Daniel Murphy


Cardinal Moran, Archbishop Murphy and other clergy, 1880s (ALMFA, SLT)

Daniel Murphy (18151907), second Catholic Bishop and first Archbishop of Hobart, was ordained in Ireland in 1838, and worked in India until his transfer to Tasmania in 1865. At the age of 31 he became Vicar Apostolic (Bishop) of Hyderabad in India, the youngest bishop in Christendom at the time, a feat matched a century later by a successor, Guilford Young, in 1948. At the time of his death Murphy was the oldest Catholic prelate in the world.

Murphy encouraged the building of churches, and travelled extensively around Tasmania, opening new churches, schools, presbyteries and convents, and offering episcopal care as chief pastor to his people. He supported the establishment of a monthly newspaper, the Tasmanian Catholic Standard (1867) and later the fortnightly Tasmanian Catholic Herald (1872). In 1888 Murphy was elevated to the rank of first Archbishop of Hobart, while his Church was raised to the dignity of an Archiepiscopal See. In 1893 the elderly churchman was given an extremely able coadjutor, Patrick Delany, formerly a professor in an Irish seminary.

While the vast majority of his people were uninfluential labourers or farm hands, Archbishop Murphy, who came from a patrician family, moved easily in 'polite' colonial society. He frequently graced Government House receptions and was on good terms with a succession of governors, three of whom (Weld, Gormanston and Strickland) were Catholics.

Murphy expressed deep disappointment when state aid to churches (mainly for clergy salaries) ceased in 1868. Although he was handed £23,106 to be invested for the 'permanent endowment of the Church of Rome', the interest was considerably smaller than the previous annual cash grants. On another front, he continued to fight for state aid to Catholic schools, but without success.

Possibly Murphy's greatest achievement was the introduction of the Presentation Sisters into Tasmania in 1867. From here they spread out to other parts of Australia. With the help of such orders, he began a long struggle to promote a separate Catholic educational system. He helped to ensure diversity in education and urged Catholics to use political power by refusing to vote for candidates opposed to their educational cause. Murphy's decision to build a network of Catholic schools, supported by a struggling community of workers, miners and rural labourers, was an act of moral courage. He managed to weld together a minority religious group willing to make tremendous sacrifices for conscientiously-held principle. He could justly be described as a pioneer of organised dissent from state-dominated education.

Further reading: WT Southerwood, Youngest and Oldest, A Life of Tasmania's First Archbishop, Daniel Murphy, Launceston, 2004; M Beechinor, Memoir of Archbishop Murphy, Launceston, 1916; Cardinal PF Moran, History of the Catholic Church in Australasia, 2 vols, Sydney, 1896.

Terry Southerwood