1978 Parish History Ch. 3



Regular visits to the settlers north of the Murray River by Father Charles Lovat SJ, following his initial return journey from Wangaratta, became a feature of his pastoral work. He learned at first hand the influence exerted by explorers on the early settlement of inland Australia.

Oxley, Cunningham, Hume and Hovell pushed into the interior and discovered new pastures; Captain Charles Sturt and Sir Thomas Mitchel crowned their work.


Sturt travelled down the Murrumbidgee to Lake Alexandrina, Mitchell explored the Lachlan and reached Portland. On the way back to Sydney he crossed the Murray at Howlong, taking two days to find a suitable crossing place.

Sturt wrote of the Riverina, “I should not hesitate to pronounce it one of the richest spots on earth” and “For richness of soil and abundance of pasture it can nowhere be excelled, but it is such a distance from the capital as to be unavailable.”

Distance was not such a prohibiting factor as Sturt believed. Within the short space of a few years following Mitchell’s journey three large runs adjacent to the present town of Corowa were occupied. They were Brocklesby, Quat Quatta and Collendina.


Brocklesby is reported to have been taken up in 1838 by Charles Cropper who came overland from Monaro with his partner, Thompson, and squatted in the region of Cropper’s Lagoon.

Cropper sold out to Chapman within two years and he in turn transferred it to Andrew Hume in 1848. Messrs Hyland held Quat Quatta and Robert Brown held Collendina.


Robert Brown (2)

The life and activities of Robert Brown, without a doubt the first catholic to settle in this district, provide an object lesson of what this country owes to intrepid settlers who found their way to this country so early in its history after European Settlement.

He was born in Dublin and came to Australia in 1820 as a lad of seven and settled with his parents at Campbelltown. In 1836 he set out with his brother-in-law, Mr A A Huon, to bring stock overland and they arrived at the site of Albury some months later.

He was married to Ann Crowe at Appin by Reverend Dean Gould on March 30, 1842 and their first child, Frances Jane, was born in Albury on July 24, 1843, reputed to be the first white girl born in Albury.


Mrs Brown used to tell the story of how she looked out the window one morning to see the place surrounded by blacks. As she was only a girl of eighteen at the time she was rather frightened, but one of the black girls managed to make her understand that the word had got around about the “white baby” and all they wanted was to see for it for themselves.

Ann Brown was later to have a great understanding of, and affection for, the black people. In her early days at “Collendina” they became part of her life. Strangers calling at the homestead could not understand how she was not nervous as she was often alone with her children when her husband was away; but she would assure them that the blacks would not allow anyone to lay hands on her or her children.

On May 24 each year, Robert Brown would distribute blankets and tomahawks to them. The tribal Chief, King Bungambrawatha, common known as King Bill, was presented with a brass plate by Robert Brown. He was very proud of the gift and always hung it round his neck. He considered it a symbol of authority from the white man to rule. And rule he did in no uncertain manner, dealing out severe punishment to all who violated tribal law.


Father Charles Lovat SJ has a somewhat similar experience with the aborigines in Yass. When Bishop Polding came to Yass in 1840 to lay the foundation stone of the church, 1,400 aborigines camped on the church ground. Father Lovat and Jacky King, headman, had a conference and their differences were settled. Jacky King emerged from the conference dressed as a priest, and the custom grew to give the aborigines blankets on Queen’s Birthday.

When Robert Brown came to Albury, it is reported that the only residences to be seen in the district were at Bonegilla (C.H. Ebden), Morebringer (Mr David Reid and later Mr Lester), Boorhaman (Mr John Foord), Wahgunyah (Mr John Foord) and Tarrawingee (Mr David Reid).


Mr Brown built himself a home opposite the Hume Tree on the banks of the Murray near Wodonga Place and opened a store. He next opened an accommodation house which he turned into an inn called “Hume Inn”.

He also provided the first means for pedestrians to cross the Murray River – by means of a dug-out canoe attached to a rawhide rope.


In 1839, Mr Brown had four acres of maize twelve feet high on the river bank, a fine wheat crop in 1840, and he ran his own horse in the first Albury Cup in 1845.

In 1859 Robert Brown was awarded a silver medal at the Albury and Murray River Agricultural and Horticultural Society’s annual exhibition for the first sample of oranges grown in the district. The present homestead is built on the spot where these first oranges were grown.

He was one of the early planters of vines on the Murray, the pioneer planters being Messrs Frauenfelder, Rau and Schubach. Brown’s vines were planted four miles north of Mulwala and were bearing in 1860. Mulwala was called “Mulwalie” by the natives, its meaning being “sand hills near water”.


Robert Brown moved to Collendina in 1845, where eight of his ten children were born. They were educated by a governess and baptised when a priest made periodic visits to say Mass at the homestead. His father and mother – Edward and Bridget Brown – died at Collendina and were buried at Mulwala in 1862 and 1866.

It was fitting and only to be expected that he occupied the chair at the very first meeting called by Father Slattery in February, 1878, to provide a presbytery for Corowa’s first two priests.

He died within a year of the formation of the Missionary District of Corowa, the first curate, Father Kiely, being with him at Collendina when he died, the first parish priest, Father Slattery, was at the graveside at Mulwala.

Robert Brown had been a leader in his lifetime and played a role in the formation of many public institutions including the Albury and Murray River Show Society in 1857, and the Albury Hospital which was completed in 1860.


It was appropriate that his memory was honoured at Albury in June, 1956, when the Minister for Local Government, Hon. J.B. Renshaw, unveiled a plaque on a Memorial Cottage which was built in Norieul Park, Albury.

Mrs Taplin, granddaughter of Robert Brown, who lives in Melbourne, Mrs Neil McDonald, great granddaughter, of Mulwala, Mr Ray Mullarvey, great grandson, of Mulwala, and Mr John Brown, great grandson in Canberra, and Miss May Lewis, granddaughter, are descendants of Robert Brown.


It was into this developing community that priests, stationed first at Yass and later at Albury, made regular visits.

Fr Lovat, as stated in Chapter 2, blazed the trail from Yass in the 1840s. He was followed by Fr Magennis and Fr Michael Ryan up to the year 1856, when Albury itself became a parish.

In the year 1853, Fr Michael Ryan on a journey from Sydney to Melbourne on horseback said Mass at Albury where there were then between 100 and 150 Catholics. He baptised fourteen children and spent four days hearing confessions.

Fr John Maher was the first Parish Priest of Albury and the Crown made him a grant of land to enable him to build a church. He was followed in 1857 by Fr Con Twomey who stayed for ten years. The Albury Parish included Wagga and extended from the source of the Murray to the junction with the Murrumbidgee.

There were 615 people in Albury and 2,000 within a short distance, Catholics being one-third of that number.


The third priest to be appointed to take charge of the Albury Parish was one who had a remarkable influence on Catholicism in Southern New South Wales and who left a reputation as a great church builder, Fr McAlroy.

Fr McAlroy was born in 1821 in Ireland, educated at Maynooth and ordained in 1849. Along with Fr Patrick Bermingham and Fr Patrick Dunne, he came to the Port Phillip District, but the three of them were not happy there. Fathers McAlroy and Bermingham transferred to Sydney while Fr Dunne returned to Ireland temporarily.

Bishop Polding appointed the two priests to Yass in 1857 when Fr Twomey was transferred to Albury. Within a few years half a dozen churches had been built in the parish, all practically free of debt. In 1861, Fr McAlroy was moved to Goulburn, his main task the building of a convent for the Nuns.

Fr William Lanigan, Parish Priest of Berrima and at one time an assistant to Fr McAlroy, was appointed the first Bishop of the Diocese of Goulburn in 1867, the majority of the clergy being confident that Fr McAlroy would be appointed to that important position. When the bishop moved to Goulburn he transferred Fr McAlroy to Albury as Parish Priest, and made him Vicar-General of the Diocese with the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity.


Fr McAlroy brought with him to Albury from Goulburn four professed Sisters of Mercy and a postulant, and nine days later had the bishop along to bless the corner stone of the convent. In 1872, the bishop was once more in Albury for the opening of St Patrick’s church and in 1879, to bless the convent chapel.


Dr McAlroy visited Ireland in 1873 and returned with Presentation Nuns for Wagga and sisters of Mercy for Yass. He died in 1880 and was buried behind the high altar of the church he built in Albury.

The road travelled by the priests from Albury was far from satisfactory and there were many occasions when it was impassable. Early settlers often had to clear a track to their blocks so that travel on horseback or in a buggy was a much slower process than it should have been.

The work of the Albury priests was lightened considerably by the creation of a parish at Deniliquin in 1861 and at Wagga in 1871. It surely would not be long before the people of corowa were afforded the blessing of having their own resident priest. Perhaps they would hasten that day if they built their own church.

 (End Chapter 3)