Remembering a standout pioneer priest

Rosemary Sorensen | Bendigo Weekly | 07-Sep-2012

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ON SHOW: Mementoes of Henry Backhaus.
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A WORN teacup and a shiny silver cruet set are part of a small exhibition commemorating the life of Henry Backhaus.

These items, and various written documents, are on show in the entry foyer of the Bendigo Visitor Information Centre foyer, along with a timeline of the first Catholic priest on the Sandhurst Mission.

A program commemorating the bicentenary of Rev. Dr Backhaus’s birth in 1812 began on Monday, with Bendigo Historical Society president Jim Evans reading extracts from historical documents.

On Thursday evening, Bishop Les Tomlinson was to preside over a community celebration in the Conservatory Gardens.

A sound and light show created by Michael Harkin, with music composed by Rev. Backhaus was performed by Jennifer Schatzle and Merrin Torpy.

According to the author of The Enterprising Life of Rev. Dr Henry Backhaus, Mal Nolan, the German priest who was one of the first landowners in Bendigo was a pioneer priest standout.

“Interested in everything that was for the good of people – from the hospital to the railway and water supply – he was also an accomplished musician and had a remarkable ability to make money from investment in land,” Mr Nolan said.

“His determined nature and his unique financial independence allowed him to follow his convictions.”

Rev. Backhaus retired in 1881 and died a year later.

At his funeral on September 7, “there was an outpouring of emotion on a scale seldom seen”, Mr Nolan said.

A photograph in the Visitor Centre showcase, which is on display until Sunday, shows the streets of Bendigo packed with people, to witness the funeral cortege.

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