John Hughes

John Hughes (1825 – 1885) grocer, property developer and Catholic benefactor
Appointed a justice of the peace in 1867, John Hughes attended zealously to his duties, sitting for many years as magistrate in the police courts of Sydney. Hughes generously supported Catholic charities and was notable for his contribution, both as a committee-member and benefactor, to the rebuilding of St Mary’s Cathedral.

John Hughes, grocer, property developer and Catholic benefactor, was born on 24 June 1825 at Drumshambo, Leitrim, Ireland, eldest son of six children of Thomas Hughes, grocer, and his wife Maria, née Cogan. The family arrived in Sydney as bounty immigrants in the Crusader on 15 January 1840.

Appointed a justice of the peace in 1867, Hughes attended zealously to his duties, sitting for many years as magistrate in the police courts of Sydney. He was both a pillar of the Catholic Church and a loyal citizen, in 1868 refusing to serve on the St Patrick’s Day regatta committee with a man who had declined to toast the Queen’s health.

Hughes generously supported Catholic charities and was notable for his contribution, both as a committee-member and benefactor, to the rebuilding of St Mary’s Cathedral, where he worshipped. The new building was dedicated in 1882.

In addition he was largely responsible for bringing the Sisters of the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to Sydney that year, funding their establishment of a convent at Rose Bay. He also donated the site for St Canice’s Church, Elizabeth Bay; marble altars for St Ignatius’ College, Riverview, and St Columbkille’s Church, Woolloomooloo; the baptismal font at St Patrick’s Church and marble fonts in St Mary’s Cathedral; and helped to establish scholarships in honour of Archbishop Vaughan at St Ignatius’.

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Image – St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral, Sydney :

Information on St Mary’s Cathedral
St Mary’s Cathedral is the mother church of Catholicism in Australia. Its foundation during the early days of the Colony was not without a great deal of difficulty. Practising the Catholic faith was initially outlawed by the then government, thus causing Catholics to worship in secret. Fr John Therry, a pioneer priest in the Colony, had requested land on the foreshore in what is now referred to as the Rocks area in Sydney. Governor Lachlan Macquarie refused this and allocated the land where the current cathedral now stands. At that time this site was little more than an undesirable dumping ground. By a twist of irony, a great Neo-Gothic cathedral rose from this ignominious ‘dump’ to become the fine landmark it is today.

The foundation stone of the first St Mary’s Church was laid on 29 October 1820 by Governor Macquarie, but the first Mass was not celebrated until 5 December 1833 owing to severe difficulties in raising funds for the enterprise. The dedication had to wait until 29 June 1836, by which stage the building, 110ft long and 45ft wide in the nave, was decorated and furnished. By this time, St Mary’s was elevated to the status of Cathedral with the arrival of Australia’s first Bishop, John Bede Polding OSB. It had been the intention of establishing a Benedictine monastery which never came to be. On 25 August 1851 the foundation stone for extensions to St Mary’s was laid, these in the Decorated Gothic style to the design of the celebrated English architect A.W.N. Pugin and consisting of an additional 51ft to the nave, flanked by a chapel and the base of a large tower which was to rise to 200ft. On 29 June 1865 the entire building, including the Bevington organ, was destroyed by fire. Only a slender octagonal pillar from the north-east side of the old sanctuary remains, and this can be seen outside on the southern side of the east transept. (The location of the original cathedral was perpendicular to the current nave and ran along the axis of the current baptistery.)

Construction of the present cathedral began in 1866 to the design of William Wilkinson Wardell (1823-1899), one of the leading Catholic architects of the 19th century, who had emigrated to Melbourne in 1858. The dedication of the first section of the building took place on 8 September 1882 while by 1900 the eastern limb of the building, transepts, central tower and first two bays of the nave were complete with a total length at that stage of 200ft; the dedication took place in September. The remaining six bays of the nave and the two towers together with the crypt were constructed in the 1920s and opened in 1928. Built in stone in the Decorated Gothic style, the building is 350ft in length (the longest ecclesiastical building in Australia) and the height of the nave from the floor is 90ft. The exterior is notable for the square termination of the east end, resembling Lincoln Cathedral, the clerestory windows placed under gables, flying buttresses, the three towers and the rose windows which crown three of the façades. Internally, the nave, transepts and sanctuary have groined ceilings in timber while those of the aisles are in stone. There is a spacious triforium placed above the aisle roofs. The high altar, in marble and Oamaru limestone, is a focal point of the interior while the subsidiary altars were designed by the noted English architect J.F. Bentley and executed by Farmer & Brindley, of London. The stained glass is by John Hardman & Sons of Birmingham. The spires were added in 1998 – 2000 and were constructed in accordance with Wardell’s design.


More on St Mary’s Cathedral and influential catholics:

Also information on:
Fr John Therry:

Governor Lachlan Macquarie:

John Bede Polding:

William Wilkinson Wardell:
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