Francis Xavier Gsell

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Francis Xavier Gsell, OBE (30 June 1872 – 12 July 1960) was an Australian Roman Catholic bishop and missionary, known as the "Bishop with 150 wives". He was born at Benfeld, Alsace in 1872. He was ordained as a priest in the order of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart in 1896, after study in Rome.

He began active missionary work in Papua in 1900, then in 1906 re-established the Catholic Church in Palmerston (now Darwin), Northern Territory. He established an Aboriginal mission on Bathurst Island in 1910 and worked there until 1938. Though unsuccessful in converting adults, he persisted with children's education and "bought" many girls promised in marriage to older men according to tribal custom. He became known as the "Bishop with 150 wives" (also the title of his autobiography) for his activities in freeing girls from such arranged marriages, thus making it possible for them to marry men of their own age.

Gsell was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1935,[1] and was Bishop of Darwin from 1938 to 1949, during which time he was influential in founding Aboriginal missions at Port Keats and Arltunga.

In 1936, Gsell was involved with establishing the Tennant Creek Catholic Church, which was dismantled and moved from its previous location at Pine Creek.[2]

As Bishop of Darwin he was in charge of the Catholic Church's share of the policy of child removals of children of mixed parentage now known as the Stolen Generations. He defended the practice, writing "if they had families, and if they were surrounded by that love and affection family life offers to the young even amongst primitive peoples, it might be cruel. But these creatures roam miserably around the camps and their behaviour is often worse than that of native children. It is an act of mercy to remove them as soon as possible from surroundings so insecure."[3]

He retired to Sydney and died in 1960.


  1. ^ GSELL, Francis Xavier, It's an Honour (Australian Government), 3 June 1935.
  2. ^ "When Catholics Build & Decorate: Opening of Centralian Church". Catholic Freeman's Journal. LXXXVI. New South Wales. 18 November 1937. p. 8. Retrieved 16 October 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
  3. ^ F.X. Gsell, The Bishop with 150 Wives:Fifty years as a missionary, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1955, pp. 154-5.


  • F.X. Gsell, The Bishop with 150 Wives : fifty years as a missionary, London, 1955.

External links[edit]