Sisters of Mercy – Arrival in Brisbane
In 1861 six Sisters stepped off a small boat in the Brisbane River to begin a new life in a strange land. They were led by Mother Vincent Whitty who left Ireland in 1860, with only four days’ notice in which to pack and prepare for a journey half way round the world. In Liverpool she joined a party of five other Sisters, who were to accompany Bishop James Quinn to Queensland.
Mother Vincent Whitty herself was 41, a teacher who had been prepared for her life as a Sister of Mercy by Catherine McAuley herself. The Sisters who came with her were only a few years older than our Year 12 students. Sister Mary Benedict and Sister Mary Cecilia were both in their early twenties; Sister Catherine Morgan joined them in Liverpool with just three hours notice, and there were two young Postulants, one of whom became Sister Mary Bridget and the other who left before taking vows.
They sailed on the Donald McKay, a dangerous and uncomfortable journey of five months, with no electricity, no refrigeration, poor sanitary conditions and cramped quarters. They called into Melbourne where they met other Sisters of Mercy who had established a mission at Geelong, and at Sydney where they were welcomed by the Benedictine Sisters and the Sisters of Charity.
In Sydney they transferred to a much smaller boat and set off for Brisbane. They steamed up the Brisbane River on the evening of 10th May 1861, landing not far from the present site of All Hallows’ School at about 10 o'clock at night, to find that no preparations had been made for their arrival. Using lanterns to find their way, the six Sisters stumbled from the River up to Spring Hill, to an empty, unfurnished house where they slept the night.
The next morning, the Bishop exchanged houses with them and the Sisters lived temporarily in his house, on the site of the old crypt, opposite the School in Ann Street. Eventually they moved to a small wooden convent near the old church beside the present Cathedral and installed their convent bell which the Sisters called Charles Borromeo, and which today hangs at the top of the Walk at All Hallows' School.
The first pupil, Annie Tighe, was enrolled as a boarder on December 15th 1861 and from an original enrolment of sixteen boarders, All Hallows' population now numbers 1550 students. Generation after generation has benefited from a Mercy education characterised by its quality, innovation and ability to keep abreast of current educational trends.