Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

John Cani (1836–1898)

by S. Gilley

This article was published:

John Cani (1836-1898), Roman Catholic bishop, was born on 22 December 1836 in Castel Bolognese, near Bologna, Italy, son of Pasquale Cani and Giacoma, née Gamberini. He was baptized Giovanni on 23 December 1836 and confirmed on 10 October 1841 by the bishop of Imola, Cardinal Mastai Ferretti (later Pius IX). After training at Imola seminary where he received the tonsure in 1852, he won in 1856 the Cardinal Ginnasi bursary for a scholar from Castel Bolognese for study in Rome. As a subdeacon in 1856, deacon and priest in 1857, he attended the Sapienza University, graduating with doctorates in divinity and law. He preferred a missionary role to the easy and inviting prospect of a curial career under a pope and Cardinal Gamberini from his native province. Bending to his zeal, the Sacred Congregation permitted him to accompany James Quinn, first bishop of Brisbane, to his new diocese in 1861.

Cani was always known as John in Australia. Until 1868 he was parish priest at Warwick, where he built a convent and school and then had charge of the Brisbane parish, administering the diocese as vicar-general while the bishop attended the 1870 Vatican Council. An active and energetic pastor, he raised funds for various buildings including the cathedral. He was popular with the Sisters of Mercy and the lay community presented him with a handsome sum on his appointment in 1878 as pro-vicar apostolic of North Queensland, where he replaced the unsuccessful Monsignor Fortini. In that year Quinn commended him to Rome, and on the bishop's death in 1881 Archbishop Roger Bede Vaughan named him acting diocesan administrator. But Quinn's brother, the bishop of Bathurst, and his three nephews who were priests in large Queensland rural parishes, organized a campaign of protest against the Italian. Cani's abrupt manner had made him enemies. He had also crossed Irish hopes of preferment, and his opponents took their stand on the nationalist principle that Quinn should be succeeded by an Irishman. As an English Benedictine familiar with Hibernian prejudice and battle technique, Vaughan had sympathized with the Brisbane faction hostile to Quinn. Perhaps assisted by Cani's brother, a curial official, he secured the Italian's selection as the first bishop of Rockhampton and consecrated him in St Mary's Cathedral on 21 May 1882. In material terms Cani's episcopate did not live up to his earlier promise. He remained on excellent terms with Quinn's successor, Robert Dunne, and his kindness to the sick and under-privileged won him a limited popularity but he could not complete his cathedral. At his death on 3 March 1898 he was very poor. In Brisbane his failure was held to prove the need for Irish prelates: in 1899 his see passed to an Irishman.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian (Brisbane), 24 Sept 1881
  • Age (Brisbane), 12 Mar 1898, 2 July, 7, 14, 21 Oct 1899
  • Cani-Vaughan letters, 1881-82 (Roman Catholic Archives, Sydney)
  • Quinn-Dunne letters, 1882 (Wynberg Archives, Brisbane).

Citation details

S. Gilley, 'Cani, John (1836–1898)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

John Cani, n.d.

John Cani, n.d.

State Library of Queensland, 60902

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Cani, Giovanni

22 December, 1836
Castel Bolognese, Ravenna, Italy


3 March, 1898 (aged 61)
Queensland, 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.