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Dalton, Joseph (1817–1905)

by G. J. O'Kelly

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Joseph Dalton (1817-1905), Jesuit priest, was born on 2 December 1817 at Waterford, Ireland. He was educated at the Jesuit colleges of Clongowes and Tullabeg and entered the Society of Jesus in December 1836. For the next thirty years he studied and worked in Jesuit Houses in Ireland, and became rector of St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg.

Austrian Jesuits had begun a mission to the German settlers near Clare, South Australia, in 1848 but were diffident to extend their work to Victoria where Dr James Goold was eager to found an Irish Jesuit Mission. The Jesuit priests, William Kelly and Joseph Lentaigne, reached Melbourne in September 1865. Dalton was appointed superior of the mission and arrived in April 1866. The first of his many tasks was to revive St Patrick's College, which had opened at East Melbourne in 1854 with a government grant but closed after eight years through maladministration. Dalton appointed Kelly to its staff and by 1880 'Old Patricians' could boast many graduates at the University of Melbourne, and two of its three doctorates in law. At St Patrick's Dalton was also persuaded by Goold to train candidates for the diocesan priesthood, but he resisted Goold's pressure for a more ambitious college until he had sufficient resources. On land bought at Kew in 1871 he built Xavier College which opened in 1878 and cost £40,000.

Dalton was also entrusted by Goold with the parochial care of a very large area centred on Richmond where some of the colony's most eminent laymen lived. With William Wardell and a magnificent site, Dalton worked towards the grandiose St Ignatius Church, capable of seating almost his entire 4000 parishioners. In his district he built other chapels, schools and churches, including the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Hawthorn. He gave many retreats, lectured often on secular education, and engaged in controversy which led once to litigation. He went with Goold to reorganize the diocese of Auckland in 1869 and after Archbishop John Bede Polding died, the Irish Jesuit Mission was invited to Sydney in 1878. As superior there Dalton took charge within eight months of the North Sydney district, founded St Kilda House, the forerunner of St Aloysius College, Milson's Point, and was its first rector. He also bought 118 acres (48 ha) at Riverview where, as rector, he opened St Ignatius College. There he lived after his retirement in 1883 and died on 5 January 1905.

Dalton founded two great public schools and made more than a dozen foundations, of which only one at Dunedin proved abortive; they involved debts of at least £120,000 which were mostly paid by 1883. He published nothing and his inner life is not revealed in his diary (1866-88). Those who knew him well attested that he was first and foremost a holy priest, and he was widely revered in Richmond and Riverview. His energy and vision were striking, and his work established the Irish Jesuits in the eastern colonies.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Ryan, The Society of Jesus in Australia (privately printed, 1911)
  • papers and St Patrick's College records (Jesuit Provincial Archives, Hawthorn, Melbourne).

Citation details

G. J. O'Kelly, 'Dalton, Joseph (1817–1905)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/dalton-joseph-3358/text5063, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 22 August 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

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