Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William John Dunne (1814–1883)

by Peter Bolger

This article was published:

William John Dunne (1814-1883), Catholic priest, was born at Ballycallan near Kilkenny, Ireland. After education at Burrell's Hall he entered St Kyran's College and three years later enrolled at the College of the Immaculate Conception at Ratcliffe in Leicestershire. He volunteered for service in Australia, arrived in Sydney in March 1843 and was ordained by Archbishop John Bede Polding. He was first attached to St Mary's Cathedral and then given charge of the mission at Windsor. In 1845 he went to Van Diemen's Land to take over the Richmond mission, which then extended from the south coast to the boundary of the Launceston mission. Dunne was reputedly responsible for the building and improvement of seven country churches including those at Richmond, Sorell, Brighton and Jerusalem. When the newly appointed Bishop Daniel Murphy arrived at Hobart Town in July 1866 with a community of Presentation Sisters, Dunne housed the nuns under supervision of the bishop's sister at his Woodburn estate in the Richmond parish.

Later that year Dunne was moved from Richmond and appointed the first Catholic archdeacon of Tasmania. He was stationed at St Joseph's Church in Hobart. When William Hall died in July Dunne became vicar-general; as chief executive of the Catholic Church in Tasmania he was largely responsible for the harmony which existed between Catholic and public educators in the colony. He represented the Church on the Council of Education for sixteen years, sat on royal commissions into education and was active on the boards of several schools. He was closely associated with the building of the orphanage attached to St Joseph's and the formation of the Catholic Ragged School of St Luke's of which he was superintendent. As editor and proprietor of the Tasmanian Catholic Standard until 1872, when he visited Rome, he continued to influence Tasmanian educational change. From 1874 his involvement with public education became more difficult after a diocesan synod favoured a policy of separation. Ill health caused him to relinquish his major duties in 1882 and he settled into what he hoped would be gentle retirement as pastor of Coburg and Brunswick in Victoria, but on 7 March 1883 he died at Coburg. After a ceremonial funeral in Melbourne his body was sent to Hobart and buried beneath the memorial he had prepared for himself in the churchyard at Jerusalem in the Tasmanian Midlands. Both the farewell on his resignation and his funeral were attended by friends and admirers from many denominations.

His will established the Dunne scholarship for local scholars to attend St Ignatius Jesuit College in Sydney, while bequests placed St Joseph's Orphanage in Hobart on a sounder basis and met the initial cost of building at Sandy Bay the Magdalen Home for delinquent girls.

Select Bibliography

  • Mercury (Hobart), 8 Mar 1883
  • Argus (Melbourne), 9 Mar 1883
  • Age (Melbourne), 10 Mar 1883
  • Australasian, 10 Mar 1883, supplement
  • Catholic Standard (Hobart), 2 Apr 1883.

Citation details

Peter Bolger, 'Dunne, William John (1814–1883)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 18 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]


Ballycallan, Kilkenny, Ireland


7 March, 1883 (aged ~ 69)
Coburg, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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