St John the Baptist Chapel, formerly the cathedral of the Maitland Diocese, was built by Dean Lynch and is one of the oldest churches in Australia still in use.
The foundation stone, laid at Campbells Hill in 1840, was moved to its current position in Cathedral Street in 1844. It was completed in 1846 with additions in 1862, became the cathedral in 1866 and remained so until 1933.
The Maitland Mercury, between February 1843 and May 1844, published 24 lists of subscribers to the cost of building the church. The lists reveal much about the social and economic life of the times. Included are a number of high-profile members of the local and colonial community who were not Catholics, indeed some were not even Christians.
One notable donor was a Major D'Arcy Wentworth who was listed as giving £5 ($600-$700 today). So why did a staunch Anglican member of the military, economic and social elite, residing in Tasmania, give £5 to a humble Catholic church in Maitland? The reasons were political.
- How European settlement spelt the end of Maitland's cedar and eucalypt forests
- When rowing was big in Maitland and attracted huge crowds and wagers
- The lost rail link from Morpeth to East Maitland
- No loss of life, but the flood of 1820 was huge and devastating
- Maitland was a town of great wealth and importance
D'Arcy Wentworth was the younger brother of William Charles Wentworth. Born in the colony and educated in England, he joined the army and returned to Tasmania as the commander of the 63rd Light Infantry stationed at Bothwell and then Launceston. He became a leading figure in Tasmania.
In 1843 the first election for the new Legislative Council of NSW was to be held.
Each electorate had its own unique polling date. There were no residential requirements, so to maximise your chances you nominated for multiple seats and then dropped out of upcoming polls once you were successful. Candidates with an eye on leadership, such as WC Wentworth, sought like-minded men (only men) to nominate to help form a government.
WC (a local landholder but a shoo-in for Sydney) persuaded his brother to nominate for Northumberland (Newcastle, East Maitland and West Maitland).
His opponent was Mr Alexander W Scott, a noted local farmer/industrialist member of the Scott family of Glendonbrook and Newcastle.
While he was a local, Scott was conservative, pro the renewal of transportation and a relative newcomer to the Colony (1827). Wentworth used the symbol of the native born (the cornstalk) in his election campaign rallies and drew his support from anti-transportation men, especially ex-convict Catholic supporters of Irish exiles and Dean Lynch's Total Abstinence Society.
Campaigning began in February 1843 and continued to the polling day of June 20, 1843. Quite clearly Wentworth courted Catholic electors.
His Election Committee of 37 included 16 (possibly 18) donors to Dean Lynch's church, only some of whom were Catholic. Scott's Committee of 26 had no Catholic members and only four (or possibly seven) donors to the Church.
Wentworth won Northumberland with a vote of 120 to 107 and thus became the Maitland area's first elected parliamentarian. He retired in 1845, went back to Tasmania and died in 1861.
It's possible the £5 donation made a difference to the election outcome. Voter numbers were small and Lynch, with the money in the bank, may have subtly influenced the few Catholics entitled to vote.
Maitland and District Historical Society