Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Edward Leo Hayes (1889–1967)

by Chris Hanlon

This article was published:

Edward Leo Hayes (1889-1967), Catholic priest and book collector, was born on 23 November 1889 at Frederickton, New South Wales, second of eight children of native-born parents Edward Martin Hayes, schoolteacher, and his wife Bridget Mary, née Flannery. Leo was educated at public schools where his father was headmaster, at Frederickton and at Palmer Island on the Clarence River. He left at the age of 15, worked in an auctioneer's office at Gunnedah until 1908 and was then appointed a clerk with the Darling Downs Co-operative Association, Toowoomba, Queensland. Having studied (from 1911) at St Columba's Seminary, Springwood, New South Wales, he proceeded to St Patrick's College, Manly, where he won a prize for dogmatic theology. On 30 November 1918 he was ordained priest for the Brisbane archdiocese by the Apostolic delegate Bartolomeo Cattaneo in St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney.

While he was assistant-priest (1918-22) at Ipswich, Hayes developed an interest in geology. He was parish priest at Kilcoy (1922-24) before ministering at Taroom (1924-27). Assigned to Chinchilla in 1928, he chose to join Toowoomba after it became a separate diocese in 1929. During his appointment to Crows Nest (1931-50) he was responsible for establishing churches at Haden, Coalbank and Perseverance Creek. He was next based at Oakey (1951-67) where he built St Monica's Church and a new convent school, as well as renovating the convent and presbytery.

Yet it was due to 'his hoard'—the Leo Hayes Collection—that he attained prominence. A 'small gnome of a man' with 'bower bird instincts', Hayes had bought his first book as a 7 year old and begun to gather birds eggs. Ultimately his collection comprised 25,000 books, pamphlets and periodicals (about two-thirds of them Australiana), and 30,000 manuscripts, letters and documents. It also included legal papers, press-cuttings, book-plates, stamps, notes and coins, postcards and photographs, maps, ferns, pistols, cattle-bells and Aboriginal artefacts. Hayes was a self-taught expert in many fields. In 1937, 1938 and 1940 he went on expeditions, organized by the Queensland branch of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia, to the Carnarvon ranges, Queensland; in 1942 he was elected a fellow of the society and awarded its Thomson medal for his work as geologist and ethnologist. His expertise led to recognition in academic and literary circles, and among the powerful and famous. Hayes's friends and acquaintances included John French, Dorothy Cottrell, Dame Mary Gilmore, John Howlett Ross, and General Douglas MacArthur who consulted his maps of the Pacific during World War II. Hayes was kindly, gentle and devout; he had the gift of a raconteur and was 'an eloquent public speaker'.

The University of Queensland conferred an honorary M.A. on Hayes in April 1967 and in October acquired the ailing archdeacon's wide-ranging collection (he wanted it to remain in Queensland) for a nominal price of $20,000. In appreciation, the university established two scholarships in his name, for research in Australian literary or historical sources. He died on 17 November 1967 in St Vincent's Hospital, Toowoomba, and was buried in the local cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Brenan et al, Catalogue of Manuscripts from the Hayes Collection (Brisb, 1976)
  • St Patrick's College (Manly, Sydney), Manly, 6, no 2, Oct 1940, p 37
  • University of Queensland Gazette, 1967-68, p 11
  • Footprints, 3, no 11, May 1980, 3, no 12, Aug 1980
  • Bulletin, 26 Nov 1947
  • Catholic Leader, 2, 23, 30 Nov 1967, 31 May-30 Aug 1970
  • Catholic Diocesan Archives, Toowoomba, Queensland.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Chris Hanlon, 'Hayes, Edward Leo (1889–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 17 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


23 November, 1889
Frederickton, New South Wales, Australia


17 November, 1967 (aged 77)
Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia

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.