School of Humanities



Odhran O'Brien

Start date

Mar 2014

Submission date

Apr 2017

Odhran O'Brien


Bishops and Bureaucrats: Bishops Martin Griver and Matthew Gibney’s leadership of the Perth Roman Catholic diocese and Church-state relations in the colonial period


During the mid-to-late nineteenth century, the Roman Catholic community grew to become one of the major Christian churches in the colony of Western Australia with its numbers reaching nearly one third of the European population.

This rise of Catholicism saw the Church become a central part of the colony’s religious fabric. Coinciding with its development in the religious sphere, senior clergyman and other representatives also moulded strong and enduring partnerships with the government through its officials, namely the governor, in many social and political aspects of the society.

Using a thematic and chronological framework, this study will explore how the Catholic Church’s relations with the colonial authorities impacted on the allocation of financial resources and land the diocese received as well as the Catholic Church’s role in education, social welfare, political issues and indigenous affairs. The examination of these issues will utilise primary source material from the State Records Office and Catholic archives in Perth, the National Archives in England and private collections.


Odhran O'Brien, Martin Griver – unearthed: the life of a Spanish missionary priest who became a bishop in colonial Western Australia, 1814-1886, St Pauls Publications, Strathfield: NSW, 2014.

Odhran O’Brien, ‘The Curious Case of Bishop Brady’, Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society, 33 (2012), 11-22.

Odhran O’Brien & Jade O’Brien, ‘The Return of Bishop Brady: The exhumation of Perth’s First Bishop’, New Norcia Studies, 19 (2011), 79-87.

Odhran O’Brien, ‘A Prayer for Strength’, New Norcia Studies, 18 (2010), 78-87.

Why my research is important

This research aims to provide a unique perspective on the extent to which religious leaders guided colonial society in Western Australia in matters of faith as well as those of a more temporal nature from 1850 to 1901. Further, this study will give insight into how the leadership styles and responsibilities assumed by senior churchmen in the nineteenth century set the tone for the place of their successors in contemporary Western Australian society.


  • • University Postgraduate Award Scholarship
  • • UWA Top-up Scholarship

New Norcia Library (courtesy New Norcia Benedictine Community Archives)