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Remains of first bishop of Tasmania to be returned to Australia

St Barnabas Cathedral, Nottingham (Photo: Mazur/

The mortal remains of an Australian bishop who was buried in Nottingham have been exhumed in order for them to be returned to Tasmania.

The remains of Bishop Robert Willson, a priest in Nottingham who became the first Bishop of Hobart, Tasmania, are being transferred from St Barnabas’ Cathedral in Nottingham to St Mary’s Cathedral in Hobart.

Bishop Willson was born in Lincoln in 1794; baptised an Anglican, he later became a Catholic and, after ordination, built St John the Evangelist, the first purpose-built Catholic church in Nottingham since the Reformation, which opened in 1828.

He had a particular interest in helping prisoners and those with mental illness.

In 1844, he was appointed first Bishop of Hobart, where he was noted for his work for the welfare of convicts.

Ill health led him to return to England, and he died in Nottingham in 1866.

His mortal remains were interred in the crypt of St Barnabas’ Cathedral, mother church of the Diocese of Nottingham.

Eleven years ago Archbishop Adrian Doyle of Hobart began correspondence with Archbishop Malcolm McMahon OP, then Bishop of Nottingham, concerning the repatriation to Hobart of Bishop Willson’s remains.

After consulting the cathedral chapter, then Bishop McMahon approved this transfer in principle and the eventual interment of the remains in the crypt of St Mary’s Cathedral, Hobart, the building which Bishop Willson began in 1860.

The repatriation did not happen, and in 2016, the 150th anniversary of Bishop Willson’s death, Archbishop Julian Porteous of Hobart wrote to Archbishop McMahon’s successor at Nottingham, Bishop Patrick McKinney, to ask if he would reconfirm the approval.

Bishop McKinney gave his permission and, with the approval of the Ministry of Justice, the exhumation of his mortal remains took place on Tuesday.

Commenting on the exhumation, Bishop McKinney said: “While, as a diocese, we will miss having his remains in the crypt of our cathedral, it was Bishop Willson’s documented intention to return to Tasmania, Australia.

“This was frustrated by his suffering a severe stroke during his last trip back to England in 1865 and his death a year later in Nottingham. The Archdiocese of Hobart will cover all the costs involved in the exhumation and transfer to Australia.”