DOES THIS RING A BELL ?
By Brian Clancy
St Patrick’s Catholic Church has one of Victoria’s most majestic bells. It would he difficult to find in regional Victoria bell of an equal size and equal chime. St Pat’s bell has rung for 130 years. For many years it was rung at 7am to herald the daily morning masses. And at noon it was rung with the distinctive Angelus chimes – three brackets of three plus a continuous 12 rings. It was also rung at 6pm. Students from Assumption College had the bell tolling duties. On a clear still morning in Kilmore the bell could be heard for miles. In recent times the bell is now rung only on special occasions including Christmas and Easter.
But where did this bell come from and how or why did it end up St Pat’s? That’s the mystery.
Neither the St Pat’s parish office or the Cathedral head office have records.
The only clues are in scant newspaper reports and the markings or embossments on the bell.
The Kilmore Free Press in June 1889 reported ”
On Sunday June 2 last a rather startling accident occurred in the St. Patrick’s Church ground, Kilmore.
Mr H M’Conville was engaged ringing in the bell as usual calling worshippers to pray, the said bell being hung in the fork of a dead tree over 30 feet from the ground. Without the slightest warning the limb gave way and the bell came down with such force that it sunk into the ground some inches, the hook smashing at the butt by the impact with the ground. Mr M’Conville was of course much startled-but it was fortunate nothing worse occurred. We may state that arrangements were just being made to take down the old tree which acted as a belfry for years, for the purpose of hanging a new bell, which has already been secured, in a belfry to be erected.”
We can assume that this replacement bell is the current bell.
According to its embossings the bell was cast in 1888 by the celebrated Belgium foundry Alph. Beullens and Sons at Louvain. It is estimated to weigh at least a tonne.
However the other intriguing embossing is what purports to be a coat of arms. Architectural historian David Bick in a survey of St Pat’s church and surrounds said it was an Australian Coat of Arms. That’s not exactly correct. Prior to Federation Australia never had an official coat of arms.
So who was responsible for this coat of arms, but more importantly, who organised and funded such an embossing at a foundry on the other side of the globe?
The coat of arms has some very distinctive features. It has the motto Advance Australia, The Eureka southern cross, and Victoria’s symbols of commerce – the sheep, a wheat sheaf, the sailing ship, and anchor. The coat of arms is being supported by an emu and a kangaroo – both appear to be scowling and looking away. (Note also the anchor seems to have replaced what should have been a pick and shovel – the tools of a miner. I suspect a design error occurred at the Belgium foundry)
Based on the coat of arms alone the indicators point to the fledgling Australian Natives Association. ANA was founded in Victoria in 1871 as a friendly society to help its Australian born members with health and insurance benefits. But ANA was more than just a benevolent society. It developed also as an activist group lobbying for an increase in industry commence but more importantly federation of Australian States. A bookmark ribbon produced in 1899 by the ANA promoting a Yes vote for Federation depicts a coat of arms with an uncanny resemblance to the coat of arms on the St Pat’s bell.
So can we assume that the ANA commissioned the bell’s manufacture? Certainly you can rule out the Catholic Church funding such a bell with such a coat of arms. It is also worth noting that unlike their Anglican cousins the Catholics put a low priority on the commissioning of bells.
So where was this bell meant to be installed?
It should be noted , among many of its activities, ANA successfully lobbied for the creation in 1888 of what is now known as Australia Day to mark the centenary of Australia’s European settlement. So was the bell to be part of centenary celebrations? And if it wasn’t how did it end up in Kilmore? Kilmore no doubt had some ANA supporters although didn’t form a branch until 1892. The history of the ANA notes that a PB Skehan left Kilmore in 1890s for the Western Australian goldfield where he was active in establishing ANA branches.
Footnote: The big bell was initially erected in a timber belfry in the front of the church to the south of the main entrance . It was subsequently moved to the rear of the church in 1908 and installed in a purpose built steel belfry. But despite what should have been a safe fixture the bell suffered another drama: To report the Melbourne Argus of 8 October 1909
A young man named Philip Minogue had a narrow escape from instant death this morning. Minogue was only recently engaged at St Patrick’s presbytery, and it was his duty to ring the church bell at 7 o’clock. This morning he went to perform his accustomed duty, and had given only two tolls of the bell when he heard an ominous noise overhead and presently the bell which weighs nearly a ton, came hurtling a distance of 30ft to the ground. Fortunately Minogue just managed to get clear, the side of the bell grazing his coat sleeve as it reached the ground.. The bell was suspended on a steel frame set in concrete and the cause of the accident is attributed the breaking of one of the castings supporting the bell.
Any contributions, theories or ideas as to how and why the bell ended up at St Patricks’s would be greatly appreciated