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Sophia Charlotte Louisa Adams (1832–1891)

by Stephanie Burley

This article was published:

Sophia Charlotte Louisa Adams (1832-1891), Dominican prioress known as Mother Rose Columba, was born on 21 March 1832 at Tower House, Woodchester, Gloucestershire, England, daughter of wealthy Anglican parents James Smith Adams (d.1860), indigo manufacturer, and his second wife Elizabeth Emma, née McTaggert. Sophie was educated both at home and at school. In 1851 she converted to Catholicism, despite parental disapproval, and in 1856 entered the Dominican convent at Stone, Staffordshire. She was professed on 26 May 1857, taking the religious name of Rose Columba. In 1866-83 she was in charge of St Mary's convent (later priory) at St Mary Church, Torquay, Devon.

Mother Rose Columba led a group of six professed sisters and two postulants who left Tilbury in July 1883 in the Orient. They were responding to a request—under the auspices of Bishop Christopher Reynolds—from Elizabeth Baker and her mother Isabella for Dominican sisters to nurse the sick in Adelaide. The nuns disembarked at Largs Bay, South Australia, six weeks later. Their leader's journal provided vivid descriptions of the voyage.

Expecting that they would care for women, Mother Rose Columba realized on arrival that they were to nurse men as well, which their order's constitution forbade. The dilemma was resolved by her decision to manage the hospital temporarily and open a select school at Strangways Terrace, later in Molesworth Street, North Adelaide, to teach Catholic, Protestant and Jewish pupils. The sisters also embroidered vestments, painted pottery and illuminated documents. The prioress was committed to the Dominican spiritual tradition of contemplation, in the form of Perpetual Adoration (prayer in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament). She perceived the sisters' involvement in the public sphere as a necessity to survive, but her ambition was to provide the spiritual atmosphere that the colony seemed to lack. This was to attract an increasing number of women to the community.

In 1887 many of the sisters' dowries were forwarded from England, and Mother Rose Columba determined that they would be used to build an appropriate chapel at the Molesworth Street convent. She designed the building and its furnishings, but did not live to see its completion. She died from kidney failure on 30 December 1891 at the convent and was buried in West Terrace cemetery, Adelaide. Her own considerable dowry, amounting to £6250, was used to complete the chapel of the Holy Spirit, one of the best examples of Gothic architecture in Adelaide.

The sisters' spiritual and social contributions to the Adelaide church were shaped significantly by the first prioress. She was fervent, zealous and meticulous about her spiritual obligations, despite frequent ill health. To her community an inspiration and a model, she attracted outsiders and corresponded with the male clerical hierarchy as an equal. She was creative and artistic, although her biographer reported that singing was 'a great trial to her'. She showed strong sympathies, but also strong antipathies, was self-righteous periodically, and occasionally made harsh judgements. Her life reflected the responsibilities, concerns, isolation, and irritations of a female religious pioneer.

Select Bibliography

  • St Dominic's Priory North Adelaide: Souvenir of Golden Jubilee (Adel, 1933)
  • W. R. Brownlow, Memoir of Mother Mary Rose Columba Adams, O.P. (Lond, 1895)
  • M. R. MacGinley, A Dynamic of Hope (Syd, 1996)
  • H. Northey, Living The Truth (Adel, 1999)
  • Dominican Sisters archives (Stone, United Kingdom, and North Adelaide).

Citation details

Stephanie Burley, 'Adams, Sophia Charlotte Louisa (1832–1891)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 11 December 2023.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2023

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Rose Columba, Mother

21 March, 1832
Woodchester, Gloucestershire, England


30 December, 1891 (aged 59)
North Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.