In 1980, Sr Anne Player [1] read 33 letters representing the exchange between Fr Julian Tenison Woods (1832-1889) and William Henry Archer (1825-1909) over the years 1863 – 1889.

Anne realised that these letters gave a different glimpse of Fr Julian, situating him within Australian society of the time and revealing aspects of his life and interest apart from the Sisters of St Joseph. Anne set out to add comprehensive footnotes to the letters to give context and meaning and, with permission from the University of Melbourne Archives, in 1983, the Sisters of St Joseph, Goulburn, published The Archer Letters.

During his time in Penola (1855-1865), Fr Julian made at least four visits to Melbourne where he delighted to spend hours in libraries and bookshops. He visited his scientific friends and attended Royal Society meetings. It was at one such meeting that he began a firm lifelong friendship with William Archer.

William Archer was an English convert, a skilled statistician and actuary who had followed his family to Australia and married and settled in Melbourne. He drafted the Victorian system of legal and statistical registration of births, marriages and deaths and founded the Registrar-General’s Department. He was also a champion of Catholic education and received two papal decorations for his work in this cause. As an accomplished microscopist, he was eager to collaborate with others in the scientific field of discovery in this new country of Australia.

After the death of his brother, Edward, Fr Julian usually stayed with the Archer family at their home, Maryvale, in Hawthorn. The two found much in common both being English and sharing a passion for Catholic education and scientific research. [2]

Of the 33 letters, all except one are written by Fr Julian – that one is written by William Archer. They offer a valuable insight into the life and times of Fr Julian thanks to Sr Anne Player’s meticulous footnotes.

Sr Carmel Jones wrote an introduction to some of The Archer Letters in 2017 for the Mary MacKillop News eNewsletter. These introductions have been retained, but now all 33 letters are presented as one resource.

View all the letters in the series The Archer Letters below:

The Archer Letters series


[1] Sr Anne Player, a Sister of St Joseph from Goulburn, was keenly interested in history and science. She completed her MA thesis Fr Julian Tenison Woods, Priest and Scientist, at the Australian National University and was passionate about research into Fr Julian’s life and times. Anne died in July 2016. The Sisters of St Joseph are grateful for her legacy which ensures that Fr Julian is better known and understood.
[2] Information from Margaret M Press ‘Julian Tenison Woods: Father Founder’ (2004, Collins Dove) and Cecily Close, ‘Archer, William Henry (1825-1909), Australian Dictionary of Biography (1969, Australian National University)