Friday, 4 July 2014

Comte de Rossi – Goulburn

For a short moment in time, the city of Goulburn in South Eastern Australia looked like it would become a great regional city – and perhaps even the capital of Australia.  Against that possibility, grand buildings were planned and some built.

St Saviour's Cathedral, Goulburn

St Saviour's Cathedral, Goulburn
But times have been hard for this city, its ambitions have been dashed, and a couple of years ago it suffered the indignity of running out of water.  The State Government of the day had other priorities – and Goulburn was left to hang out in the wind.  

In kinder times, the City was home to two fascinating men – both holding the title of Comte de Rossi.

The early career of *Francis Nicholas Rossi* (1776-1851) is almost unbelievable. At the age of 19, after he lent support to the British occupation of Corsica, he lost all his possessions when France retook the island.  He joined the British army, serving with credit in Holland and Gibraltar, and then transferring to Ceylon and Mauritius as Captain, in charge of Indian convicts.  In 1819, it is rumored that he played a pivotal part in obtaining evidence for the royal divorce – a scandal that shook England at the time.  In 1824, he transferred to the Colony of New South Wales to take up the position of Superintendent of Police (and magistrate) and worked for 10 years on the reorganization of the force along the lines of the British Bow Street model.  In later years, he retired to his property at Goulburn.  After leaving Corsica, he overcame a number of disadvantages - his foreign status, accent and poor knowledge of English law – to become an important pioneer in the colony.  Today, that work is recognised by a number of locations that bear his name and a plaque that almost brought down the Saint Saviour's Cathedral.

His son, *Francis Robert Louis Rossi* (1823 – 1903), took a legal career early in life – becoming the first Superintendent of Police in the Monaro, and building an iron bark slab homestead called Micilago (the area to the south of Canberra is now known as Michelago).  In 1851 he took charge of his father’s Goulburn property and became, first, a local magistrate and then, in 1870, the Registrar of the District Court at Goulburn.  Over time, he became trustee for most of the local Church of England property.  Disputes arose with the establishment of the Goulburn Cathedral.  During a bitter ten year legal dispute (1884-94), Rossi was slowly drawn into the problems and eventually took a leading role in the conflict.  It was finally settled against him in the Supreme Court.

During the dispute, in 1887 he took a plaque in memory of his father into the new Cathedral and kept armed guard over it. When it was removed in 1891, he reoccupied the cathedral with a band of men and remained in occupation for some time.


Rossi Plaque, Interior, St Saviour's, Goulburn

Rossi Plaque, Interior, St Saviour's, Goulburn

The disruption and cost of litigation almost bankrupted the local church, which had insufficient funds to complete the building.

A picture of his ejection from the Cathedral in 1887 is at https://www.flickr.com/photos/statelibraryofnsw/4684049801/in/photostream/

St Saviour’s Cathedral itself is one of the finest white sandstone cathedrals in the southern hemisphere – and the only 12-bell country peal there.  

St Saviour's Cathedral, Goulburn

St Saviour's Cathedral, Goulburn

St Saviour's Cathedral, Goulburn

St Saviour's Cathedral, Goulburn

St Saviour's Cathedral, Goulburn

Today Rossi’s plaque can be found embedded in the Cathedral wall.  The church itself is an impressive building, but one of the volunteer guides tells me that it has again fallen on hard times, attracting few parishioners save on special occasions.  Politely she turned the conversation around to the possibility of me coming along to boost the numbers a little, perhaps to sing.  While I have a fine voice, I don’t think she would approve my choice of song.

An old friend, *Justice Rae Else-Mitchell*, took me to lunch when he heard I had moved to the Molonglo High Plains a while back.  He and I had worked closely in the early days of the establishment of the Australian Capital Territory – his office was a couple of doors down from mine, and we spent many hours arguing and working through the problems that beset the new polity.  He was passionate about history, and in view of my recent move into a district with a small forestry village called 'Rossi', at our lunch he spent the afternoon telling me the above stories of the two Comtes. He died in 2006 at 91.

Peter Quinton
Palerang (near the village of Rossi)
July 2014
Post a Comment