Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Partridge, Bridget (1890–1966)

by Zita Denholm

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Bridget Partridge (1890-1966), lapsed nun, was born on 21 October 1890 at Newbridge, Kildare, Ireland, daughter of Edward Partridge, corporal in the Royal Engineers, and his wife Anne, née Cardiff. Her father was English and a Protestant; her mother an Irish Catholic. Brought up in army camps, Bridget left school at 14 and, believing herself called to missionary work, entered the Order of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1908 at St Bridget's Convent, Kildare. She sailed for Melbourne on Christmas Day and on 21 February 1909 entered the Presentation Sisters' novitiate and mother house, Mount Erin, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales.

Professed on 25 September 1911, she took the religious name Mary Liguori. She taught at the branch convent at Ganmain for some five years before returning to Mount Erin by 1918. When she revealed herself temperamentally unsuited to either the religious life or teaching (the chief work of the order), her superiors failed to persuade her to return to her parents in Ireland; she was given charge of the refectory.

Bored and discontented, Sister M. Liguori, on the afternoon of 24 July 1920, left the convent for the home of a neighbour. Later she returned to the convent. Pronounced by a doctor to be in need of rest, she refused a sedative in the belief that it was poisoned and fled the convent in her nightgown and barefoot. She was taken to other neighbours, while police and Catholic laymen searched for her. Next day, after writing to Bishop Joseph Dwyer, bishop of Wagga Wagga, to announce her wish to withdraw from the order, she was taken to Adelong and later escorted to Sydney by E. B. Barton, grandmaster of the Loyal Orange Lodge of New South Wales, to the home of a Congregational minister, Rev. William Touchell, at Kogarah.

At a time of intense sectarian bitterness the popular press made much of the 'escaped' nun, with exaggerated accounts of pursuit. The drama was heightened when, at the request of Bishop Dwyer, a warrant for her arrest was issued on the grounds of insanity. Arrested, Miss Partridge appeared in the Lunacy Court on 9 August with F. S. Boyce as counsel, was remanded for observation, certified sane and released on 13 August. She was described as 'tall and thin with china-blue eyes' and youthful in appearance. She returned to the Touchells.

Guaranteed her expenses by the Loyal Orange Lodge, Bridget Partridge sued Bishop Dwyer for £5000 for wrongful arrest and mistreatment at Mount Erin. During the trial from 30 June to 13 July 1921, before a packed court and in a blaze of publicity, every detail of convent life was exposed. On 13 July Justice (Sir) David Ferguson and a jury of four found for the bishop. The judge remarked in his summing-up that 'it is very unfortunate for the plaintiff that, at the time she left the convent she did not meet somebody [with] a little common horse-sense'.

On the night of 26 October Miss Partridge was sensationally 'kidnapped' by several men including her brother. Recognized next day, she was taken to police headquarters for protection and renounced her religion and her brother.

Bridget Partridge lived with the Touchells, moving with the minister to the Cessnock coalfields, Cronulla, Sutherland and Hurstville. He died in 1954. In November 1962 she and Mrs Touchell (d.1963) were admitted to Rydalmere Mental Hospital. She died there on 4 December 1966 and was buried in Rookwood cemetery with Congregational forms.

The publicity given to the Liguori affair fanned smouldering sectarian bitterness, exacerbated by the contemporary struggle for Irish independence, the treatment of Archbishop Mannix in England and the ne temere marriage issue.

Select Bibliography

  • K. Swan, A History of Wagga Wagga (Wagga Wagga, 1970)
  • B. T. Dowd and S. E. Tearle (compilers), Centenary, Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Wagga Wagga (Wagga Wagga, 1973)
  • B. Watson, Embrace the Past with Remembrance (Canb, 1975)
  • B. Nairn, The ‘Big Fella’ (Melb, 1986)
  • People (Sydney), 11 Aug 1954
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 13, 14 July, 27, 28 Oct 1921
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19 July 1980.

Citation details

Zita Denholm, 'Partridge, Bridget (1890–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/partridge-bridget-7968/text13875, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 24 August 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2017

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Sister M. Liguori
  • Liguori, Sister Mary
Birth

21 October 1890
Newbridge, Kildare, Ireland

Death

4 December 1966
Rydalmere, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation