John Joseph Therry | State Library of New South Wales

John Joseph Therry

'For God sake, come'

Father John Joseph Therry (1790-1864) received these plaintive calls for spiritual comfort from convicts waiting in their cells to be executed, and from desperate family members whose loved ones were dying in far-flung areas of the colony. Therry became renowned for the distances he travelled to minister to those in need, often requiring three or four horses to take him the distances. His tireless dedication to his flock was illustrated by many stories or urban myths which were repeated by his admirers. These include tales such as always keeping a fresh horse saddled at his door so that he could leave to attend an emergency; and on another occasion, being attached to a rope and pulled across a flooded river to hear the last confession of a man sentenced to be executed. Columbus Fitzpatrick (1810-1878) describes Therry’s dedication to convict welfare in Catholic religious and social life in the Macquarie era. Therry appealed to the governor in the case of a condemned man who was innocent of the crime. The condemned man was already placed on the scaffold at the back of the gaol in Sydney. The sheriff agreed to stay the execution for a quarter of an hour while Father Therry ran down to Government House to seek a reprieve from Governor Brisbane:

'The suspense was dreadful – the crowd was more anxious than the man himself, for they all had faith in Father Therry – and just as the Sheriff said he could wait no longer, Father Therry was seen to issue from the gate of Government House, waving his hat and holding aloft a letter containing the desired reprieve. The man was removed to the cell, and his innocence established.'

The State Library holds Father Therry’s collection of personal papers which includes several folders of correspondence of hastily written pleas from condemned convicts in Sydney gaol, from wives of dying husbands, such as Jemina Mackay ('My George is so bad ...') and requests from women for Therry to assist them in looking for employment. Many convicts requested Therry to petition the Governor on their behalf for permissions to marry or applying to have their families brought out to the colony. Margaret Fenley wrote to Therry seeking permission to marry Patrick Duffy, a convict assigned to Gregory Blaxland, 'otherwise I’ll be sent to the factory'. Quite possibly Margaret was pregnant and needed to be married, in order to escape the sentence for unmarried pregnant women: the Female Factory at Parramatta.

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Selections from John Joseph Therry Papers, MLMSS 1810/3 and MLMSS 1810/6 


[First letter]

Sydney Gaole 23 Jan 1822

Most Hon Sir/ In consequence of the [indecipherable]-ness of mind that I now undergo & which derives from the awfull predicament that I now lay under as I am fully committed on a charge of Forgery and the Impending Dangers may attend the [indecipherable] consequence I therefore most earnestly Solicitt you will be pleased to call on me as you will be of a greate service to me – I ever shall be in Duty Bound to pray and remaine
yrs with due [indecipherable] &c &c
Jn ONeil

For The Revd J Terrey
at Mr Davis Church Hill

[Second letter]

Revd. Sir

A man of the name of George Smith lies dangerously ill in the Hospital,  I think that he has every appearance of death; as I went to see him the moment I heard his message which was at 2 oclock this evening – He tells me that he is sure that his dissolution is very near at hand, & wishes of all things in the world to see you as soon as possible –
I am Revd. Sir yr obligd
Geo Marley

Monday 4th
March 1822

[Third letter]

Sydney Goal March the 16th 1822

Mr. Terry we beg your assistance at the Last Day we are anxious to see you in hope it may Reconcile us, for god sake come, as we hope in the almighty god we are to Die in a few Days.

Francis Murphy
James Fallen

[Fourth letter]

Revd Sir
Sir Please to excuse the Liberty I take of righting those few lines to your reverence to you Revd know that myself and two men more of Comrades would wish to Spake a few words to your Reverence Before that Would A Way to any other Plase

James Laughler
Patt Bremmorn
James Kelly
Denis Bremmers

[Fifth letter]

Mr. Mercer, Surgeon [indecipherable] presents compliments to the Revd. Mr. Terry and begs to acquaint him that a prisoner named Wm Mooney this day landed from the Asia and now in the Hospital is extremely desirous of seeing him, W. M will therefore feel obliged by Mr. Trs seeing him the earliest opportunity as he is apprehensive the poor man has not long to live

Thursday Morning

[Sixth letter]

Revd Sir

I beg to inform you that a Patk Duffy who is servant to Mr. Gregory Blaxland  and I have settled on being married: he accordingly gave our names to your Clerk on yesterday afternoon that our Banns may be published next Sunday. Dr. McLeod sent for me lately and told me he should be under the necessity of sending me into the  Factory unless I get married.  Consequently I beg your Rev ence will have the goodness to perform the Ceremony as soon as regularly convenient and you will ever oblige your most Obt. & very humble servt
Margaret Fenley

N.B. Duffy is a [indecipherable]

[Seventh letter]

Revd Sir

I have recd. the names of the parties to be call d in chapel next Sunday

J Cassidy

[Eighth letter]

My Dearest Sir

My George is so bad this day that the Doctor has desired me not to stir out otherwise  I would have been happy to have gone to Mass.  come to your poor afflicted friend as soon as you can who is ever your Most
Jemima Maclay

[Ninth letter]

My Dear Mr. Thery

You will for ever oblige me if you will have the goodness to see the Governor, and ask him what he will do for me in short ask him what he would advise me to do, in my present distressing circumstances – in regard of Dear Georges debts; to whether he will give me a grant of land - and how much I want to know  particularly as by what you mentioned to me this day.  I might get sufficient on it to settle all Georges accounts I am particularly anxious as while I was at Parramatta some more Debts come presented = to Mr. Murry the Paymaster

as I had not courage enough to mention my affairs either to the Governor or Lady Brisbane while I was there you will most particularly oblige me if you will do it for me indeed I was so nervous on the business I could not attempt it – and now since there is a letter from the agents that they will Pay some Debts of his with some interest money that I expected from home when it will be paid into them from Ireland.  it leaves me no hopes of anything except the Governor will have the kind

consideration for me of giving to me what he intended for My Dearest George by which means it would give me the greatest satisfaction I could now possibly feel of paying all his Debts and having something for myself – which I shall very much require as the Regiment will be off soon going away and  I should be glad to know by what [indecipherable] Governor may grant [indecipherable] I can do for myself I am in a great hurry and agitation so you must excuse all blunders and believe me My Dear Mr. Therry your most sincere and aff.te
Jemima Macleay
5 oclock Sunday

if you should not come to Town in a day or two let me know by letter what is to be done

To the
Rev.d JJ Therry

I think you will be successful for me
God send ever [indecipherable]

[Tenth letter]

Jan the 9

My Dear Husband

this is the third note I have wrote to you and feel uneasy that I have not herd from you – come up with a letter and leave a few shillings for me. for I wont to repay the kind ness I have receved from the nurse and tow more.  come the day you get this Mrs C – told me she was [indecipherable] with you and My Dear be so kind as to go to Mr. Spode and send me a few lines on that day and let me know if you if you will come for me on the 15th

as I shall be uneasey to know
write to me the moment you get this my Dear husband if you will do this for me you will for ever oblige your loving wife
Mary Kiely

I give this in care of father J Terry – do not forget and leave the money with Mrs. [indecipherable]

[Eleventh letter]

[indecipherable] Gaol Sydney
20th January 1826

Revd Sir

I beg leave to acquaint you that William Curtin a prisoner found guilty this day of Murder and who is ordered for Execution on Monday morning wishes to see you at your earliest opportunity,

[indecipherable] Hble Servt

The Revd JJ T [indecipherable]

[Twelfth letter]

To the Rev.d Mr. J. Joseph Therry


On last Sunday morning a woman of the name Elisa Wilkinson a protestant was struck with a paralytic, and has since been speechless, and dangerously ill.  Her husband is also a protestant, but he joins with the patient in wishing to have your attendance; he came to me on yesterday afternoon and informed me that she signified this desire by signs, I went along with him, where she lies in the Brickfields Parramatta to see, her; when I asked her how she liked to have your attendance she laughed, and signified assent   I was this morning to see her, I consider she is a deal worse than she was yesterday – If convt Sir, your attention is speedily required.  There is also Mr. Palmer’s Overseer’s Wife lunatic since last Sunday Week.  she is, or at least he is, anxious to see your Rev-ce

Your Most Obl & Very Humble Servt.
James Cassidy
Feby/ 11 1826

[Thirteenth letter]

October the 4th 1826


Sir Wee Poor Prisoners that is under the Sentence of death is verry much troubled in consequence of your Long absence  Wee have Every Reason to Fear that wee will Be taken short for God sake come to Us For Nothing Can Equal our trouble

Thos Cavanagh, James Moran
Mathew Craven & [indecipherable] Sullivan

[Fourteenth letter]

Sydney Goal  December the
11th 1826

Sir the liberty I take In Righting to you I hope that you will excuse for sertainly I am in great trouble Conserning My Salvation  I hope Sir that you Will Come to Me if you Please And give me an opportunity of preparing My Self to receive the Sacrament that I am Willing to do but Sir if Stanley is Found Guilty My time Will be but very short and If Not I will be banisht

To some Island where I will never have the same oppertunity I hope that for god Sake you will come to me Lord let me have the Comfort I Now Wish for –
I am your Most humble and obedient
Sam.l Chipp
under the sentanse of Death

> Read the confession of convict Patrick Minahan, as dictated to Father Therry

Read the confession of Patrick Minahan