Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Patrick Dunne (1818–1900)

by T. J. Linane

This article was published:

Patrick Dunne (1818-1900), Catholic priest, was born at Philipstown, King's County (Offaly), Ireland, son of Patrick Dunne, farmer, and his wife Mary, née Rigney. He trained at Carlow Seminary and was ordained on 8 March 1846. After four years of service to his native diocese of Kildare, he volunteered to join the newly formed Melbourne diocese, 'rising above the opposition of dearest relatives and priests'. He arrived in Melbourne in the Digby on 7 September 1850 and was appointed to Geelong. After a brief stay, the first of two in that mission, he was transferred to the new mission of Pentridge (Coburg), and acted as chaplain to the 'infamous Stockade'. In October 1851 he journeyed to Ballarat on horseback, celebrated the first Mass on that goldfield and performed many baptisms in the lower Wimmera. In 1853-56 he established at Geelong twelve schools under the Denominational Schools Board, as well as the first Catholic secondary or grammar school.

At Port Fairy in 1856 his independence and turbulence led him into a dispute with Bishop James Goold over trust money for a church building. He also became involved with Patrick Bermingham, Michael McAlroy and other clerical and lay critics of the John Bede Polding and Goold administrations in Sydney and Melbourne. As a result Dunne was virtually banished and spent much time in Rome and Ireland, adding to the rising chorus of complaints levelled at Church management. In December 1858 he returned to Melbourne as a migration chaplain but was forbidden to exercise his priestly functions by Goold's vicar-generals, John Fitzpatrick and Patrick Geoghegan. After writing a long document in his own defence, addressed to Polding, Dunne returned to Ireland. Roman authorities were compelled finally to take note of many of his grievances, but Dunne himself, at Goold's instigation, was forbidden to return to Australia. Far from being discouraged he persuaded Irish bishops to allow him to open a minor seminary at Tullamore, County Offaly, which was designed to give an initial training for missionary volunteers to Australia.

In the early 1860s Dunne co-operated with James Quinn in a migration scheme which contributed to the settling of the Darling Downs. The first migrants arrived at Brisbane in the Erin-go-bragh in August 1862. Financial difficulties in the new Brisbane diocese, linked with sectarian objections to the migration scheme, brought Dunne to the Goulburn diocese in April 1868, where his zeal was directed by Bishop William Lanigan into constructive work. After a term as first president of St Patrick's College and cathedral administrator at Goulburn he transferred to the Gundagai-Jugiong mission. On the death of his friend Michael McAlroy in 1880 Dunne succeeded as vicar-general, retaining his title and the confidence of his bishop when he was transferred to Wagga Wagga in 1883 and to Albury in 1887. He helped to plan many churches, including St Michael's in Wagga.

Dunne was one of the best-known priests of the last half of the nineteenth century, often injecting a tumultuous note into church affairs and quarrelling with bishops and public officials. He was a pioneer who responded to the demanding challenges to extend his religion in frontier conditions. At times impatient and adopting sledge-hammer methods in newspaper controversy, his total achievement was a tribute to his vision as much as to his methods. Even in retirement in the 1890s he was a respected national figure, still making his determined thrusts into affairs of church and state.

On 21 July 1900 he died at Albury and was buried in the grounds of Newtown Orphanage, now St John's Orphanage, Wirlinga, Albury.

Select Bibliography

  • J. F. Hogan, The Irish in Australia (Melb, 1888)
  • P. F. Moran, History of the Catholic Church in Australasia (Syd, 1895)
  • W. Ebsworth, ‘One of the greatest pioneer priests’, Advocate (Melbourne), 30 July 1947
  • T. J. Linane, ‘The priest who borrowed a tent’, Light (Ballarat Diocesan Journal), May 1966–June 1968
  • Geoghegan letter, 25 May 1850 (Roman Catholic Archives, Melbourne).

Citation details

T. J. Linane, 'Dunne, Patrick (1818–1900)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 23 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Philipstown, Offaly, Ireland


21 July, 1900 (aged ~ 82)
Albury, New South Wales, Australia

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