This essay is intended to explore the influence of the British Empire on the thoughts and actions of former Melbourne Catholic Archbishop Dr. Daniel Mannix. A properly formatted printable version of the essay with a full bibliography can be downloaded by clicking here.
Daniel Mannix, Melbourne’s Catholic Archbishop from 1917 until his death in 1963 had a significant impact on, and acted passionately in response to the British influence in Australia. In his life which spanned just four months short of a century, Mannix was involved in areas that the church had traditionally avoided, speaking on politics and popular cultural issues. His anti-conscription, Irish nationalist beliefs represented the opposite of the Australian Government’s pro-Britain message and led Mannix to be Prime Minister Billy Hughes’ main opposition in the conscription debate during the First World War. Unpopular in some areas of society due to his pro-Irish and anti-Empire sentiments which were inspired by growing up in Ireland, Mannix had a vision of Australia free of the shackles of the Empire. Mannix’s rise to become a significant public figure is one which changed Australia in many ways, especially in cutting a clear path for the young nation to move away from the influence of Britain.
Daniel Mannix was born County Cork, Ireland, in 1864. In Ireland he was educated at and later became president of Maynooth Catholic College. Mannix was a senator of the Royal University of Ireland, where he was awarded an honorary doctorate of laws. He migrated to Australia in 1913 to become the coadjutor to Melbourne’s Archbishop of the time T J Carr, but retained his Irish nationalism which helped define his anti-British stance. Mannix was heavily involved in politics, showing a great interest in many public issues in Australia ranging from conscription and Australia’s position in the Empire during World War One, to workers’ rights, the White Australia Policy, the economy and communism later in the century.
Mannix became a significant figure in the politics of Australia whilst seeking to achieve what he saw as a better Australia for the Australian people. An example of Mannix’s extensive political interests in areas not in church control, and the extent of his patriotism for Australia, arises from the Great Depression of the 1930s. Mannix used the Great Depression as a platform from which to advocate the need for greater social change to, he argued, avoid “much trouble and perhaps revolution” in Australia. During that decade Mannix also stood with Prime Minister Menzies to condemn war, describing himself as a pacifist “in the real sense.” He was also strongly against what he called “trade wars”, which was inclusive of both the First and Second World Wars. Mannix frequently questioned Australia’s involvement in these wars, implying that they were the wars of the British and that Australia should not follow its lead. Through much of his life Mannix was toward the left of politics, which was unusual for a bishop of the time, however he moved slightly away from this political field later in his life, joining with the western world’s abhorrence of communism whilst retaining his anti-Empire position. Mannix’s interest in politics, coupled with his belief that catholic organisations should be free to function without the intervention of state bishops whilst driving his own movement, made a case for people to claim that he was seeking some form of civil power. He was frequently connected to the post-Hughes Labor party and labour movement, assisting in the removal of all signs of communism from the unions. He did however deny this connection, and speaking to the press around the time of the 1954 Labor Party split stated that “the Catholic Church has never aimed to control the Labor Party – or any other party.” Mannix justified his continued involvement in politics despite being a member of the clergy by saying that “the Church [has] expressed its viewpoint on public policy… no more than… non-Catholic religious bodies”. He also argued that his anti-Empire comments and actions were as an Australian citizen participating in public debate and not as a member of the Catholic Church. Despite his apparent intentions, his words had a particularly uniting affect on Catholics in Melbourne. His famous Australian Nationalist mantra coupled with his prominent position in the Catholic Church gave his words greater power in public debate. His speeches provided a clear, Australian Nationalist alternative to Empire loyalism. This was out of line with the Catholic Church’s history in Australia, as it had not made significant attempts to join with the British Empire even prior to Mannix becoming Archbishop. Not long after his arrival in Australia Mannix delivered a sermon at the consecration of a Brisbane church, of which even the design defied Anglo-Australian design conventions. This gave Mannix a backing which already did not overtly support the British.
Another area of British influence that saw Mannix become involved in politics in the 1950s was the White Australia Policy. The White Australia Policy was implemented to encourage immigration to Australia purely from European countries, with the primary intention being to encourage British migration with the subsidisation of British travel. Mannix was opposed to this single stream of immigration, describing the policy as “crude” and saying that Australia had much to learn from other races. His position opposed both the Australian and British immigration models which had retained Australia as being for the British for half a century, and also defied the ideal of Australians being a British people. When presenting a speech on the White Australia Policy in 1949, Mannix spoke as an Australian seeking to establish that “there is no colour bar in Australia”. This is a sign that his Australian Nationalism mixed with his negative perception of the British Empire had placed him in a position where he truly felt part of Australian society, and the pro-British nature of Australia’s immigration policy provoked him to act against it.
Mannix rose to national fame during the conscription debates of the First World War. The issue of conscription arose shortly after his arrival in Australia and quickly exposed Mannix’s interest in involving himself in politics. The debates also showed the new-found nationalistic spirit he had for Australia, which would define his position in the conscription debates and in the rest of his life. Mannix’s first address was in the same vein as that of Melbourne Irish Cardinal Moran, in stating that he would “claim to be – and as time goes on I hope to justify my claim to be considered – a good Australian.”  His nationalistic enthusiasm for Australia, coupled with his Irish past drove his opposition to British Empire influence in Australia. In 1916 he objected to the British Government’s execution of the rebels in the Irish Easter Rebellion, and he supported Éamon de Valera’s party in Ireland, of which both British and Australian parliaments disapproved. This is a further indication that his roots in Ireland influenced his perception of the United Kingdom and encouraged him to guide Australia away from its power. Mannix was continually frustrated by the actions of the British in his homeland, not participating in civic engagements during the 1920s in protest to the British policy toward Northern Ireland. His Irish nationalism and the standing he took on many issues as a result of its influence made him a figurehead for Australian nationalists. He made his position on the Empire, and where his political allegiances lay, clear with his landmark phrase “Australia first, the Empire second”. Because of this criticism of the Empire and conscription and his pro-Irish Nationalism stance, Mannix attracted the attention of the government censor during the First World War, as was any person who spoke out about the war and Empire. In his first year as Archbishop, Mannix wrote the first foreword for the nationalistic Christian Australian magazine called Australia, in which he questioned Australia’s interests in the war in Europe. In this he said that he believed “that if the war had been in the hands of the [Australian] people, there would have been no war”. Mannix’s actions had some sway in the Australian public’s perception of the Empire, and in its celebration. The great display of British Empire pride that was Empire Day, established to celebrate not just the birthday of Australia’s late first Queen but also to celebrate all things British, can have its loss of importance to Australians traced back to the actions of Daniel Mannix. The celebration started to lose its shine as an apolitical celebration of Empire pride as a result of the bitter squabbles over Australia’s direction, and conscription, during the First World War. As a result Empire Day came to represent less about the Empire, and more about the exclusive celebration of conservative attitudes in Australia. As a major figure in that debate, which encouraged the degredation of loyal Empire sentiment, Mannix’s words had an effect on a wider population of Australians than the predominantly middle class Irish in Australia who he most directly represented. The Australian people grew tired of the Empire during the conscription debates which Mannix participated in during the First World War. The collapse of overt Empire loyalism could be said to have reached its conclusion shortly after Mannix’s death, when in 1967 New South Wales led the states to move Empire Day to the less fanatically celebrated Queen’s Birthday Weekend.
As a result of his high profile involvement in the politics of the First World War Mannix became one of the more influential public figures in Australia. Archbishop Mannix and his predecessor Archbishop Carr, were decidedly different in their approaches to the church and state issues. During the First World War, the Hughes Labor government backed conscription to meet with British demands for a greater Australian presence in the war in Europe. Under Carr, who was Archbishop during the first referendum on conscription, the church did not formally enter into the politics of the debate. Carr stated on the 10th of October 1916 that “conscription was a purely state matter; the Church neither advocates nor opposes it”. However by this time Mannix had already delivered a speech that entered him into the thick of the conscription debate, a debate which would arise a second time in the first year of his becoming Archbishop. Taking the chance to speak on the matter at the opening of a Clifton Hill bazaar in September 1916, Mannix expressed his concerns about conscription. Where Hughes would argue that Australia was “part of the British Empire” , Mannix argued that Australians should not be so affected by the war in Europe, and “that Australia has already done [more than] her full share” for the war. His speech was steeped in patriotic descriptions of Australians, describing Australian soldiers as “brave” whilst suggesting that all Australians are “peace loving people”. This clashed strongly with Hughes’ pro-Empire stance, putting him directly in the firing line of the Prime Minister. Mannix was the only prominent public figure of the “no” side in the conscription debates, becoming the champion of the anti-conscriptionists. His renowned wit and sarcasm matched that of Hughes’ wordsmanship, giving the disorganised “no” camp a strong message. Conscription was Hughes’ response to the demands of the British to increase the Australian troop numbers. In line with his pro-British stance, Hughes attacked Mannix and other anti-conscriptionists, suggesting that they were prepared to “desert” the Empire. This helped fuel the pro-conscriptionsits and Empire loyalists in their claims of Mannix being a Sinn Feiner. There was also strong opposition to Archbishop Mannix’s position on conscription in the Protestant population, which commonly supported the side of the Empire. However the effect of Mannix’s very public, powerful counter-campaign to the expected response to British troop demands was that it presented a clear alternative to the Empire for the people to consider. This encouraged the Australian people to see Australia as Australian, not just a British colony. Despite Mannix’s position on conscription striking deep into the hearts of Australian nationalists, who saw conscription as a threat to their freedom and the nation’s independence, his arguments occasionally struck particular discord with some areas of Australian society.
Mannix was not immune from criticism and sometimes attracted public distaste for the members of the Catholic Church through his actions. He earned particular unpopularity in some sections of society during the First World War when he described the war as “a trade war”, an “ordinary, sordid trade war”. Not only did this challenge the United Kingdom’s motives in a still predominantly British Australia, but it also detached Mannix himself from people who had fought in the war, or had seen their sons die for the Empire in the war. Mannix received a great amount of criticism from Prime Minister Hughes, who described the success of the anti-conscription campaign in the first conscription referendum as “a triumph for the… anti-British.” This attack was not only directed at the most public figure of the “no” campaign, it was also directed specifically at the people of the Catholic Church. When re-opening the debate for the second referendum, Hughes accused Catholics in Queensland’s Cabinet as being instrumental to the first referendum’s failure, implying that Mannix was responsible for mobilising Catholics against conscription. This accusation proved that Mannix had made a significant contribution to the Australian conscription debate and to Australian culture itself, shifting it away from unquestioning support of the Empire. Despite his attacks being based on the only two occasions that Mannix had addressed the issue during the first referendum, Hughes saw Mannix as a threat to the Empire, and with this accusation pulled him further into the debate in an attempt to better counter Mannix. This also made the debate a sectarian one, drawing in a great political divide between the pro-conscription Protestant Christians and the anti-conscription Catholics. Pro-Empire Pamphlets were introduced with titles like “Is the Papacy anti-British?”, further dividing the debate along sectarian lines. Under Archbishop Mannix, the Irish St. Patricks Day Parades took on a political identity, steeped in Irish and Australian nationalism in defiance of Britain. Almost immediately after arriving in Australia, Mannix encouraged Irish republicanism in Catholic schools and parishes, ultimately leading to priests and other leaders accepting Mannix’s criticism of the Empire.
Mannix had a continued effect on Australian society throughout his life and his actions shaped an Australia distinctly unique from Britain. Mannix’s contribution to Australian society was so great that his reaction to British society, amongst other aspects of his life, have been explored in popular culture. Such works include Barry Oakley’s play The Feet of Daniel Mannix (1975) and Frank Hardy’s novel Power without Glory, in which he was satirically portrayed as Archbishop Daniel Malone. The Empire was not considered a good influence for Australia by Daniel Mannix due to his Irish history. Mannix saw the British as oppressive; a viewpoint which he carried to Australia when he emigrated from Ireland. A nine foot high statue of Daniel Mannix, erected in 1997, now stands outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne. This large erection of Mannix’s image overlooks the Victorian Parliament House, presenting parliament with the larger than life image that Mannix had shown to national politics, and to Britain, when he was alive.
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This essay is copyright © William Kulich 2010.