Inspirational Pioneering Priest and Polymath

Julian Edmund Tenison Woods 1832 – 1889. Adelaide Club History Group Luncheon 13.9.17.

When twenty-two-year-old Julian Edmund Tenison Woods arrived in South Australia from England via Van Diemen’s Land and Victoria in 1855, he anticipated only a short-term, family-oriented extension to an Antipodean interlude. Little did he then know that his coming here to Adelaide would prove to be a significant turning point in a life as pioneering priest and natural scientist that would influence and enrich the lives of countless Australians before he died in Sydney thirty-four years later. Just who was this young man?

Julian was born to Irish parents on the 15th of November 1832 in secluded West Square, Southwark, South London, not far from Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. His Catholic father, James Dominick Woods, son of a Cork ship owner and wine merchant, had been admitted to the London Middle Temple as a barrister, but instead ‘occupied a leading position on the literary staff of The Times’,[1] missing Julian’s first few months because he was covering the siege of Antwerp. He was also London correspondent for The Scottish Standard, official recorder for East India Company meetings, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries.[2]

Julian’s mother, Henrietta St Eloy Tenison, was ‘the descendant of a long line of distinguished Church of Ireland and Anglican clergy’.[3] The daughter of Joseph Tenison, an Anglican rector who was deputy governor of County Wicklow and a grand-nephew of Thomas Tenison, Archbishop of Canterbury, she was also a distant cousin many times removed of John Abel-Smith, [4] the London banker whose family owned property here in Adelaide as well as in the West Indies.[5] Henrietta bore eleven children, three of whom died in infancy. Julian remembered both of his parents with affection and enjoyed growing up in a household alive with children as well as a procession of interesting relatives and visitors.

His formal education between the ages of four and twelve in various Catholic, Wesleyan and Anglican day and boarding schools was sporadic and unsatisfactory.[6] He much preferred being educated at home, where he said he ‘used to learn five times as much in a day with his father or with a tutor as with a class and other boys’.[7] He had access to a comprehensive family library, which stimulated his intense intellectual curiosity. He committed to memory discourses in Latin, French and English, and on his own initiative studied Euclid, Algebra and Logic. He also enjoyed art, singing and music. During summer rambles in the country with his father and brothers he developed ‘a taste for natural history’ and became what he called ‘an indefatigable collector of…butterflies, beetles, curious stones, shells, fossils and miscellaneous curios’.[8]

At fourteen Julian was apprenticed to the printer of The Times but his heart was not in the business of learning the newspaper game. Although his early religious experience had been ecumenical and minimal, at sixteen he decided that he was ‘a Roman Catholic at heart’[9] as well as by baptism and made his First Holy Communion. Two years later, eighteen-year-old Julian left The Times and, wishing to devote his life to the Church, entered the Passionist Novitiate in the Cotswolds. He did so with the reluctant consent of his father and the encouragement of the Reverend Frederick Oakeley, one of the eminent Oxford Anglicans who had converted to Catholicism at this time of religious controversy that intensified with the 1850 restoration of the Catholic Hierarchy after 250 years.

Margaret Muller

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[1] James Dominick Woods Jr, The Rev. J.E Tenison Woods, Adelaide, 28.8.1901. James produced this memoir for Mother Mary of the Cross MacKillop, when she was preparing her excellent 1903 biography Julian Tenison Woods A Life. Later made available for research as a typescript, this was finally published as a book in 1997.
[2] Isabel Hepburn rsj, No Ordinary Man: Life and Letters of Julian E. Tenison Woods, Wanganui, 1979, pp 14, 16
[3] Margaret Press rsj, ‘Who was Julian Woods, really?’, Woods Seminar, Naracoorte, 6.8.1989
[4] John M. Bishop researched the relationship between Henrietta Maria St. Eloy (nee Tenison) Woods (ca. 1796-1847) and John Abel Smith (1802-1871). Her great-grandmother Mary (née Smith) Tenison (1711-1749) was a 1st cousin of his grandfather Abel Smith (1717-1788). John’s father John (1767-1842) was a brother of Robert Smith, 1st Baron Carrington (1750-1838). Adelaide, July 2017.
[5] Margaret Press rsj, Julian Tenison Woods: ‘Father Founder’, Collins Dove, N Blackburn Victoria, 1994, p10
[6] Margaret Muller, Penola – Ten Years in the Bush and Beyond, Woods exhibition text, Mary MacKillop Penola Centre, 2000. Panel 2 Education and Work.
[7] Julian Tenison Woods, Memoirs Vol 1, Sydney, unpublished typescript of memoirs dictated to and transcribed by Miss Anne Bulger, Sydney 1887 – 1889, Mary MacKillop Penola Centre, p13
[8] Julian Tenison Woods, Memoirs Vol 1, p21
[9] Julian Tenison Woods, Memoirs Vol 1, p46