Martin Griver: A biographical study of a missionary, visionary and colonial bishop in Western Australia, 1814-86

Odhran O'Brien, University of Notre Dame Australia

Thesis submitted for the Master of Arts by Research Degree in the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Notre Dame Australia 2011.


Brigadier Richard Holmes, biographer and military historian, has stated that he seeks the ‘character of the man’ in his biographical studies of such British political figures as Winston Churchill. In undertaking a biography of Bishop Martin Griver, I have been endeavouring to realise that same objective. The ‘search for Griver’ began on a completely physical level with an exhumation of his remains from within St Mary’s Cathedral, the place of worship that he helped design and build. In many ways much of the knowledge about his contribution to Western Australia’s Catholic Church has been laid to rest with him—until now. The object of this thesis is bring new life to Griver’s story and reveal the essence of the man through investigation of a plethora of correspondence, reports, memoranda, diaries and other historical material much of which has never been researched.

Due to certain limitations of the historical record this biographical account focuses mainly on Griver’s missionary career in Western Australia. The revision of primary and secondary sources has taken place and considered in conjunction with the cultural remains from Griver’s time namely his home in Perth, the churches he built and institutions he created. These footprints of Griver’s time have made it possible to identify the key issues and themes within the life of the man, his impact on Catholic Church in Western Australia and its interaction with its counterparts in the eastern colonies and Rome. Further, Griver significantly changed the place of the Catholic community within colonial society.

In all, this biography reveals the life of a man who had a devotion to missionary work, that led him to become the leader of the Catholic community in Western Australia. Throughout his time as leader, he maintained a close pastoral relationship with his congregation. This enabled him to see the need for more churches, schools, social welfare and a united Catholic hierarchy. He focused the administration of the Perth Diocese on achieving initiatives which directly benefited the people it served. When he died he was the first active bishop of the Diocese to both die in office and be buried within its ecclesiastical territory. His legacy further included a financially stable, spiritually enriched, and cohesive Catholic community. To this end, although an unwilling leader, he achieved the ideal for a bishop by successfully promoting the unity and welfare of his flock.