125-year anniversary of the Sisters of St John of God’s arrival in Australia

17 Dec 2020

By Contributor

This is the earliest surviving photograph of a group Sisters of St John of God in Australia, which believed to be taken at the rear of their temporary convent in Adelaide Terrace. The Eight Pioneer Sisters from left to right, front row: Sisters 1. John Gleeson, 2. Cecilia Dunne [First Superior] 3. Antonio O’Brien, 4. Magdalena Kenny, 5. Angela Brennan. Back row: 1. Sisters Ita Gleeson, 2. Assumpta Hanley, 3. Bridget Hanlon. The other four sisters had arrived just weeks before the photograph was taken having arrived from Ireland in December of 1896. Photo: Supplied.

The arrival of the Sisters of St John of God arrived in Perth after a long journey from Wexford, Ireland on 25 November 1895 was significant, as they would go on to provide healing and hope to the newly established colony and forever change the healthcare landscape in Australia.

The Sisters’ journey started on 16 October 1895 when they left Wexford, travelling to the Port of Rosslare, Ireland from where they crossed the Irish Sea to Liverpool, United Kingdom.

Upon their arrival in Liverpool the next day, they caught the train to London, leaving from Liverpool’s Lime Street Station and arrived at Euston Station, and then travelled to the Port of London.

RMS Orizaba at Fremantle Dock. Photo: Supplied.

The Sisters boarded the RMS Orizaba, which steamed out of the Port of London at 1pm under the command of Captain AW Clark, on the morning of 18 October.

Six days later, the Sisters arrived in Naples Harbour, Italy, where the crew berthed the Orizaba for two nights to thoroughly clean the vessel, replenish food, water and coal supplies.

They reached Port Said in North East of Egypt on 31 October, and the ship was re-stocked and re-coaled again before entering the Suez Canal, a sea-level waterway connecting the Mediterranean and Red seas, built between 1859 and 1869. It provided the shortest maritime route between Europe and the south-east Asian and western Pacific regions.

The Orizaba stopped at Colombo Harbour for a few hours on 12 November after monsoonal weather, while the crew replenished coal, food and water supplies.

The route the sisters took from Wexford, Ireland to Western Australia. Photo: Supplied.

Located on the western side of Sri Lanka, Colombo Harbour grew from a small natural harbour in the early 1880s to one of the world’s busiest seaports by the early-1900s.

After crossing the Indian Ocean, the Sisters reached Cape Leeuwin, the western-most tip of southern Western Australia, on 23 November, and the RMS Orizaba sailed along the south coast toward Albany where she entered Princess Royal Harbour. The Sisters disembarked along with other 42 passengers and several bags of mail.

The Sisters reached Perth Railway Station two days later on 25 November.

The Vicar General, Father Anslem Bourke, priests, Brother Anthony O’Brien, and some ‘leading Catholic men’ greeted the Sisters and walked with them to the Cathedral where they met the Sisters of Mercy and celebrated a Mass for the end of a safe journey.