Julian Tenison Woods

Julian Tenison Woods

Julian Edmund Tenison Woods (November 15, 1832 – October 7, 1889) was an English Roman Catholic priest and geologist, active in Australia.

Early life

Woods was born in London, the sixth son (and one of eleven children) of James Dominic Woods, Q.C., for some time one of the sub-editors of The Times, and his wife, Henrietta, daughter of the Rev. Joseph Tenison. His father was a Roman Catholic, but apparently not a very strict one, his mother belonged to the Church of England and was of the same family as Archbishop Tenison, well-known at the beginning of the eighteenth century. The boy was baptized and confirmed in the church of his father but probably during his youth there was a period when he fell away from his church. His own manuscript memoirs, written during his last illness, represents him as leading the life of an Anglican when 16, and being converted shortly afterwards. His biographer, the Rev. George O'Neill, S.J., discusses the question at some length and gives reasons for thinking that Woods's memory at the time of writing the memoir was probably untrustworthy. Woods was educated at various minor schools at home, and for two years at Newington Grammar School.

Early career

He then obtained a position in "The Times" office, but after a few weeks went to live at Jersey with his mother whose health had broken down. He returned to London in less than two years and resumed his position at "The Times" office. In 1850 he entered the monastery of the Passionists at Broadway in Worcestershire and became a novice. His health became bad, he travelled for some time in France in 1853, and in the following year went out as a lay chaplain to Hobart. He was anxious to become a priest but he apparently did not commend himself to Bishop Willson. In March 1855 he left for Melbourne and almost at once went on to Adelaide. Here his health failed him again, but becoming better he joined an exploring party that was starting for the interior. On his return he got in touch with Bishop Francis Murphy of Adelaide and began his theological studies again. At the same time he began a methodical study of geology and mineralogy.


He was ordained deacon on 18 December 1856 and priest on 4 January 1857. Shortly afterwards he was placed in charge of the Tatiara district which covered an area of 22,000 square miles in the south-east of the colony, and in Victoria as far as Portland. He was ordained a priest in Adelaide and was sent to work in the parish of Penola in South Australia.

Julian was an Englishman in a largely Irish church, a friend of leading Establishment figures, a founder of two religious orders, a gifted missionary priest, scientist, writer, musician and popular lecturer. In 1861, Julian met Mary MacKillop. Together in Penola in 1866, they founded the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart dedicated to the Catholic education of the children of the poor and to other pressing social needs. Later that year, Julian was appointed Director of Catholic Education and asked Mary to come to Adelaide to assist him in developing an organised system of Catholic education with schools staffed by the Sisters of St Joseph.

After four years as Director of Catholic Education, Julian continued working as a scientist and missionary priest in New South Wales, Tasmania and Queensland.

He laboured there for to years as a missionary and obtained the love of his parishioners. There too he met Adam Lindsay Gordon of whom he afterwards wrote an interesting account which appeared in the "Melbourne Review" for April 1884. He made regular long journeys over his vast parish, and systematically visited every place where he would find a member of his church. The fine climate improved his health, he was free from anxieties, and passed through the happiest 10 years of his life.

Geological work

It was fortunate, too, that in his district were many formations of great geological interest. He kept in touch with other scientists and gradually obtained a library of scientific books. In 1862 his "Geological Observations in South Australia" appeared, followed three years later by his "History of the Discovery and Exploration of Australia" in two volumes. On his occasional visits to cities he sometimes gave scientific lectures, and wherever he went he was interested in the geology and natural history of the district. At the beginning of 1867 he was transferred to Adelaide, was appointed director-general of Catholic education and secretary to Bishop Shiel, with the title of Very Reverend. Another of his duties was the administration of the newly-erected cathedral.

Everything pointed to a great career for Woods. He was only 35 years of age, he had established a great reputation as a preacher, and the steadily growing city of Adelaide meant a great enlargement of his sphere of influence. Unfortunately faction crept into the affairs of the church and Bishop Shiel was not a strong enough man to control it. Woods's scientific studies, normally a relaxation to him, were practically abandoned during his five years at Adelaide and he had many anxieties. He was especially interested in the formation of the Institute of St Joseph, a community of teaching nuns to which were attached many benevolent institutions. Later on a similar institute of men and four successful boys' schools were established. Other schemes for religious foundations followed. In 1867 he founded a small monthly magazine called the "Southern Cross". It ceased after two years, but was revived in 1870 under the name of "The Chaplet and Advocate of the Children of Mary".

He was working unceasingly and under many anxieties; it was not surprising that his health again broke down. In 1872 there was an episcopal investigation into the general conditions of the diocese of Adelaide. The result was that Woods was deposed from his various positions and he left Adelaide. He began working in the Bathurst, New South Wales, diocese and in 1873 went to Brisbane and worked as a missionary for nearly a year. In January 1874 he left for Tasmania, stopping for a few days at Melbourne where on 13 February he gave a scientific lecture. In Tasmania he had great success as a missioner.

In March 1875, however, he was quite exhausted, but after a rest recovered and continued his work as a missioner in various parts of Australia. In 1878 he joined the Linnean Society of New South Wales, he had taken up his scientific work again after leaving Adelaide. He was elected president of the society in 1880 and took much interest in its activities. He had been for many years a fellow of the Geological Society. London. In 1882 his volume, "Fish and Fisheries of New South Wales", was published by the government of that colony.


In 1883 he was invited by his friend, Sir Frederick Weld, then governor of Singapore, to undertake a scientific tour in the Straits Settlements. He also travelled extensively in Java, the adjacent islands and the Philippines, and among other things provided the British government with a valuable confidential report on the coal resources of the East. He then went to China and Japan and returned to Sydney in 1886. Shortly afterwards he was away for four months on an exploration in the Northern Territory.

Weakening health and death

On his return in May 1887 he found that both his eyesight and his general health were much weakened. He found a home in Sydney in one of the charitable communities he had founded, but was told by Cardinal Moran that if he wished to remain in the diocese and exercise his priestly faculties, he was to take up his residence in a place appointed for him. Woods disregarded his instructions. He had received and given away a large amount paid to him for his scientific work for the government, and was now poor and feeble. He did not, however, lack friends and was well-cared for. He dictated his memoirs for a little while every day and kept up his interest in science. One of his last works was a paper on the "Natural History of the Mollusca of Australia" for which he was awarded the Clarke Medal for distinguished contribution to Natural Science and a grant of £25 by the Royal Society of New South Wales. Early in 1889 his health began to grow steadily worse, and after much patient suffering he died on 7 October 1889 and was buried at Waverley Cemetery, Sydney.

Tenison Woods was a man of remarkable personality. From James Bonwick, who met him in 1857, to Edgeworth David a quarter of a century later, all unite in extolling his fascination and charm. He had great knowledge, was a good musician, and had artistic ability. In his church his powers as a speaker made him a great missionary. He was perfectly unselfish, loved his fellow men, was absolutely sincere, and had great piety; yet unfortunately he was often at odds with his superiors. It is impossible to apportion the blame for these troubles, but his co-religionist, the Rev. G. O'Neill, discusses them in detail in his biography. As a scientist Woods did excellent work in botany, zoology and particularly in geology. A list of his scientific writings which included 155 items was published as a pamphlet without imprint about the year 1887.


*Dictionary of Australian Biography|First=Julian Edmund Tenison|Last=Woods|Link=http://gutenberg.net.au/dictbiog/0-dict-biogWe-Wy.html#woods1
*Tenison-Woods, J.E. 1882. The Hawkesbury Sandstone. Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales 16:53-116.
*Tenison-Woods, J.E. 1883. Physical structure and geology of Australia. The Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales 7:371-389.

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