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Martin Griver (1814–1886)

by E. Perez

revised by Odhran O'Brien

This article was published:

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Bishop Martin Griver

Bishop Martin Griver

New Norcia Archives

Martin Griver (1814-1886), Roman Catholic bishop, was born on 11 November 1814 at Barcelona, Spain, son of James Griver, labourer, and his wife Teresa Coni. He studied undergraduate theology in Barcelona, followed by philosophy, and then gained his medical qualifications (M.B., B.S., 1845). On 17 December 1847 he became a priest and ministered in his native town.

In 1849 Griver was recommended to Bishop Rosendo Salvado and joined the missionaries gathered at Barcelona for service in Western Australia. In December he landed at Fremantle with Bishop Joseph Serra and his group of monks. Griver left Spain intending to enter the Benedictine order and work with the Aboriginal people. However, during the early 1850s, the leadership in Western Australia experienced a period of instability and Griver decided to remain a secular priest and missionary for the Diocese of Perth. As a diocesan priest, he served as a colonial chaplain at Fremantle and Perth and made visits to New Norcia Mission, where he treated sick monks and Aboriginal people. Before leaving Spain, he had applied for a special dispensation from Rome to practice medicine, which was granted on the condition that he applied his skills only when another medical officer was not easily accessible. The young priest was among the very few who provided this humanitarian assistance to Indigenous Australians. In consultation with Salvado, Griver treated the monks and Aboriginal people at New Norcia using natural remedies based on ingredients commonly found among the mission’s supplies. Griver’s role as colonial chaplain also required him to undertake pastoral visits to the north and south west of the colony, and his reports document the ethnicity and occupations of Catholic settlers within the emerging settlements of these regions.

When Serra went to Europe in 1859 Griver was left in charge of the administration of the diocese and was confirmed in the appointment in 1862. His first duty was to separate the New Norcia Mission from Perth. Indefatigable in the discharge of his apostolate, he devoted special attention to the welfare of convicts and poor and orphan children. Throughout his administration he also supported the construction of churches and other infrastructure in the outer settlements, which reflected his desire for Catholic settlers to have access to pastoral services. Under his prudent management and with the aid of Bishop Salvado's intervention with Governor Frederick Weld, the long-debated question of education and independent schools at last found a satisfactory solution in 1871 when assistance was provided to all schools in the colony. Griver also presided over a public campaign to ensure that the Catholic Church received proportionate funding in the form of ecclesiastical grants from the Colonial Government for chaplaincy services, which resulted in all Christian denominations being placed on an equal financial footing. His greatest satisfaction was to complete in January 1865 the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Perth. Serra had collected valuable gifts for it in Europe and Benedictine friends provided its design and promised adequate labour for its construction; Griver had invited Bishop Salvado of New Norcia to solemnize the laying of its foundation stone in 1863.

In 1869 Griver went to Rome where in 1870 he attended the Vatican Council and was consecrated bishop of Tloa in partibus; his title was changed to Perth in 1873 after Brady died in 1871. Griver continued to rely on the help of Benedictine priests in the 1860s while attempting to recruit new missionary priests for the growing colony. To this task and the welfare of his diocese he applied himself whole-heartedly, visiting Rome in 1882 and the Plenary Council of Australasia in Sydney in 1885. His death in Perth on 1 November 1886 was widely lamented. Kind and considerate in his dealings with others, he himself followed the ascetic and austere life of the anchorite. When his body was being prepared for burial at St Mary's Cathedral, it was found that he had been wearing two small wooden crosses, the nails of which were deeply embedded in his flesh.

Select Bibliography

  • P. F. Moran, History of the Catholic Church in Australasia (Syd, 1895)
  • J. T. Reilly, Reminiscences of Fifty Years' Residence in Western Australia (Perth, 1903)
  • Centenary of the Catholic Church in Western Australia (Perth, 1946)
  • J. T. McMahon, One Hundred Years: Five Great Church Leaders (Perth, 1946)
  • B. C. Cohen, A History of Medicine in Western Australia (Perth, 1965)
  • Perth Gazette, 4, 18 Jan 1850
  • Inquirer (Perth), 2 Mar 1870
  • A. Mossenson, A History of State Education in Western Australia (Ph.D. thesis, University of Western Australia, 1962)
  • O. O’Brien, Martin Griver – Unearthed, St Pauls Publications, (Strathfield [NSW], 2015)
  • M. Griver papers and letters (Roman Catholic Archives, Perth, and New Norcia)

Citation details

E. Perez, 'Griver, Martin (1814–1886)', 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

Bishop Martin Griver

Bishop Martin Griver

New Norcia Archives

Life Summary [details]


11 November, 1814
Barcelona, Spain


1 November, 1886 (aged 71)
Perth, Western Australia, Australia

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