Memorial to the 'Martyr Priests' (1)
St Patrick's RC Church Park Place

Picture taken in 2002, donated by Jonathan P. Neill


    Rev. PETER NIGHTINGALE, of St. Anthony's, March 2,
Rev. WILLIAM PARKER, of St. Patrick's, April 27,
Rev. THOMAS KELLY D.D., of St. Joseph's, May 1,
Rev. JAMES APPLETON, D.D., O.S.B., of St. Peter's, May 26,
Rev. JOHN AUSTIN GILBERT, O.S.B., of St. Mary's, May 31,
Rev. RICHARD GRAYSTON, of St. Patrick's, June 16,
Rev. JAMES HAGGER, of St. Patrick's, June 23,
Rev. WILLIAM VINCENT DALE, O.S.B., of St. Mary's, June 26, 
Rev. ROBERT GILLOW, of St. Nicholas's, Aug. 22,
Rev. JOHN FEILDING WHITAKER, of St. Joseph's, Sept. 18



In the booklet 'Annals of St. Patrick's from 1821 - 1921', it states :

1898 -- A stately Celtic Cross, in memory of the Liverpool priests, who in the discharge of their duties died of fever in 1847, was erected in front of St. Patrick's at a cost 150 and was solemnly blessed by Bishop Whiteside on Sunday, October 2nd. The sermon was preached by Monsignor Nugent. 

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St Patrick's Church
I have heard St Patrick's church was referred to as being more like a Methodist Chapel, than a Catholic church. This is said to have been a deliberate design decision, so as not to offend the protestant people of the area.

I was first made aware of the Priests' Monument about fifteen years ago by Josie McCann, the then secretary of the Anglo-Irish F.H.S. I had just started tracing my own family history. I was telling Josie about my Neill/Brown/Bolderson and Burnell ancestors some of whom I had found in the registers of St Pat's. She told me about the 'Ten Martyr Priests' who died of Typhus in 1847 and the monument that had been erected in the grounds of St Pat's to them. This struck a cord with me as I had just discovered that my G.G.G. Grandfather Isaac Neill came over from Co. Wexford in 1848 and married Ann Browne. I suspected the potato famine in Ireland had a lot to do with why Isaac, along many thousands of Irish came to Liverpool around the same time.

The monument to the ten RC priests that died in 1847 is a 4/5 metre high Celtic Cross, located in the grounds of St Patrick's church, Park Place. It stands at the front of the church below the statue of St Patrick, hidden from view by a large privet hedge. On the base are their names of the priests and dates they died.

The first thing that strikes you when you read surnames of these ten priests', is the fact that 9 out of the ten are of English or non Irish origins (Nightingale, Parker, Kelly, Appleton, Gilbert, Grayston, Hagger, Dale, Gillow and Whitaker). They were in fact all English. I like most people would assume that they would have been Irish. But at that time it would appear that there were not many Irish priests in Liverpool. Later decades would see Irish priests filling many of the RC parishes in Liverpool and other towns and cities in the UK.

Potato Famine in Ireland 
To get the full picture of how and why these priests died, we need to go back a couple of years to Ireland. The poorest of the people there relied very heavily on the potato as their main source of food. The potato did not require much attention to produce a good crop. A small amount of land could produce enough food for a large family. Maybe also a cow or other livestock would also supplement the diet. Buttermilk from a cow and potatoes may not sound very appetizing but it was a healthy diet that produced tall strong Irishman that made up a large part of the British Army in the eighteen century (So Dr. Christine Kineally, the author of 'The Great Calamity, told me.)

The fungus that caused the 'potato blight' (Phytophthora infestans) first struck in 1845. A Dublin newspaper noted that one farmer examined his field of healthy potatoes on the Monday, and by Tuesday morning, the entire crop was ruined. Many tens of thousands of Irish died in their homes on the road or in workhouses. Many found their way to Liverpool from the various seaports on the east coast, mostly via Dublin. Many of these people had come overland from the west coast (Roscommon, Mayo, Galway and Sligo) in search of food and help. 

What they found when they got to Liverpool was an overcrowded town which did not want them. Some found accommodation in cellars which had previously been boarded up because of the unsanitary conditions. For many that went into such places, including the priests that visited them it was the worst possible environment to be. They were airless, lightless, unsanitary places that were a breeding ground for decease. Now we know the typhus infection was transmitted from host to victims by the body lice.

Reading Burkes Catholic History of Liverpool the other day I came across an account that said 'It is related by the journals of the day (1847), that the Post Office was besieged by Irish labourers sending small sums of money home to their afflicted kinfolk' 'In January 1847, the Rectors of Liverpool informed the Government that dysentery had assumed alarming proportions, due to the cabbage and turnip which had formed the only food of the first immigrants. February saw 8,000 cases of typhoid… Hurriedly the parish authorities set-up fever sheds, in Great Homer Street on the North, and Mount Pleasant on the South, and fitted up a hospital ship in the Mersey, to cope with the new terror. Then came the awful visitation of Typhus. Liverpool Protestantism bowed its head in reverence at the heroism of the handful of Catholic Priests…' 

Typhus or Famine Fever
Its method transmission: The common louse (proved by Charles Nicolle of the Pasteur Institute in Tunis. For this, he received the Noble Prize in 1928). 

Typhus fever was caused by a microscopic organism, which resembled infinitesimally minute rods. This organism which became known as 'Rickettsia' in 1910, was discovered by an American scientist called Ricketts. The louse would acquire the Rickettsia organism by feeding on the blood of an infected person. The infected louse itself would often only live 11 days after being infected. During that time the Rickettsia organism would be multiply in the intestine of the louse, and being passed out in its excrement. Reckettsia was very infectious and would make its way into the human body in various ways:

1. Via a bite from an infected louse. 
2. Any contact with infected louse excrement or its bodily fluids - via a scratch or injury in the skin. 
3. Through dried louse excrement - as air born dust via the eyes of the lungs. 

It was due to the Priest's attending to the ill and dying victims of Typhus that they themselves acquired the disease. Again in Burke's Catholic history of Liverpool, were it quotes 'The surviving clergy, most of whom suffered severely, was intense. They lay at night on chairs and sofas in their clothes, awaiting the sick calls with never failed to come, fearful lest the time spent in dressing might mean the loss of the Sacraments to some poor wretch lying in his dismal hovel…' It goes on further to say 'for Catholics it knit fresh bonds between them and the clergy'.

Details of the Catholic Priests who died: 
Peter Nightingale
St Anthony's
Died: 2nd March
(Age: 32 years)

William Parker
St Patrick's
Died: 27th April
(Age: 43 years. Buried in the vaults at St Patrick's)

Thomas Kelly
St Joseph's
Died: 1st May
(Age: 28 years)

James Francis Appleton
St Peter's
Died: 26th/28th May
Age: 40 years

John Austin Gilbert
St Mary's
Died: 31st May
Age: 27 years

Richard Grayston
St Patrick's
Died 16th June
Age: 33 years
Interred: St Patrick's 

James Hagger
St Patrick's
Died: 23rd June (at the house of Mr. Dennis Madden, 116 Islington) 
Age: 29 years

William Vincent Dale
St Mary's
Died: 26th June
Age: 48 years
(Interred: St Anne's, Edge Hill)

Robert Gillow
St Nicholas'
Died: 22nd August
Age: 35 years
(Interred: St Nicholas' 1st September) 

John Feilding Whitaker
St Joseph's
Died: 28th September
Age: 36 years

So from the above, we can see that:

St Patrick's lost three priests
St Joseph's lost two priests
St Mary's lost two priests
St Anthony's lost one priest
St Peter's lost one priest
St Nicholas' lost one priest

Other memorial to the Priests' and Famine victims
There is a  black ink silhouette etching portrait of the ten priests hanging in the Crypt at the Metropolitan Cathedral. In 1997, the Anglo-Irish F.H.S., a group that belonged to the Liverpool F.H.S., had a bench put outside the Liverpool Record Office in William Brown Street. This was 150 years after 'Black '47' and is dedicated to all the peoples that passed through Liverpool, most of which were Irish. There is also the Famine memorial in the gardens of St Luke's Church (Agorta Mor - The Great Hunger) and the Irish plaques around the city, put up by the Agorta Mor committee. And the emigrants memorial near the Pier Head. 

Another RC priest who died in 1847 was Reverend Richard Wilson who was interred at St Nicholas' church on 6thMay 1847. I don't know if he was a Typhus victim! 

Other victims
So far I have only found one non catholic minister in Liverpool that died of Typhus in 1847. His name is the Rev. John Johns a Unitarian minister who died on 23rd June 1847. There is a very fine plaque to him in the Ullet Road Unitarian church. Along with the ten RC Priest's and the Unitarian minister, ten doctors who were employed by the poor law guardians also died, and probably 20-30 nurses as well as poor law officials and policeman, all English.

The burial register for St Anthony's shows there were 2,343 men, women and children interred there in 1847. The main city graveyard at the time was St Mary's which was located behind Myrtle Street Children's Hospital and Abercromby Square. When that became full, St Martin-in-the Field graveyard in Oxford Street, off Vauxhall Road was used. 

In the parish of Liverpool in 1847; there were 5,239 deaths dues to typhus, and 2,236 deaths caused by diarrhoea or dysentery. Something like 100,000 people contracted typhus, diarrhoea, dysentery or measles. The worst affected areas were the Vauxhall, Scotland and Exchange districts of Liverpool.
It is estimated that before the Potato Famine, that the population of Ireland was 8,000,000, after the famine there were about 6,000,000. It is thought that around 1,000,000 emigrated and 1,000,000 died.

2005 Patrick Neill

St Patrick's RC Church, Park Road
This large Neoclassical chapel stands officially on Park Place/ and was built between 1821 and 1827 to designs by John Slater. It is a 'rather severe brick building', according to Buildings of Liverpool. James Picton ridiculed the chapel for the two 'absurd' stone porticoes of Doric columns, but nobody listened for they are there still. The statue of St Patrick on the front originally came from the St Patrick Insurance Company in Dublin, and was presented to the church when the company was wound up. For all its severity and absurdity, St Patrick's has become a famous and much loved Park Road landmark.

The above description comes from 
'The Churches of Liverpool' 
by David Lewis
Published by The Bluecoat Press
ISBN 1 872568 76 9

2001 David Lewis 

(This book also has many fine photographs of Liverpool churches)

Reproduced with the permission of:
Colin Wilkinson of
The Bluecoat Press 
Bluecoat Chambers 
School Lane
L1 3BX