Charles O'Hea

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Charles O'Hea
Born circa 1814
County Cork, Ireland
Died 31 August 1903
Melbourne, Australia
Nationality Irish-Australian
Occupation Priest
Title Monsignor
Predecessor Patrick Dunne
Religion Roman Catholic

Father Charles Adolphus O'Hea OSA (1814–1903) was an Irish Australian Catholic Priest. He began his ministry in Ireland before travelling to Melbourne, Australia where he lived until his death. He is best known for establishing a number of churches north of Melbourne and for both baptizing and administering last rites to the bushranger Ned Kelly.


Early life[edit]

Charles Adolphus O'Hea was born around 1814 in County Cork[1] to parents James O'Hea and Elizabeth de Lacey Evans. He was the youngest child of a large family, members of which eventually went on to represent various professions. Educated in Rome he entered the Order of the Hermits of St. Augustine in Drogheda in 1844, was later ordained, and engaged himself in missionary works in Ireland.[1]

In February 1853 O'Hea arrived at Hobsons Bay, Victoria, from London on board the barque the Koh-I-Noor along with four other priests. By chance he had met the first bishop of Melbourne, James Alipius Goold, in Rome in 1852 and volunteered to travel to Australia to assist in establishing new churches in the State.[2] Later newspapers describe him as being "... a man of magnificent physique and dominating personality..."[3] and a man of means. He was well known for his charitable works and his wealth allowed him to achieve much more for his ministry than would be allowable with his stipend.[4]


Taking over from the Rev Patrick Dunne, O'Hea was assigned as the new Pastor to a large district which extended from Brunswick to Yan Yean 30 km north of Melbourne. The area included two churches, one at Coburg and the other in Epping and he received an annual stipend of £200 with an additional £100 from the Government[5] for his work as prison chaplain. He made his base at St. Paul's church Coburg which was opened in August 1855.[6]

He served both the community of HM Prison Pentridge itself and the residents of the area from 1853 to 1882 when he was made Dean.[7] In 1867 O'Hea called a public meeting to discuss the potential for a change of name, as "Pentridge" was seen as too evocative of the gaol.[8] As a result of this meeting, the name of the suburb was changed to Coburg.[8] To show the esteem in which he was held a street was named after him in that suburb.

During his time in Melbourne, he was responsible for the building of four churches: St. John's at Beveridge, Victoria (1862); St. Ambrose Church, Brunswick (1869); and Woodstock and Epping (1879). All four were constructed from local basalt in the Gothic architectural style.

The church community at Beveridge included Ned Kelly, who lived there during his early years, and the rest of the Kelly family who lived in the town. O'Hea baptised Kelly who along with his siblings attended the parish school. In November 1880 O'Hea was also responsible for ministering to Kelly before the bushranger was hanged and was nearby when the execution took place.[9] Fr O'Hea was described by Hugh McCrae "as a burly priest, developed like a Thessalonian bull, fisted like a Castor or Pollux; yet withal a learned man, a witty one, and a friend of the masses."

Later life[edit]

O'Hea retired in 1882 and was given the title Monsignor around 1893 possibly for his financial support to the papal treasury.[4] He lived in retirement in what was the Mercy Convent, Coburg, and died on the 31st of Ausgust 1903, aged nearly ninety.[10] His remains were interred in the crypt for Roman Catholic priests at the chapel in Melbourne General Cemetery.


  1. ^ a b "DEATH OF MONSIGNOR O'HEA". Geelong Advertiser (17,609). Victoria, Australia. 2 September 1903. p. 4. Retrieved 19 April 2016 – via National Library of Australia. 
  2. ^ "VICTORIA.". Freeman's Journal. IV, (140). New South Wales, Australia. 24 February 1853. p. 9. Retrieved 16 April 2016 – via National Library of Australia. 
  3. ^ "Memories and Musings". Advocate. LXXXIV, (4990). Victoria, Australia. 15 March 1951. p. 12. Retrieved 19 April 2016 – via National Library of Australia. 
  4. ^ a b Australia's Sporting Prelate. (newspaper article) Retrieved on April 20, 2016 from
  5. ^ Australia, Electoral Rolls, 1903-1980 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Australian Electoral Commission. [Electoral roll]
  6. ^ "GLIMPSES OF NORTH-EASTERN VICTORIA.". Advocate. III, (71). Victoria, Australia. 7 May 1870. p. 10. Retrieved 16 April 2016 – via National Library of Australia. 
  7. ^ "ABOUT PEOPLE.". The Age (15,126). Victoria, Australia. 1 September 1903. p. 4. Retrieved 18 April 2016 – via National Library of Australia. 
  8. ^ a b History of Moreland Fact Sheet 3 Moreland City Council information sheet on Coburg and Pascoe Vale. Accessed on 22 August 2005.
  9. ^ IronOutLaw: Fr O'Hea
  10. ^ "Advertising". The Age (15,178). Victoria, Australia. 31 October 1903. p. 11. Retrieved 16 April 2016 – via National Library of Australia. 


  • Ebsworth, Rev. Walter (1973). Pioneer Catholic Victoria. Polding Press. ISBN 0-85884-096-0.