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Jerger, Charles Adolph (1869–1927)

by P. L'Estrange

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Charles Adolph Jerger (1869-1927), Catholic priest, was born on 5 January 1869 at St Blasien, Baden, son of Philip Jacob Morlock (d.1869), land surveyor, and his wife Wilhelmina, née Ellenwohn, a Catholic, and was baptised in his father's Evangelical faith. In 1870 or 1871 his mother married John Jerger, born at Niedereschach in 1842. They moved about 1875 to Plymouth, England, where Charles was educated at Beaconsfield College, and migrated to Sydney in 1888. He finished his schooling at Parramatta, worked in a jeweller's shop at Goulburn and there joined the Roman Catholic Congregation of the Passion on 10 April 1893. He made his profession on 9 May 1894 and was ordained priest at Goulburn on 21 May 1899. While based at Goulburn and, after April 1915, at Marrickville, Sydney, he preached in many parts of Australia.

After a sermon at Marrickville on 24 September 1916 a parishioner officially complained that Jerger had expressed disloyal sentiments calculated to discourage enlistment in the Australian Imperial Force. On investigation by the police he denied making any such statements and visited Melbourne to seek help from Hugh Mahon and explain his position to the minister for defence (Sir) George Pearce. He was interviewed by Major Edmund Piesse, head of military intelligence, and registered as an alien. Jerger had mistakenly believed himself to be a naturalized British subject: but his mother had not been naturalized when a widow and he was not covered by his stepfather's naturalization.

Late in 1917 Jerger was again accused of conducting an anti-British campaign and interned on 15 February 1918 under the War Precautions Regulations (1915). The charges against him were never specified. Leading churchmen, especially Archbishops Daniel Mannix and Michael Kelly, made efforts, and the Catholic Federation organized popular agitation, to secure his release; it was opposed by Protestant groups and the Loyalty League. Patrick Glynn repeatedly brought his case before cabinet and the Department of Defence. At the Holsworthy internment camp (where he was Catholic chaplain) Jerger was aggressive and volatile, claiming that he was persecuted and thwarted. His tactlessness and obstinacy did not help his cause.

A stipendiary magistrate, sitting as the Aliens Board, recommended that Jerger's internment be continued. In 1919 the royal commission on the release of internees twice considered Jerger's case and twice reported that the magistrate's decision should be upheld. Cabinet approved and the solicitor-general Sir Robert Garran advised deportation on 29 March 1920. In June Garran heard evidence from Fr Jerger, but reported that his attitude was German and that during the war he had expressed his German sympathies. Jerger's counsel Thomas Ryan was not allowed to appear. The failure to examine witnesses heightened the feeling that Jerger had been unfairly treated. Demonstrations were organized and court actions and the threat of strikes were used in an attempt to keep him in the country. The full bench of the High Court of Australia found that he had failed to establish that he was a British subject. John Wren and other supporters unsuccessfully challenged the validity of the War Precautions Act and issued writs of habeas corpus.

Jerger had been released on 30 April 1920 but was rearrested on 7 July. He was eventually deported from Adelaide in July. The issue was no longer a simple sectarian dispute: the labour movement protested at the deportation and there were bitter divisions in both Catholic and Protestant groups on the question of Jerger's loyalty and his right to remain in Australia.

After his deportation Jerger lived in Holland, Chicago, United States of America (where his brother was a doctor), Dublin and in England at Herne Bay, Kent. He died in London, after an operation, on 11 September 1927 and was buried in the grounds of the Passionist Monastery, Highgate.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Scott, Australia During the War (Syd, 1936)
  • P. J. O'Farrell, The Catholic Church and the Community in Australia: A History (Melb, 1977)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Commonwealth), 1917-19, p 4152 ff, 1920-21, p 2833 ff, 2918, 3723, 4921
  • Parliamentary Papers (New South Wales), 1918, 1, p 627 ff
  • Commonwealth Law Reports, 27, 28
  • Labour History, Nov 1976, no 31
  • P. L'Estrange, Alien and Alienated: The Case of Charles Jerger 1916-1920 (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Melbourne, 1974)
  • PM's correspondence files, items 1920/496, 3319, S.C. H25/1, F42/1, and Attorney-General's Dept, correspondence files, items W8/4[163], [208], and Governor-General's Office, general correspondence, item 1920/1025, and Dept of Defence, general correspondence, MP 367/1, items 512/3/1109, 567/3/3432, 567/8/2239, and Common Law Files, MP 401/1, items CL 1126, 1126A (National Archives of Australia)
  • Passionist Fathers, Archives (St Ives, Sydney)
  • Glynn and Hughes and Mahon papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

P. L'Estrange, 'Jerger, Charles Adolph (1869–1927)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/jerger-charles-adolph-6843/text11851, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 19 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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