No. 958 - Hobart- Harrington Street - Father Therry's Chapel

Opposite St Mary’s Cathedral, on the corner of Harrington Street, stands a house built for the first vicar-general of Van Diemen’s Land, Father John Joseph Therry (1790-1864). Attached to the house, which was built in about 1840, is a tiny chapel constructed for Therry’s personal use. The chapel is a poignant symbol of Father Therry’s role in the early history of the Catholic Church in Tasmania, which while contentious is nevertheless significant.

Therry sailed from Ireland in 1819 accompanied by Father Philip Conolly. The two priests arrived at Sydney in May 1820 and in the following year Conolly departed for Van Diemen's Land leaving Therry as the only priest on the mainland.

The construction of a church in Sydney was one of Therry's main preoccupations and in October 1821 Governor Macquarie laid the foundation stone of St Mary's church on a site close to the convict barracks. Therry was criticised for the size of the building after the cost of the project got out of hand. The construction of churches and the establishment of Catholic schooling in New South Wales precipitated a financial crisis that undermined Therry’s authority. In 1826 he was suspended from his position as Government chaplain.

In 1835 John Bede Polding was appointed as Australia’s first Catholic Bishop. In 1838 Polding dispatched Therry to Van Diemen's Land where he assumed the role of vicar-general. He replaced Philip Conolly who had alienated influential members of the Catholic community. Once in Hobart Therry again overreached himself with the complicated and controversial funding of St Joseph's church on Macquarie Street. While St Joseph’s was completed in late 1841, it was at the price of an enormous debt. Consequently the construction a second church on Harrington Street stalled. While the foundation stone for the Harrington street church was laid in November 1841, issues relating to the title of the land as well as funding, delayed its construction for nearly 20 years. Therry’s tiny private chapel on Harrington Street serves as a reminder of the high cost of his church-building mission.

When Tasmania’s first Catholic bishop, Dr Robert Willson, arrived in Hobart in 1844, he had not expected the church’s debt to be so great or so complicated. Willson fell out with Therry over financial and other issues and in 1846 Therry left for Melbourne, although he returned to Tasmania in 1848, and remained for the next six years.

In May 1856 Therry went to Balmain where he spent the rest of his life. He became spiritual director to the Sisters of Charity and in 1858 was made archpriest. In 1859 he was elected a founding fellow of the council of St John's College within the University of Sydney. Therry was a man of big ideas and considerable achievement however his mishandling of finances tarnished his reputation. Therry died on 25 May 1864, and his remains are now in the crypt of St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, where the Lady Chapel was erected as his memorial.
 Father Therry's House. The chapel is situated on the right of the building. Source: Libraries Tasmania

Father Therry's chapel on Harrington Street

Photo: Wheeler & Co From the collections of the State Library of New South Wales [a4364045 / P1/1745] (Mitchell Library)

Items of Fr Therry placed on his tomb including his collar and vestments as well as chalice 
Photo: Giovanni Portelli


Planting a faith : Hobart's Catholic story in word and picture by W. T. Southerwood, Speciality Press, 1970.


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