1874: Holy Cross Catholic Church, Moyhu, Victoria.

Twenty-seven kilometres south of Wangaratta in the north east of Victoria is the tiny township of Moyhu, noted in history for its connection with the the early Irish pioneers of the district and the infamous Kelly gang of the late 1800’s.

On Sunday the 4th of May 1873, in weather described as “unpropitious”, upwards of 150 people gathered about four kilometres north of the town of Moyhu to witness the Catholic Bishop of Victoria,  James Alepius Goold, lay the foundation stone of the Holy Cross Catholic Church. The sermon was preached by the Rev S. J. Kelly and the sum of £66 was raised at the collection [1]. A year later, Bishop Goold returned to officially dedicate the Church on Sunday 28th February 1875 [2].

In the chancel of Holy Cross are three historically significant stained glass windows that were crafted by the Colonial Victorian Stained Glass firm, Ferguson & Urie of North Melbourne.

Photos taken 14th January 2013.

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The windows were donated by pioneers of the district, Richard Shanley, James Whitty and Thomas Byrne.

Richard Shanley donated the single lancet window to the left of the altar depicting ‘St Patrick’, the patron saint of Ireland. The text at the base of the window reads; “The Gift of Mr Richard Shanley”.

Above the altar is a quatrefoil shaped stained glass window in the gable depicting the ‘Madonna and Child’. This was the gift of James Whitty in 1874 in memory of his wife Catherine. A brass plaque near the chancel reads; “The Rose Window of the mother and child above the altar in the sanctuary was presented by James Whitty of Boggy Creek in memory of his wife Catherine. Died 3rd April 1874, aged 52 years. R.I.P”.

To the right of the altar is a single lancet window depicting the Crucifixion, which was donated by Thomas Byrne and has the text at the base which reads; “The gift of Mr Thomas Byrne”.

It’s my opinion that all three of the Ferguson & Urie windows were erected at the same time in the latter half of 1874 during the construction of the church.

About the donors of the stained glass windows:

James Whitty (c.1814-1882):

The Whitty’s were natives of Wexford in Ireland and came to Victoria circa 1840’s as assisted Irish immigrants and began farming in the Woodstock area, south west of Whittlesea. On the 6th of February 1842 James Whitty married 20-year old Catherine Parnell at St Francis Church in Melbourne[3] and later began farming in the Moyhu area south of Wangaratta. The Whitty family prospered and in subsequent years increased their land holdings significantly. On the 3rd of April, 1874 James’ wife died. In memory of his beloved Catherine, James commissioned the Melbourne stained glass firm ‘Ferguson & Urie’ to create a beautiful stained glass window depicting the ‘Madonna and Child’. It was erected behind the altar of the new Holy Cross Catholic Church being built at Moyhu. Nearly twelve months to the day after Catherine’s death, James Whitty purchased the “Myrhee” run in the Boggy Creek area near Moyhu. James didn’t marry again and the following years would continue to be a test of his resolve as he became an arch nemesis of the outlaw Ned Kelly. In August 1877 Ned Kelly and his gang stole eleven of Whitty’s horses which they subsequently sold to unsuspecting farmers near Howlong just over the NSW border. The respectable German farmers, the Baumgarten brothers, and farmers Kennedy, Studders, and Cooke were all implicated in receiving the stolen Whitty horses and sent to trial [4]. In the following years James Whitty and his neighbouring farmers would continue to be the target of the Kelly gang. Subsequently Whitty and other farmers in the district formed the North Eastern Stock Protection League. They offered sizeable rewards for the conviction of the thieves, a move that was squarely aimed at the Kelly gang. Ned Kelly responded in kind by continuing the relentless theft of Whitty’s stock for years to come. One newspaper account quoted Kelly as saying “…during his career he had stolen 280 horses from Whitty’s station, and sold them; and beyond this he had never been guilty of any other crime…[5]”. The thefts and accusations continued and on one occasion Whitty was confronted by Ned Kelly at the Moyhu race course where Kelly accused Whitty of perpetuating the false rumour that he had stolen one of Whitty’s prized bulls[6].

In January 1879 Whitty’s horse “Prince Alfred” was disqualified in an Albury Hurdle race.[7] Although Kelly had nothing to do with the event it would no doubt have pleased him greatly.

Ned Kelly was eventually apprehended during the Glenrowan shoot-out on the 28th June 1880, thus ending years of animosity between the Kellys and Whitty and his fellow farmers. Ned Kelly was hanged on the 11th November 1880. Just over a year and a half later James Whitty died at his Moyhu property on the 11th June 1882 [8], aged 68. He was buried near his wife Catherine and daughter Julia at the Milawa cemetery. The gravestones read; “…erected by James Whitty in memory of his beloved wife Catherine, Died 3rd April 1874, aged 52 years. Also her daughter Julia who died Aug 27, 1880, aged 23 years.” Nearby, James Whitty’s gravestone reads; “Erected by his sons and daughters, to the memory of their beloved father, James Whitty, who died on the 14th of July 1882, aged 68 years, may his soul rest in peace”.

The stained glass window James donated to the Holy Cross Church at Moyhu, stands as testament to his devotion to his wife Catherine and the Whitty family’s Irish Catholic roots.

Richard Shanley (1835-1922)[9]:

Richard Shanley was a native of the parish of Kell, King’s County Ireland, and arrived in Hobson’s Bay as an unassisted immigrant at the age of 26 on the 31st of October, 1860 [10]. Having only spent a few days in Melbourne he set off for Wangaratta by coach and then “humped his bluey” (swag)[11] 50km south towards the Whitfield and Moyhu area. He gained employment doing general farm work in the area and later held a position as Cheese Maker at the Whitfield station with the Evans brothers who had come out on the same ship. In the following five years he worked for the Farrell, Dennett and Evans families and then rented a portion of the “Manarhee estate” from the Evans family and started farming on his own. Around 1867 his parents and brother arrived in the colony to join him and in 1870 he selected 320 acres of “Redcamp” station where he made his home and named the property “Fairfield” after the name of his father’s property in Ireland. In subsequent years he increased the size of his land holdings to around 1400 acres.

In 1874 Richard Shanley married Ellen Prendergast and in the same year donated a stained glass window to the Holy Cross Catholic Church at Moyhu. The window was created by Ferguson & Urie of North Melbourne and depicts St Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland.  The text at the base of the window reads: “The Gift of Mr Richard Shanley”.

In February 1901, disastrous bush fires swept over Moyhu and surrounding district and lives were lost and homesteads burnt. Richard Shanley was one of the lucky few and only lost 1500 acres of grassland and fencing [12].

In June 1907 Shanley attended a banquet on the farm of John Hughes at Greta, to celebrate the pioneers of the district. The event was attended by upwards of 250 people and Shanley was invited to speak during the dinner in which he gave a short account of his early days in the colony.

Four years later, on Wednesday the 18th January 1911, Shanley celebrated his half century in the Colony of Victoria by holding his own banquet for the pioneers of the Moyhu district, to which over 150 persons attended at his “Fairfield” property[13] where he extended on his previous speech in 1907 and gave a very detailed summary of his life, struggles, and friendship with the other pioneers of the district.

In January 1914, at the age of 79, he and his daughter Mary narrowly escaped serious injury near “Thistlebrook” when his horses broke loose from the buggy and bolted but despite his advanced age he succeeded in bringing the situation under control without injury to himself or Mary [14].

Richard Shanley died at his property “Fairfield” at Moyhu on the 31st August 1922 [15], aged 87. His wife Ellen (nee Prendergast 1824-1924) died two years later on the 21st August 1924 [16]and both were buried at the Milawa cemetery. They were survived by eight adult children.

Their grave stone at Milawa reads: “In loving memory of Richard Shanley, died 31st Aug 1922, aged 87. Also his wife Ellen Shanley, died 21st Aug 1924, aged 78”.

Thomas Byrne (c.1798-1883):

Thomas Byrne was a native of Wicklow, Ireland, and arrived in Australia as an un-assisted immigrant with his children aboard the ‘Phoenix’ in January 1856[17], his wife, unconfirmed as Sarah Dunne, having died in Ireland circa 1844.

In 1874 Thomas Byrne donated the single light stained glass window depicting the ‘Crucifixion’ to the Holy Cross Catholic Church in Moyhu. Thomas Byrne died at Moyhu aged 85 in 1883 [18]. He was buried at the Milawa cemetery with the inscription on the gravestone reading:

“In Memory of Thomas Byrne, A Patriarch, died 24th February 1883, aged 86 years. Also his daughter Mary Byrne who died April 21st 1903 aged 81 years.”

The North Eastern Ensign, Benalla, Vic, Friday 9th May 1873, page 2.

(On Sunday 4th May 1873 the foundation stone was laid by the Catholic Bishop of Melbourne, James Alepius Goold)

“MOYHU ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH.- On Sunday last the foundation stone of the new Roman Catholic Church at Moyhu was laid by the Right Reverend Dr. Goold, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Melbourne. The weather was unpropitious, but the ceremony was nevertheless attended by upwards of 150 persons. A sermon was preached by the Rev. Father Kelly, S. J., and a collection which was subsequently made realised the handsome sum of £66”.

The Colac Herald, Vic, Friday 5th March 1875, page 3.

(On Sunday 28th February 1875, the Catholic Church at Moyhu was dedicated)

“On Sunday last Archbishop Goold presided at the dedication of the Roman Catholic Church of St. John [sic?] of the Cross, at Moyhu, near Wangaratta…”

Foot notes:

[3] Married 6th February 1842 at St Francis’ Church Melbourne (marriage VIC BDM: 35423/1842). Catherine Parnell, born Offaly, Ireland to James Parnell and Catherine Horan.

[6] The Argus, Melbourne, Vic, Wednesday 18th Dec 1878, page 6. (Ned Kelly’s letter to Donald Cameron. MLA, post-marked Glenrowan, 14 Dec 1878).

[9] Richard Shanley, Vic BDM: 10575/1922. Aged 87. Son of Peter Shanley and Sarah Whelan.

[10] Richard Shanley arrived aboard the “Lightning”: Index to Unassisted Inward Passenger Lists to Victoria 1852-1923, Fiche 183, Page 007. (surname transcribed as ‘Chanley’). He arrived with his long time friend Rowland Hughes in their early 20’s.

[11] Wangaratta Dispatch and North-Eastern Advertiser, Wednesday 26 June 1907.

[13] Wangaratta Chronicle, Saturday 21st January, 1911.

[15] Wangaratta Chronicle, Saturday September 2,1922

[17] Thos Byrne: Index to un-assisted inward passengers lists to Vic 1852-1923, Fiche 105, page 001.

[18] Thos Byrne: Vic BDM: 2659/1883, aged 85.


Special thanks to Joan Ellis for her assistance with access to Holy Cross at Moyhu and enthusiasm for the history.

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