By Hal Colebatch
Three missions were sent out into the wilderness by Bishop Brady following a ceremony at St John’s Cathedral on 1 February 1846.
The bishop gave each party his solemn benediction. None knew precisely what dangers they would face, and many of the congregation apparently wept aloud.
A group of missionaries was sent to the remote location of Port Essington, near Darwin, to establish the first Aboriginal mission. However, they met with disaster.
Fr Confalonieri and two catechists, James Fagan and Nicholas Hogan, were on their way there in the schooner Heroine when it was wrecked in the Endeavour Straits.
All aboard were drowned except Confalonieri and the captain. These two were rescued by the vessel Enchantress and eventually landed at Port Essington.
The Protestant military commandant, John McArthur, helped the priest establish himself at Smith’s Point, near modern Darwin.
Confalonieri compiled a vocabulary of local Aboriginal dialects, and appealed to Propaganda Fide in Rome for funds, but requested that they be sent to him direct, and not through Bishop Brady, of whose administrative abilities he had conceived a low opinion (Brady had sent the party off without any money, even to pay for their passages, or any regular means of support and supply).
“Otherwise, and I am sure of it from bitter experience,” Confalonieri wrote, “if this money reaches the hands of Bishop Brady, first, although intended for my mission, either I will acquire nothing, or of the three thousand francs, I should be lucky to receive three hundred.”
Unfortunately, Confalonieri’s mission was cut short as he died of influenza in June 1848.
Commandant McArthur wrote to Archbishop Polding in Sydney that: “His remains were accompanied to the tomb by the officers and military with all the respect that was due to a man so highly esteemed”.