All Hallows' Convent & The Legacy of Mother Vincent Whitty - 96five Family Radio

All Hallows’ Convent & The Legacy of Mother Vincent Whitty

All Hallows' Convent sits atop a hill overlooking the Brisbane River and is part of the legacy of Mother Vincent Whitty and the Sisters of Mercy.

By Justin RouillonThursday 10 Oct 2019Social JusticeReading Time: 6 minutes

If you’ve ever heard Kevin McCloud wax lyrical about architecture in the British series Grand Designs, you get a better sense of the connection between buildings and place.

Listen to the full interview with Britt Casey, Creative Producer, Adderton: House and Heart of Mercy in the audio player above.  Main Image: Greg Henderson Photography. 

Our built world tells the story of those who toiled to leave their mark on the world, of those who lived and worked within their walls, and is woven into the very fabric of our communities over the years.

As Taylor Swift might put it, buildings tell the story of us.

Built in 1858 by Dr George Fullerton, Adderton sits atop the hill between Ann Street and the Brisbane River.  The house overlooks Petrie Bight – the reach of the Brisbane River that now passes underneath the Story Bridge.  Dr Fullerton named the residence after his wife – Julia Adderton Moffatt, and along with Newstead House (built in 1846) is one of Brisbane’s oldest surviving homes.

The original Adderton in 1863 as built by the Fullerton family.

Adderton’s story is one of compassion, hope, a fight against injustice, and the enduring legacy of a remarkable woman.  The building was home to the Brisbane Sisters of Mercy from 1863 after the purchase by James Quinn who was the first Catholic Bishop of Brisbane.

A Response to Injustice

The story begins in Dublin in the 1830’s when a young Ellen Whitty arrived from the south of Ireland to further her education.

Dublin was an overcrowded city, bursting at the seams with new arrivals hopeful of finding employment in the workhouses.  It was here that Ellen first noticed the Sisters of Mercy who ensured the poor were fed and clothed. The sisters had been founded by Catherine McAuley, and were forged in fire on the streets of a filthy Dublin.  The community provided practical assistance to those in need and rallied against the injustices of the day, including the social conditions imposed by the ruling British in an attempt to wipe out Irish Catholics.

Portrait of Catherine McAuley hanging in Adderton: House of Heart and Mercy. Image: Greg Henderson Photography.

In January 1839 Ellen Whitty knocked on the door of the Baggot Street Convent in Dublin and joined the Sisters of Mercy.  After Catherine McAuley’s death Ellen went on to lead the community as Mother Mary Vincent Whitty, and it was at this time she responded to a call to the mission field.

Fellow Dubliner James Quinn had been appointed as the first bishop in the newly created Diocese of Brisbane in 1859, and requested that Mother Vincent and five sisters join him in a 16,000 kilometre voyage to Queensland.

Britt Casey is the creative producer at Adderton: House and Heart of Mercy, and told 96five that the Brisbane in which the sisters arrived in was rife with disease, poverty and a lack of infrastructure to support the population as it transitioned from a penal colony to a free settlement.

“The sisters had a really good name in Ireland as they cared for destitute people, and Bishop Quinn could see that the Brisbane community really needed their support in education, and moving into hospital care as well.”

“Life in Brisbane in the early years was extremely rough, and when they arrived their first port of call was to connect with the community, and see the needs, which ultimately was education.”

The main goal of Mother Vincent Whitty and her sisters was to educate people so they could stand on their own feet and become productive members of society.  She organised for the supply of educational materials to be shipped out by the sisters back in Dublin, and was instrumental in educating the children of Brisbane and Ipswich.

All Hallows’ is Born

On All Hallows’ Day (November 1st) 1863, Adderton was purchased by Bishop Quinn to become the Convent of Our Lady of Mercy, All Hallows’, and the first school for girls in Queensland.  This now posed a new problem for Mother Vincent – how to pay off this new debt, whilst continuing to grow their reach in the new city.

Image: Greg Henderson Photography.

“Along with the new school they very quickly established support for disadvantaged and vulnerable women.  This caught the attention of Florence O’Reilly who had inherited money from her family, and was a great benefactor for the sisters.”

Florence had great business sense, owning sugar cane farms in North Queensland as well as the land we now know as New Farm Park.  Not only did she clear the debt on the All Hallows Convent, she also donated the land that the Mater Hospital stands on, as well as financing the St Vincent’s Orphanage at Nudgee and Holy Cross Laundry at Wooloowin.  Holy Cross Laundry is still operating, giving people with an intellectual disability the opportunity to gain meaningful employment.

“With somebody like that assisting the ventures it meant that they could provide all of those services in welfare, health and education to the growing community.”

In the early years of the All Hallows’ Convent the sisters planted a Magnolia tree in the grounds which would come to represent the work of the sisters.  Some 150 years later the tree is still providing inspiration to visitors who come to Adderton: House of Heart and Mercy.

“Mother Vincent wrote back to Ireland in the first few years, telling of a goat who was having a go at the magnolia bush.  She said that if the magnolia bush will survive then we will flourish here.”

Adderton Today

The Sisters of Mercy stopped using the building as a residence in 2007, and is currently used for an initiative called Adderton: House of Heart and Mercy.  Britt says that the use of the building continues to reflect the legacy and mission of the sister’s past and present work.

“Now we are open as a community space.  It’s a very unique offering in that we focus on social issues and events that really talk to the work that the sisters have done in Queensland.”

Artwork and events reflect the vision of the Sisters of Mercy. Clockwise from top left: Blue Jean Sisters by Belinda Smith, 48 Hours 24 Minutes & 15 Seconds by Dan Elborne, Rachel Burke of @imakestagram & kids making poms, Continuing Depths of Connection by Robert Andrew. Images: Greg Henderson Photography.

Britt says everyone at Adderton is excited to be a part of Brisbane Open House this weekend.

“Because this was a convent for so long, there’s a lot of people that possibly don’t know that we’re here or what the building was used for.  It will be great to invite people in to experience what we’re doing today as well as look back at the history of the sisters and what they’ve done for Brisbane.”

Adderton stands as a piece of Brisbane’s history, and a link to the past as the city grew up around it.  More importantly Adderton is a touch point to the life of a strong woman, who selflessly served others and inspired others to join her in the far flung reaches of the British Empire.  It’s a reminder that we can all do something for the least of these in our communities.  Mother Vincent Whitty’s work resulted in a community of over 200 sisters, 26 schools with 7000 students, orphanages, hospitals, women’s and girls refuges and a training college for teachers.

The Story Bridge as viewed from The Bridge Gallery. Image: Greg Henderson Photography.

Adderton: House of Heart and Mercy will be open as a part of Brisbane Open House this Saturday and Sunday between 9am and 4pm.  There will be guided tours taking place each day at 10:30am and 1:30pm.

You can also visit free of charge Tuesdays to Fridays (10am to 2pm) and weekends (10am to 4pm).

Adderton is located in the All Hallows’ Convent, 547 Ann St Fortitude Valley, and is a close neighbour to All Hallows’ School.