Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Columbus Fitzpatrick (1810–1877)

by E. J. Lea-Scarlett

This article was published:

Columbus Fitzpatrick (1810-1877), builder and undertaker, was born in Dublin, son of Bernard Fitzpatrick, convict and later chief bailiff of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, and his wife Catherine, née Milling. On 2 July 1811 he arrived in Sydney with his parents and elder brother in the Providence. The family lived at Windsor and Parramatta until 1817 when he was taken to Sydney by his mother, a schoolmistress, who taught him, instructed other children in religion and founded the choir which later became that of St Mary's Cathedral. When the foundation stone of the cathedral was laid by Macquarie on 29 October 1821 Columbus held the trowel for the governor and later recorded his brief speech. Until the end of 1826 he acted as assistant to the two Roman Catholic chaplains, Fathers Philip Conolly and John Joseph Therry, and was educated by them. In 1824-26 he was in Hobart Town with Father Conolly and on his return to Sydney was apprenticed to a coachbuilder.

In October 1830 Fitzpatrick was granted 100 acres (40 ha) at Narara Creek, near Gosford, but later sold it and bought a smaller block. About 1838 he moved to Goulburn where he became a builder and worked intermittently as an undertaker. An active helper in times of bush fires and floods, he was overseer of local works in 1863-68 while the municipal council was dissolved. An alderman in 1873, he tried several times for elections as mayor and finally retired because municipal workmen had to remain unpaid until resolution of the deadlock. He joined the Argyle and Georgiana Roads Association, formed to protect the interests of free selectors. In local politics he was an outspoken advocate of free trade and labour rights and became well known as an electioneering agent, although in 1856 in his only candidature he secured no votes at all.

In 1864 he contributed some personal reminiscences to the Southern Argus and became a constant writer for the local press on a variety of subjects from politics to early colonial history. His historical articles attracted much notice but he neglected encouragement to extend and publish them in permanent form. Cardinal Patrick Moran used them in 1895, and in 1965 their rediscovery caused much controversy as it was argued that, contrary to Moran's opinion, Fitzpatrick as a first-hand witness contradicted a long-held tradition that a consecrated Host had been left by Father Jeremiah O'Flynn at the house of William Davis in Sydney.

After conducting a funeral during inclement weather in September 1877 Fitzpatrick became ill and died aged 68 at Goulburn on 8 November. He was survived by his wife Margaret, née Gilligan, whom he had married at Goulburn in 1845, and by three sons and three daughters. One son, Michael, became a clerk of Petty Sessions.

Apart from his significance as an amateur historian, Fitzpatrick's principal interest lies in his willingness to play a leading part in the growing community in which he lived. Although unflinching in religious and political attitudes he was unbiased in carrying out his civic duties. As a writer he used a lucid and vigorous style, highly personal in tone but marked by a quiet good humour which well accounts for his popularity in Goulburn.

Select Bibliography

  • P. F. Moran, History of the Catholic Church in Australasia (Syd 1895)
  • C. J. Duffy (ed), Catholic Religious and Social Life in the Macquarie Era: As It is Portrayed in the Letters of Columbus Fitzpatrick (1810-1878) (Syd, 1966), E. J. Lea-Scarlett, ‘Columbus Fitzpatrick, a Neglected Historian, and His Family’, Descent, vol 2, part 4, 1965, pp 143-55
  • E. J. Lea-Scarlett, ‘The Fitzpatrick Family’, Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society, vol 2, part 1, 1966, pp 46-66.

Citation details

E. J. Lea-Scarlett, 'Fitzpatrick, Columbus (1810–1877)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 28 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]


Dublin, Dublin, Ireland


8 November, 1877 (aged ~ 67)
Goulburn, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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