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The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Willson, Right Rev. Robert William

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Willson, Right Rev. Robert William, first Roman Catholic Bishop of Hobart, was born at Lincoln on Dec 11th, 1794. His father, William Willson, was a leading builder in that city, and was originally a member of the Established Church; but having married a Catholic lady, Miss Tenney, he subsequently joined the Roman Catholic Church. In his twenty-first year Robert entered Oscott College, and on the completion of his theological studies was ordained to the priesthood on Dec. 16th, 1824, by the famous controversialist, Bishop Milner. He was immediately appointed to Nottingham, where he achieved such a repute for energy that Dr. Ullathorne, till then Vicar-General of Australia, determined to secure his services for the Colonial Church, and procured his nomination as first Bishop of Hobart. Dr. Willson was astounded when he heard the news of the nomination, and used his best endeavours to evade the proffered dignity, but without success. Even Cardinal Wiseman endeavoured to keep him in England, but Pope Gregory XVI. insisted on the nomination being upheld, and Dr. Willson was duly consecrated by Dr. (afterwards Cardinal) Wiseman in Oct. 1842. He sailed for Tasmania at the end of Jan. 1844, and landed in Hobart on the 11th of the following May. For the next two-and-twenty years he laboured energetically and successfully to build up and organise the Roman Catholic Church in Tasmania He also earned the respect and admiration of all denominations for his self-sacrificing exertions on behalf of the convict population and the insane. General regret was experienced all over the colony when failing health compelled his retirement, and quite a host of farewell addresses was presented to the popular prelate. He embarked on Feb. 27th, 1865, but on the voyage home was struck down by paralysis. He was never afterwards able to officiate at the altar, but with the aid of a servant he was able to walk a little in Nottingham, where he lingered for a year, expiring on June 30th, 1866. His funeral oration was pronounced by Dr. Ullathorne, who published a memoir of the prelate in 1887, and his life has been sympathetically written by the Rev. T. Kelsh, of the diocese of Hobart, and published at the office of the Hobart Mercury.