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St Joseph's Convent

  • 601749
  • 179 Abbott Street, Cairns


Also known as
St Josephs Catholic Convent
State Heritage
Register status
Date entered
1 July 1997
Religion/worship: Convent/nunnery
8.1 Creating social and cultural institutions: Worshipping and religious institutions
9.1 Educating Queenslanders: Providing primary schooling
9.2 Educating Queenslanders: Providing secondary education
Waters, Edward Gregory
Wilson & Baillie
Construction period
1912–1914, St Joseph's Convent (1912 - 1914)
Historical period
1900–1914 Early 20th century


179 Abbott Street, Cairns
Cairns Regional Council
-16.9173193, 145.772884


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Criterion AThe place is important in demonstrating the evolution or pattern of Queensland’s history.

St Joseph's Convent is significant for its close association with the development of Catholicism and Catholic education in Cairns and district since the early 1900s.

Together with St Monica's Old Cathedral, these buildings form a highly intact ecclesiastical group, and are important in illustrating the evolution of the Catholic Church and Catholic education in Cairns and district.

Criterion DThe place is important in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a particular class of cultural places.

It is also an excellent example of the work of local architect E Gregory Waters, and illustrates the establishment of a tradition of building in re-inforced concrete, favoured in cyclone-prone Cairns in the early 1900s.

Criterion EThe place is important because of its aesthetic significance.

Despite some refurbishment, the convent survives substantially intact. It remains a fine example of a convent building designed to function in a tropical climate, and is of interest for its re-inforced concrete construction, considered more cyclone-proof than masonry. Together with the nearby Bishop's House and adjacent St Monica's High School Administration Building, St Joseph's Convent is part of a grouping of pre-1945 20th century buildings which, although of different styles, are all of similar scale, materials and planning. Both individually and as a group, these buildings make a significant aesthetic contribution to the Cairns townscape and Abbott Street streetscape, and contribute markedly to the city's sense of physical identity and history.

Criterion HThe place has a special association with the life or work of a particular person, group or organisation of importance in Queensland’s history.

It is of significance for its close association with the work of the Sisters of Mercy in expanding Catholic education in far north Queensland, and for over 80 years the place has had a strong association for the local Catholic community with the work of the Sisters of Mercy in Cairns. It remains illustrative of the work of the Augustinian fathers in the Vicariate Apostolic of Cooktown, especially Bishop Murray, who encouraged the erection of Catholic churches, schools, convents and presbyteries throughout far North Queensland in the early years of the 20th century.


St Joseph's Convent was constructed in 1912-14 for the Sisters of Mercy, who had established a foundation in Cairns in 1892. The 1914 building replaced two earlier cottage convents. The impetus for construction of a new convent came from Bishop James Murray, Vicar Apostolic of Cooktown 1898-1914. Construction of St Joseph's Convent at Cairns was considered one of his finest achievements. The new convent was designed by architect, civil engineer and surveyor E Gregory Waters. St Joseph's Convent was opened officially by James Duhig, Archbishop of Brisbane, on 22 March 1914. [Bishop Murray had died on 13 February 1914, prior to the opening.]


St Joseph's Convent is two-storeyed with a rectangular plan form with a return bay on the southern corner. It is constructed of reinforced concrete and has a wide surrounding verandah at ground and first floor levels with a dominating two-storeyed entrance portico and gabled roofs. The original fence survives along Lake Street which consists of a low concrete wall with evenly spaced piers and 'Cyclone' chain mesh infill panels running up to a Gothic-styled reinforced concrete arched gate in line with the main entrance door. The building, which is set well back from Lake Street, has a lawned area in front with mature trees each side of a single width concrete entrance path.

Image gallery


Location of St Joseph's Convent within Queensland
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Last reviewed
1 July 2022
Last updated
20 January 2016
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