and architect that was so close and mutually beneficial in its early days was to end in acrimony and court action later. The Benedict stone venture, which included a factory and payment of licence fees to the US parent company, also had a negative impact on Duhig's finances.

On Sunday 16th November 1928, foundation stones for the cathedral were laid on site. A crowd of more than thirty-five thousand people turned up to see Duhig and other church and local dignitaries proclaim the commencement of construction. The photograph below shows the crowd gathered at Centenary Place, next to the cathedral site. The buildings in the centre background are part of All Hallows’ school.
(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #6869-0001-0002)

Duhig, increasingly desperate to build the cathedral but low on capital, tried to raise money from Catholic congregations across the state, but those funds were never going to be enough. Here is a photograph of an Art Union ticket from 1932, where the proceeds were to be directed towards the construction of the cathedral. 
(Photo: courtesy of the owner of the original, Cassie Kreymborg)

According to Boland, Duhig contemplated selling land around St Stephen's and even the Pugin Chapel from the 1850s was on his "for sale" list. Fortunately there were no buyers.

To provide stability for the foundations, the proposed new cathedral site was levelled and a retaining wall was built around the property. It was constructed by the Brisbane City Council in return for a portion of the site that was given to the council to facilitate the widening of Ann St. Here is a photograph of a portion of the wall behind a vehicle of the day.
(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #104864)

Duhig was able to find enough money to complete the crypt by 1935. I remember passing it in the fifties as a child, thinking that it must be full of coffins and skeletons. 
 (Photo: Courtesy Brisbane City Council; BCC-B54-34951)

Then came the Depression, and following that, World War II. If the project was still alive at the start of the Depression, these two events certainly saw an end to it.

Archbishop James Duhig died at Wynberg in 1965, and the crypt and the retaining walls were then only tangible symbols of the cathedral that never was. The site was sold to developers in 1992, and the crypt was demolished to allow for the construction of a residential building - an apartment block called "Cathedral Place".

Today, St Stephen's is still the cathedral, and the only the retaining walls in Ann St and Gotha St remain to remind Brisbane’s population of James Duhig’s impossible dream.
(Photo: © 2011 the foto fanatic)

Above is a current photograph taken from Centenary Park, looking across Gotha St towards the site where the cathedral was to be built. The council-built retaining wall can be seen underneath the apartments, with All Hallows at the right rear of the image.

Click here for a Google Map.


SEE YOU IN 2012. 


  1. Fascinating, as always. Best wishes to you and yours over. Looking forward to another year of your blog. xx

  2. Thank you TFF for this wonderful blog! I've been fascinated by the buildings of Brisbane since I was a little girl and am thrilled to be able to read your informative posts. I have read each post back to the beginning and look forward to each and every new one. Thank you again and enjoy your break!

  3. A great year of content from TFF. I read more than I comment... :/ and very much look forward to even more in the coming new year. What will 2013 bring? I was thinking....Brisbane's first history based podcast! Stay tuned. (BTW I need some collaborators on that project)

    Merry Christmas to you and yours.



  4. He was a fascinating person, wasn't he. My grandmother worked in his residence prior to her marriage. Wish I'd asked her for more stories when she was alive now. I was told that he liked to build on hills, but am not sure if that was fact or observation. Also, was the crypt earmarked as a bomb shelter or similar during the war or is that an urban myth?

  5. brismod: Cheers! Happy blogging Christmas to you & your family also.
    nightowl_72: Thanks for taking the time to comment & I'm glad that you are enjoying YBPP.
    mcwhirters: Thanks. I look forward to enjoying your project next year also.
    Brissiemum2: Don't know about the crypt during WWII, but I'll try to find out. I think Duhig was remarkable in many aspects of his life.

  6. I remember Archbishop Duhig and the crypt well, having been confirmed by the former in 1958, and having attended Mass on numerous occasions at the latter well into the 60s.

    The crypt was a Catholic church, and while one of the functions of a church is of course to provide sanctuary, and so the crypt would have done so if it had been required during the war, the idea of its having been turned into a dedicated bomb shelter for the duration is quite unimaginable.

    As a church it had rather a very welcoming aura, softly lit and pleasant. It is shameful that it was not preserved when the site was redeveloped. It was not large and occupied only a small proportion of the total area.

    The Archbishop most certainly sought high ground when acquiring land for churches and schools, and was indeed a most remarkable man. Without the depression the cathedral would no doubt have been completed, which may have helped to prevent, or at least slow the Valley’s loss of importance and descent into what it is today.

  7. Does anyone know where I could find images of inside the Crypt

  8. Hi Rina -- photos of the Crypt interior on the FB page 'Old Brisbane Album' here: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1410641432301282&set=pcb.1309125292466843&type=3&theater

  9. Found some more photos of the Crypt on the same FB page: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1438431559522269&set=pcb.1438432749522150&type=3&theater

  10. crypt picture pages reemoved.. anyone have access to the images? to be dispayed in a shopfront in Cathedral Village

  11. The last para references Centenary Park. Indeed, the photo may well have been taken from the park, but the park's official title is Centenary Place as proclaimed by Maurice Joseph Barry, the Mayor of the day. The source: Telegraph, 30 September 1925 P5. Sydney has Centennial Park but Brisbane has Centenary Place.


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