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Biography: Ambrose Cassar


Born in Qormi, Cassar’s parents were of Moroccan descent. At an early age the Franciscan monks took James to Marseille to study with the Capuchins. On account of his intellectual capacity and good conduct he was educated for the priesthood and was ordained priest at Marseille.

Soon after his ordination there, Rev Ambrose Cassar went to the missions in Algeria, crossed the Sahara desert twice and went as far as Khartoum.

Cassar spoke five languages fluently and worked among the Maltese, French, Italians, and Arabs. Because of French anticlericalism, he had to escape to Ireland where he learned English.  In 1881 he migrated to Australia together with a group of 61 labourers and 9 stowaways. They attempted to settle in Queensland to work on sugar cane farms but their plan was unsuccessful as the conditions were extreme. He was very concerned about the plight of the Maltese labourers who were being exploited.

Considered as the pioneer Maltese priest, Rev Cassar was himself becoming disenchanted with Queensland. By January 1884, he visited every Queensland town. He witnessed the growth of a sizeable Maltese population, especially around Innisfail and Mackay.  In Queensland Rev Cassar did his best to help and encourage his countrymen in their unfamiliar environment.

A colourful character and a practical person, Cassar travelled in his sulky throughout the distant and dangerous north and north-west regions of Queensland. People marvelled at his stamina. The first Catholic church at Ingham – St Anthony – was built on his initiative in 1893.

He died at Rockhampton, and rests near the Neerkol Orphanage.

This biography is part of the collection created by Michael Schiavone over a 30-year period. Read more about Schiavone and his initiative here.