ULLATHORNE, William Bernard (1806-1889)


ULLATHORNE, William Bernard (1806-1889)
first Roman Catholic vicar-general of Australia, bishop of Birmingham
was born at Pocklington, Yorkshire, on 7 May 1806. His father, William Ullathorne, was a prosperous grocer, draper and spirit merchant, his mother was originally Hannah Longstaff. Ullathorne was a direct descendent of Sir Thomas More on his father's side, his mother was a cousin of Sir John Franklin. At about nine years of age his family removed to Scarborough where he went to a school kept by a Mr Hornsey. At 12 he was taken from school and placed in his father's office to learn the management of accounts. The intention was to send him to school again, but Ullathorne was self-willed and determined to go to sea. His parents gave way and he made several voyages. While attending mass at a chapel at Memel he experienced something in the nature of a conversion, and on his return asked the mate if he had any religious books. He was given a translation of Marsollier's Life of St Jane Frances Chantal, which deepened his experience. At the end of this voyage he left the sea, returned home, and in February 1823 was sent to the Benedictine school of St Gregory's, Downside, near Bath. There he was given as his director, John Bede Polding (q.v.), afterwards the first archbishop of Sydney, who influenced him greatly. Ullathorne's ability allowed him to be pushed rapidly through the school, and he received his religious habit on 12 March 1824. He always regretted that he had not had a more thorough grounding at school, and feared that he had acquired "knowledge without due scholarship". But while still in his novitiate he read widely in the library, and studied thoroughly rhetoric, logic, mental philosophy, and the scriptures. His studies in theology followed later. He received the subdiaconate in October 1828, in September 1830 the diaconate, and was ordained priest in September 1831. Earlier in the year he had some experience in teaching boys but was not a success. In 1832 hearing that an authorized head for the Catholic clergy was needed in New South Wales he expressed his willingness to go to Australia, was appointed, and on 16 September sailed in the Sir Thomas Munro. He arrived at Sydney on 18 February 1833.
Ullathorne at this time was only 26 years of age, and almost boyish in appearance. He had been appointed vicar-general in Australia, and he was also assigned by the government a stipend of £200 a year with an allowance of £1 a day when travelling on duty as a Roman Catholic chaplain. Ullathorne took charge of the parish and church of St Mary's, quickly exerted his authority to close up threatened divisions among the Catholics themselves, and came to as good terms as possible with the government. He was fortunate in finding a sympathetic governor in Sir Richard Bourke (q.v.), who though not a Catholic himself, understood Ullathorne's needs and claims. It was necessary to have trustees for the church in Sydney, and Ullathorne promptly arranged with the governor that there should be three clerical and three lay trustees, held a public meeting, and by the exercise of tact succeeded in getting the most worthy men appointed. He was happy in being able to write to Bishop Morris that the church was now free from dissension. He set to work to finish St Mary's church which was opened at the end of 1833, "a really solid noble building, the finest in the colony, and more like the body of a cathedral or abbey church than a chapel" he was able to report to Bishop Morris. He found that there were only three Catholic schools, but before the end of 1835 he had succeeded in opening six more, though there were grave difficulties in finding suitable teachers. His third problem was how to bring about full religious equality and opportunity for his co-religionists. Here, though he was helped by the governor and the colonial office, he encountered many difficulties, and the battle was not won for many years. He travelled much about the country and there was no end to his work in Sydney. He became satisfied that it was necessary that a bishop should be appointed and recommended his old preceptor, John Bede Polding, for the position. Polding was appointed in May 1834, arrived at Sydney in September 1835, and in June 1836 Ullathorne sailed for Europe to urge the sending of more priests to Australia. He went to Rome and presented a report on the Australian mission, most of which will be found in the pamphlet, The Catholic Mission in Australia, published in 1837. Returning to England he preached and lectured on the same subject in both England and Ireland. His work was interrupted by a summons to give evidence before a committee of the house of commons with Sir W. Molesworth as chairman, appointed to consider the transportation question. Ullathorne had visited Norfolk Island where the system was at its worst and realized the horrors of it fully. He felt that the essential thing was that the committee should understand the effect of the system upon the minds and feelings of the prisoner, and the result in his moral habits. There can be little doubt that his evidence had much effect on the committee and also on public opinion in England. Transportation did not cease for several years, but a great blow at the system had been struck. In August 1838 Ullathorne sailed for Australia again with three priests, five ecclesiastical students and five sisters of charity, and arrived on 31 December. He was disappointed as an Englishman that it had been found impossible to spare any English priests for Australia and he was feeling the strain of his work. The evidence given before the transportation committee, and a pamphlet he had written while in England on The Horrors of Transportation, alienated many people from him in New South Wales who were anxious to obtain the cheap labour provided by convicts. His chief comfort was that Judge Therry (q.v.), who knew much of the system from practical experience, declared that everything he had said was true. He was also of a different temperament from Polding who was weakest where Ullathorne was strongest, and the latter was chafed by finding the finances out of order and official correspondence neglected. The question was patched up for a time by the vicar-general undertaking the business duties of the diocese. Ullathorne also had to spare time for controversy arising out of an endeavour of the Church of England to secure the position of the established church in Australia. In December 1839, however, he found things generally were in a more prosperous state and decided to retire, though his departure did not take place until the end of 1840. In September of that year he published his Reply to Judge Burton, the most important of his Australian publications. Burton (q.v.) had published a book, The State of Religion and Education in New South Wales, and had stated, "It will not, it is assumed, be denied, that by the law of England, the Church of England has been, and is established as the national church. . . . And as such was by force of law, before the statute 9th Geo. 4 C 83, and by the express terms of the statute, the established church of the colony." That statement and the inferences drawn from it were vigorously and successfully assailed by Ullathorne. He also succeeded in his opposition to a bill introduced into the legislative council providing that a census should be taken recording which families had come out as free settlers and which as convicts, and he issued a warning note, unheeded at the time, about the undue speculation in land then taking place in Sydney. He had been glad to take the brunt of controversy from kindly Bishop Polding's shoulders, but he could not but be conscious of the feelings of his opponents against him. In later years he realized it was a good training in the value of public opinion. He made his final farewell to Australia on 16 November 1840. After his return to England Ullathorne refused the offer of a bishopric in Australia four times. He conducted a successful mission at Coventry, and in June 1846 was consecrated bishop of Hetalona and vicar apostolic of the western district of Great Britain. He established himself at Bristol, but was there for only two years. Early in 1848 he was deputed to go to Rome to press the question of the setting up of the Catholic hierarchy in England. He carried out his mission with tact and ability. Everything was on the way to success when he left Rome, but the breaking out of the revolution and the flight of Pius IX to Gaeta delayed the question for two years more. In 1848 Ullathorne was transferred to the central district and removed to Birmingham where he began his long friendship with Newman. In September 1850, with the establishment of the Catholic hierarchy in England, he was appointed bishop of Birmingham. He began his episcopate of nearly 40 years in a period of heated controversy both with external forces and among the English Catholics themselves. The diocese was heavily in debt and it was not until nearly the end of his life that it was established on a solid financial basis. He was a great worker and in 1857, 1858, and 1859 had to rest and recuperate his overtaxed energies. In the early eighteen-sixties the state of Cardinal Wiseman's health threw even more work on Ullathorne, now looked upon as one of the greatest leaders of his faith in England. A strong effort was made to have Ullathorne appointed Wiseman's coadjutor with the right of succession at Westminster, but Wiseman was so much opposed to this that although Ullathorne was unanimously chosen by propaganda for recommendation to the Pope, eventually Manning was chosen. He had supported Ullathorne's claims, and his conduct, and Ullathorne's also during the whole trying business, was beyond praise.
Ullathorne continued to lead a busy life until in 1879, at the age of 73, he found that his health was no longer equal to the strain. An auxiliary bishop was appointed and Ullathorne continued to be bishop of Birmingham until 1888. On his retirement he was made archbishop of Cabasa. He died on 21 March 1889 and was buried in the chapel of Stone convent. In addition to works already mentioned he was the author of A Sermon Against Drunkenness, (1834), reprinted numberless times, Ecclesiastical Discourses (1876), The Endowments of Man (1880), The Groundwork of the Christian Virtues (1882), Christian Patience (1886), Memoir of Bishop Willson (1887). A collection of Characteristics from the Writings of Archbishop Ullathorne was published in 1889, and The Autobiography of Archbishop Ullathorne, 2 vols, in 1891-2. Many other controversial writings and addresses were printed and will be found listed in the British Museum catalogue.
Ullathorne was a great prelate and a great man. He was thoroughly straightforward and businesslike as an administrator; if he saw anything needed doing it had to be done at once. Men of this stamp are not usually over-tactful, and Ullathorne was often in the thick of the combat in his own church and outside it. He exercised a great influence in his time and has been spoken of with Wiseman, Manning and Newman, as one of the four great English Catholics of his period.
Dom. Cuthbert Butler, The Life and Times of Bishop Ullathorne; The Autobiography of Archbishop Ullathorne; Ed. by Shane Leslie, From Cabin-boy to Archbishop, The Autobiography of Archbishop Ullathorne printed from the original draft; The Catholic Encyclopaedia, vol. XV; H. N. Birt, Benedictine Pioneers in Australia; Letters of Archbishop Ullathorne.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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