The “Escaped Nun” in Australia: Transnational Sectarianism at the End of the Nineteenth Century.

Project code: ART040

Disciplinary Area




Nick Thompson

Like contemporary Islamophobia, anti-Catholicism in the Anglophone world of the late 19th century was a transnational phenomenon. It was fuelled not only by the telegraph and press, but by lecturers who occupied the “anti-popery platform” on extensive international speaking tours. Edith O’Gorman (1845-1928), the “Escaped Nun” was the most indefatigable of these lecturers, touring the U.S., the U.K., New Zealand, Australia and South Africa repeatedly between 1871 and 1928. Tracing her tours through newspaper coverage and other contemporary sources allows us to compare the reception O’Gorman received in the different English-speaking countries she visited, and over the almost 57 years of her career. This in turn should allow us to assess the factors that either exacerbated or assuaged sectarian rivalries from country to country, and from decade to decade. This project looks at O’Gorman’s two visits to Australia in 1886-1887 and 1898. It makes use of the extensive collection of digitised newspapers recently available through It asks how her Australian tours compared with each other in terms of coverage and public reaction, and how her Australian tours compared with the tours of the UK and New Zealand, which have recently been examined in the secondary literature.


Scholar’s Work

The scholar will search the Trove database for coverage of Edith O’Gorman’s tour of Australia during 1886-1887 and 1898, producing a timeline of the places she spoke, and any significant events that accompanied the tours, such as rioting or the publication of opposing views. In addition, the scholar will produce a 4-5000 word report commenting on the following questions:

  • Who were the main people and bodies sponsoring her tour nationally and locally?
  • Who were her main opponents?
  • What evidence is there of international coordination in either case – e.g. of attempts to damage or rehabilitate her reputation?
  • Are there any places in which her reception was particularly welcoming, hostile or indifferent?
  • Likewise, are there any newspapers or periodicals that seem to have been particularly favourable or hostile towards her tour
  • Is there anything in the press coverage itself which hints at the reasons why O’Gorman received the coverage or public reception she did?
  • Is there anything in the coverage that suggests how contemporaries viewed the gendered aspects of O’Gorman’s career – e.g. perceptions of a Catholic threat to “Protestant womanhood,” or O’Gorman’s relationship with her husband?
  • Does the press coverage suggest that the sectarian climate had changed in Australia in the decade separating her tours?
  • How do these tours of Australia compare with those of New Zealand and the United Kingdom in the 1880s?

Required Skills/Pre-requisites

The ideal scholar for this project would have some background knowledge of the history of either Australia or the British Empire in the 19th and early 20th centuries. A background in Religious History, in particular the history of English-speaking Protestantism or Catholicism would also be ideal. The scholar should also have excellent skills in historical research, including a knowledge of the main research resources and databases for 19th century studies, the ability to think laterally when searching for historical data, accuracy in recording relevant data, and the ability to present research in an appropriate scholarly format.