Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Harold (1744–1830)

by Harold Perkins

This article was published:

James Harold (1744-1830), Catholic priest, was a member of an old family of Wicklow, Ireland, said to have been descended from King Harold of England, one of whose sons settled in the Dublin Hills. He was ordained in 1774, studied at Antwerp till 1779 and became parish priest of Rathcoole in 1794. A United Irishman, he wrote propagandist verse, but in March 1798, in obedience to Archbishop Troy, he preached restraint and bade his parishioners surrender arms and swear allegiance. However, he clashed with officers enforcing the disarmament and sheltered a wounded prisoner, Felix Rourke. When the rebel plot for the seizure of Rathcoole was discovered, Harold went to Drogheda for a written 'protection' from the commanding general. In his absence he was blamed before a military court for the treason of parishioners and his house was burned. On his return, 'protection' notwithstanding, he was arrested and imprisoned in June, and in November placed on a hulk. Thrice his friends obtained habeas corpus writs, which were ignored by his keepers. He petitioned for a trial on 28 February 1799, but whether his petition was rejected or whether he was banished under the amnesty of 22 August 1798 is not clear. Writing to relations he denied the published allegations against him, but spoke of an apostleship and of his 'persecutors' as instruments of providence.

He arrived in Sydney in the Minerva in January 1800, but as he was not permitted to minister in New South Wales he sought leave to depart. Governor John Hunter sent his petition to London. Meantime unrest among Irish convicts exposed him to suspicion, though he claimed that he 'tried at all times to prevent any disturbance and to preserve the peace of the community'. His refusal to incriminate others angered the inquiring magistrates. Several Irishmen were flogged, and Harold with others was banished to Norfolk Island. There he conducted a school when his health permitted, and lived near John Drummond, beach-master. He repeatedly petitioned Governor Philip Gidley King for permission to minister but was ignored. When Father James Dixon was released, Harold succeeded to his private ministry at Parramatta in 1808. He was among the Irishmen pardoned by Governor Macquarie in June 1810, and left the colony in the Concord in July.

In March 1811 he was with his nephew, Rev. W. V. Harold, vicar-general at Philadelphia, and became a pastor and trustee of the cathedral, but the other trustees, at variance with his nephew, never accepted him. He was old, a nervous wreck, temperamental, irrepressible. Under episcopal pressure both Harolds resigned. At the election for trustees in April 1813 only Haroldites were elected, and the notorious Trustee Schism began. Later that year the Harolds returned to Ireland. In 1815-16 James Harold served at Kilcullen, and in 1818-20 at Fairview-Clontarf. He died on 15 August 1830 and was buried in Old Richmond cemetery, Dublin.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of New South Wales, vol 4
  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 2-4
  • P. F. Moran, Spicilegium Ossoriense. Letters and Papers Illustrative of the History of the Irish Church from the Reformation … to 1800 (Dublin, 1874-84)
  • P. F. Moran, History of the Catholic Church in Australasia (Syd, 1895)
  • T. J. Kiernan, Transportation from Ireland to Sydney: 1791-1816 (Canberra, 1954)
  • M. I. J. Griffin, ‘Rev James Harold’, American Catholic Historical Researches, 17 (1900)
  • Diocesan archives (Dublin)
  • Bonwick transcripts, biography (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Harold Perkins, 'Harold, James (1744–1830)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]




15 August, 1830 (aged ~ 86)
Dublin, Ireland

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.

Passenger Ship
Convict Record

Crime: insurrection
Sentence: life
Court: Kildare (Ireland)


Left the colony: Yes