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George Henry Backhaus (1811–1882)

After about a week's illness, during which time he had severe relapses, rallying again as if about to recover, the Very Rev. Dean Backhaus expired this afternoon at 2 o'clock at his residence in Wills Street. The cause of death was an affection of the heart, from which he has suffered at frequent intervals during the last 10 years. The venerable clergyman was about 70 years of age, 30 of which he spent in the service of the Roman Catholic Church in the Bendigo district. In 1852 he arrived here, and was, indeed, the founder of St. Kilian's Church, and for many years had the whole Bendigo district under his control. In the early days he set about amassing money, and with great success throughout his life, his possessions at the time of his death in house property in Sandhurst, building allotments, large farms between Sandhurst and Heathcote, money on deposit and in general securities, amounting, according to common report, to about £150,000. However, it may be found that his wealth has been considerably over-estimated, perhaps to the extent of £50,000. Though he amassed so much property, it must not be understood that he was at all unconscious of his duties to the poorer members of his flock, whilst frequent acts of charity to those outside his own connexion were recorded. He was one of the founders of the Bendigo Hospital, and in every way assisted in all charitable or popular movements for the benefit of the sick or destitute. He was born at Paderborn, in Westphalia, in 1812, studied for some years at the College of the Propaganda in Rome, and was ordained a priest in 1836. Shortly afterwards he entered on his priestly functions in Ireland, next going to India as a missionary. Returning to Ireland in about a couple of years, he remained there for a time, and then sailed for Sydney, but not staying there long, went to Adelaide, where for a period he officiated in the Pirie Street Roman Catholic Church. On the breaking out of the Bendigo rush he came here in 1852, and was contemporary with the then only Protestant minister on the goldfields, the Rev. Mr. Gregory, of the Church of England. In 1857, mainly by his energy and administrative talent, the present St. Killian's Church [was built]. Up to that time services had been carried on in a large tent surmounted by a cross, and the doctor lived in a smaller tent in the same neighbourhood. In 1863 he returned home, travelling through the United States and South America, visiting London, Germany, and the Holy Land, again landing in Adelaide in 1866. During his absence the Sandhurst district was under the charge of Father Dwyer and Dean Hayes. After remaining some time in Adelaide, and Dean Hayes resigning the charge of the Sandhurst district, Archbishop Goold invited him to return to Sandhurst, which he did, and was senior clergyman until about eight years ago, when the deanery was formed into a bishopric, and Dr. Crane was sent out from Ireland as the first bishop. It is understood that Dr. Backhaus was much chagrined at not being chosen bishop, his claims to the honour being undeniable.  However, he continued his functions with the same energy as before until his retirement 13 months ago, when he went to live at Brighton, where last week he was attacked with the illness which put an end to a long and successful career. The executors to the will are stated to be Dean Tierney, of Beechworth, and Messrs. J. Crowley and Arthur Magee, of Sandhurst. His property, it is stated, will be divided amongst the church and charities and his relatives in Sandhurst. One of the reports afloat is that he has devised to the authorities of St. Kilian's Church a sufficient sum to build a cathedral for the Sandhurst bishopric.

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'Backhaus, George Henry (1811–1882)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 22 June 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

George Henry Backhaus, 1882

George Henry Backhaus, 1882

Victorian Patents Office Copyright Collection, State Library of Victoria, H96.160/278

Life Summary [details]


15 February, 1811
Paderborn, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany


7 September, 1882 (aged 71)
Bendigo, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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