A Hospital for Sinners – A Training Ground for Saints

by Bianka Vidonja Balanzategui


As European settlers established communities in North Queensland clergy of the various denominations soon followed to work amongst a scattered and isolated flock. In February 1864 the first Catholic Mass and official baptism was conducted in the new municipality of Cleveland, forthwith Townsville. A year later in 1865 Henry Stone, recognized as the first European settler of the Herbert River district, established the Vale of Herbert Station opening up the Herbert River valley, north of Townsville, to European settlement.

In 1872 Townsville was established as a separate parish. 10 years later in 1882 Rockhampton was established as a distinct diocese and the Townsville parish was administered from Rockhampton. Not until 1885 did the Herbert River communities start to receive regular visits from a Catholic priest. Finally in in 1893, a determined committee had a church built. With a predominantly Irish congregation the church was given the name of Saint Patrick. The parish priest of Bowen had responsibility for both the Herbert and Burdekin areas. In circa 1902 the church building was relocated to the present church property in Abbott Street. In 1903 Ingham became a parish with a Maltese priest, Father Alfred Lanzon appointed as the first parish priest.

The first baptism to be recorded in the initial local register of parish baptisms was of Antonio J. Coniglio, a baby born of parents who arrived on the ship, the Jumna. This ship brought Italian immigrants to work on the sugar fields of North Queensland. With the arrival of this group in December 1, 1891 Italians began to settle in the district in great numbers.