Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Bleasdale, John Ignatius (1822–1884)

by J. R. J. Grigsby

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

John Ignatius Bleasdale (1822-1884), by Frederick Frith, 1868-71

John Ignatius Bleasdale (1822-1884), by Frederick Frith, 1868-71

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H3075

John Ignatius Bleasdale (1822-1884), Catholic clergyman, was born in Lancashire, England, and received his elementary education in private schools at Preston. In 1835 he began his studies for the priesthood at the English College, Lisbon, completing them at St Mary's College, Oscott, Birmingham, where he was ordained by Cardinal Wiseman in 1845. For five years he served as a military chaplain in Britain before transferring to the newly-formed diocese of Victoria together with priests who responded to the appeal for clergy made by Dr Patrick Geoghegan in 1849-50.

Bleasdale's first appointment was in 1851 to the country mission of Geelong and Colac, where he remained until 1853 when he was transferred to the seminary attached to St Francis Church, Melbourne. When the seminary was transferred to Eastern Hill at St Patrick's College in 1855 Bleasdale was appointed vice-president. While he held this appointment his deep interest in scientific subjects was reflected by several changes in the curriculum. Bleasdale had soon acquired a reputation as the outstanding Catholic clergyman in scientific circles. He was a recognized and popular lecturer in a wide range of subjects and a foundation member of the Melbourne Microscopical Society. He was also a fellow of the Geographical and Linnean Societies and an honorary member of the Medical Society of Victoria. In the public pressure for the establishment of a public museum of natural history in the 1850s Bleasdale was a diligent committee worker and advocated the founding of schools of chemistry and mineralogy in association with the proposed museum.

While vice-president of St Patrick's College, Bleasdale founded the Catholic Young Men's Society in 1859 and was its spiritual director. In 1860 he resigned from his seminary appointment and was transferred to St Francis Church, Melbourne. Throughout the 1860s he continued his work as a writer and committee worker. Several articles were contributed to the Argus and the weeklies on technical education in which he was interested. He became a prominent member of the Royal Society of Victoria, and many of his lectures and papers were published in its Proceedings. Elsewhere he published many papers on colonial wine, hoping 'to see Victorians a healthy, sober, jolly, wine-drinking population'.

Public recognition of his abilities and interests was achieved when he was appointed to the royal commission on planning an intercolonial exhibition in 1865. This was the first of several similar public appointments which included a trusteeship of the Melbourne Public Library, Museum and National Gallery and membership of the Denominational Schools Board, the Central Board of Health and the Commission for Technical Education. In these public fields he was instrumental in obtaining a government grant of £10,000 to finance a hall for the Technological and Industrial Museum and in 1875 a grant of £2000 for the foundation of a school of chemistry. His abilities as a critic on the subjects of mineralogy and new industries were recognized both in Australasian circles and later in North America.

In the 1860s and 1870s Bleasdale's ecclesiastical appointments included the inspector-generalship of schools and orphanages and a term as private secretary to Bishop James Goold. From 1866 he was secretary of the Catholic Education Committee, which he represented at hearings and appeals in connexion with the education bill of 1867 and the Act of 1872. While continuing to serve in this capacity, he was appointed chancellor of the Archdiocese of Melbourne in 1874, and formulated much of its financial policy in the years when its independent education system was expanding. His health failed rapidly in these years and in 1877 he resigned from his Melbourne ecclesiastical appointments and migrated to California. From that time he did not participate actively in public affairs but continued to publish papers on subjects which had interested him. After a long illness he died in San Francisco in June 1884 aged 62.

Select Bibliography

  • F. Mackle, The Footprints of Our Catholic Pioneers (Melb, 1924)
  • H. M. Humphreys (ed), Men of the Time in Australia: Victorian Series (Melb, 1878)
  • Advocate (Melbourne), Aug 1884
  • Argus (Melbourne), 2 Aug 1884.

Citation details

J. R. J. Grigsby, 'Bleasdale, John Ignatius (1822–1884)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bleasdale-john-ignatius-3015/text4415, published in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 22 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

John Ignatius Bleasdale (1822-1884), by Frederick Frith, 1868-71

John Ignatius Bleasdale (1822-1884), by Frederick Frith, 1868-71

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H3075