Catholic Glebe Land, 130 Gaffney Road, Willunga

Between 1847 and 1851, the South Australian Government provided aid to the various religious groups by granting glebe lands and funds to build places of worship and residences. This helped clergy to live and encouraged congregations to build. £50 per annum was granted to every minister of religion whose place of worship contained not less than 50 sittings rented and paid for by the members of the congregation. In late May 1850, Bishop Murphy received £310 from the Colonial Government for various churches. £50 of this was for St Joseph’s Church, which he had opened on May 5, 1850.

Parish priest Thomas Caldwell recorded that, according to the number of seats taken up in his churches, he received £51/12/6 from his appointment to Willunga to February 14, 1851. It is not clear how many people paid bench rents at St Josephs, but Fr Caldwell’s diary of 1850-52 also indicates that the congregation was short of cash. Many of the Bench rents for the first half of 1851 were paid in kind: “Feb: Mr and Mrs Logan, eggs, Langkotter (Laufcotter), stores for their quarter’s bench rent. Luke Hussey 1 load wood… April: Mr Gorman: for Easter dues and 2 days work for bench rent 5-0. Bench rent, James Graham: flagging 5-0. Tim Cremin, Encounter Bay, fish and 2 ducks. From W. Clarke, Encounter Bay: 1 bag of potatoes, pumpkin…”

The first South Australian Colonial elections were scheduled for February 1851 and it was expected that a new Government would cease assistance to religious bodies. So, in October of 1850, Bishop Murphy applied to the Colonial Government for glebe land at Willunga. Fr Caldwell and parishioner Richard Logan chose 20 acres, part section 307 Willunga (approximately 130 Gaffney Road), and Fr Caldwell “rode to Adelaide and lodged a claim for it”. The claim had just been made in time. The trustees were Fr M. Ryan, Henry Johnson and Richard Counsel.

These Government land grants could be used for glebes, cemeteries, houses, gardens and other purposes that supported the clergy. The Willunga congregation partly cleared this land and sowed it with wheat for Fr Caldwell, which he says, “helped considerably”. When the church was later partly unroofed, wheat grown on the glebe land was sold and the money spent for church repairs.

Of the little recorded about the glebe, a newspaper item in 1864 gives a glimpse of life there when Rev Peter Hughes was parish priest.1 The land had been let to Thomas Dunn from 1860 and, in 1864, a fire occurred on the land, burning the house and barn to the ground. At the subsequent inquiry at the Bush Inn, Father Hughes appeared as a witness. He stated that Mr Dunn did not usually pay his rent when due and that he had brought Dunn to Court on one occasion, and had to put in an execution by the bailiff for rent due. When Hughes heard in March that the Dunns were planning to move to Brown’s Flat (Dingabledinga), he went to the house to ask for 6 months rent due. Mrs Dunn was abusive and insulting on two occasions and he levied a distraint to seize their goods to pay the debts. In April, the family left during the night after taking all their possession except a plough, which Fr Hughes locked and sealed in the house. Mr Dunn then called at the Presbytery claiming they owed no rent until May. When Mrs Dunn came to retrieve the plough, Hughes’ response was that “if he attempted to touch it I would send him to gaol. She threatened to summons me, and then the conversation dropped. The next I heard was that the place was burnt down.” Hughes called the police.

During the subsequent inquest at the Willunga Courthouse, witnesses provided disparate testimonies. Thomas Daverin declared, “After a cup of tea I went to Father Hughes, but did not hurry myself. I was afraid of some one and did not go sooner; of no one in particular. I did not see any one near the house the night before nor on the morning of the fire”. John Ryan’s testimony was more compromising: “I saw Dunn on Thursday morning in his own house after breakfast. I assisted Dunn to remove from the glebe lands. On Thursday last I came down to the township with Dunn. We then first heard of the fire. I joked Dunn about the fire, and said he would be blamed for it”. John Sullivan stated that he had heard that the houses on the glebe lands were burned and suspected no one…”Dunn called at my house in the township the night before, between 7 and 8 o’clock pm on his way home. He had sundry groceries and a fish to carry home”. Fortunately for the Dunns, the verdict read: “That the premises were set on fire by some person or persons unknown”.

An interesting sequel to the story is that Catherine Gaffney (née Mulvey) and her labourer husband Thomas soon become the next tenants of the glebe. Gaffney family history suggests that Catherine came to South Australia from Ireland with Fr Peter Hughes and his sister Jane, but this has not been confirmed. Father Hughes certainly married them at St Josephs in 1864 with Jane as one of their witnesses. Perhaps Father Hughes, as incumbent of the church lands, decided after the events of the fire, that it was more secure to rent it to people he knew well. The Gaffneys rented the glebe land and lived there with 8 children in a cottage, which must have been built after the fire. While the Gaffneys died in Adelaide in the early 1900s and are buried together in West Terrace Cemetery, Gaffney Road remains to remind us of their presence on the Glebe. The Dunn and Sullivan families of Dingabledinga and Willunga are buried in St Joseph’s Cemetery, Willunga.


1864 WILLUNGASouth Australian Register, 11 May, p. 2. , viewed 26 Jan 2024
1949 St Josephs, Willunga Southern Cross, 14 April, p. 8. , viewed 26 Jan 2024
Portion of the diary of Father Thomas Caldwell OSB. 1850-July 1852. With Caldwell letter of 24 January 1870.
Registers and papers, Willunga Catholic Parish.

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