Bachmair, Thomas (1872-1918)

Prepared by: 
Regina Ganter
Birth / Death: 

5 December (Regensburg)

died 27 August 1918 Beagle Bay, age 55


Superintendent of Beagle Bay from 1910 to 1913.Struggled against his superiors in Limburg to save the mission, and turned around its finances from heavy debts to credit. Initiated the building of the famous church at Beagle Bay and died weeks after its completion.

Thomas Bachmair entered the Pallottine novitiate in Limburg at an unusually late age of 26 in 1898, received his habit in 1901, made his profession in September 1903 and was ordained in July 1906. The Pallottine histories suggest that he was appointed to Beagle Bay in 1904 to replace Fr. Rensmann, although Rensmann’s teaching replacement arrived in May 1904 in the form of a civilian.


In February mission superior Walter made known his intention to resign the rectorship and proposed Fr. Bischofs as his replacement, but instead of appointing Bischofs, Bachmair was sent. When Bachmair arrived (in late 1906 or early 1907) Bischofs was acting as superior in Walter’s absence and was the more experienced of the two Fathers at the mission. Bischofs noted that ‘P. Bachmair is doing first class, but he should have learned more English’.[1]


Photo of Fr Bachmair

Source: (U-903) Bachmair ZAPP

After ten months at the mission Bachmair wrote to Kugelmann complaining that nobody involved him in any planning regarding the mission, and his questions about the state of mission finances received only evasive answers. Walter as mission superior was permanently absent, Bischofs was tight-lipped, and even the Brothers seemed to be better informed than himself. Bachmair felt useless and wanted to go home. He also felt that pearling was a gamble and the main concern for the mission should be cattle, being more stable and reliable. Bachmair felt truly misplaced and useless.  In German  Letter A, 20 October 1907

All this changed when he was appointed mission superior in 1910. He swiftly disposed of the pearling lugger and watched his beard grow grey from constant battles with the Mother Superior:

Difficulties everywhere, lack of funds, dissatisfaction, difficulties with the Sisters who don’t want to be reasonable, especially the Mother Superior who constantly strives to find something to accuse us of. She seems to be one of those who can’t let us live in peace.[2] In German Letter B, Bachmair to Kugelmann, 16 August 1910


Brother Wollseifer described his new mission superior:

Now we have our third rector, the Rev. Fr. Bachmair will know how to pull the Beagle Bay mission cart along, with his experience and business acumen and not least with his personal pleasantness. He knows how to handle the Brothers very well and around here that’s saying something. In Fathers Droste and Traub it shows that they have recently arrived from Limburg where virtue and piety are at the top of the times.[3]


In March 1911 the Kimberley vicariate received a degree of independence:

Owing to the great distance between New Norcia and Broome, the Most Rev. Dr. Torres appointed the Very Rev. Thomas Bachmair to receive the vows of the religious. He was assisted by the Rev. Dr. Bischoff, of Broome, and the Rev. Bro. Albert, of Beagle Bay Mission, presided at the organ. On account, of the illness of the Mother Superior, the ceremony was strictly private.[4]


During a cyclone in 1910 the mission lugger Pius was wrecked and the mission pier demolished. Limburg resolved to give up the mission, but Bachmair pleaded with Kugelmann for support to continue the mission. He also informed the Brothers, so all the Brothers were now starting to petition Kugelmann. In German Letter C, 9 March 1911


Bachmair was overwhelmed by the help offered after the cyclone. The government transferred £500 as disaster relief, Cardinal Moran sent £100, a collection in Perth brought £49. This covered the damage and paid for a 29-ton ex-government schooner (£353 including delivery and repairs). The sales from stock were also higher than expected bringing about £1,500. The mission debts, amounting to nearly £3,000 at Walter’s departure, were reduced to £400, including the remaining debts to the pearling company formed by Kugelmann’s brother in Munich. Bachmair noted that the price of shell had picked up again since the mission sold its pearling lugger.[5]  In German  Letter D, October 1911


At Christmas that year Bachmair was also able to report a pleasing attendance at the two weekly Sunday masses in Broome, with collections earning an average of £3 per week. Bachmair’s letters were starting to show his shortcomings in linguistic ability by slipping more and more into English turns of phrase. He was keenly aware that his tertiary education had started late and had been truncated and he felt he was not quite up to scratch.[6]  In German  Letter E


All through 1912 and 1913 Bachmair essentially ignored the instructions from Limburg to prepare for a handover to another order. He was now able to report a positive bank balance of £600 and 2,000 head of cattle.[7] In German  Letter F

Despite this enormous turnaround in the mission’s fortunes, Limburg kept pushing for a withdrawal from Beagle Bay.[8] In German Letter G 

Meanwhile Bachmair missed no opportunity to write to Kugelmann ‘after all Beagle Bay is your obligation, since you acquired it’. At the end of his term as mission superior he recalled the visitation from Pronvicial Fr. Kopf, when the missions’s debts stood at around £5,000, who told them that they would probably never be able to clear their debts. Now they had money in the savings bank.[9]  In German Letter H Broome, 30 Nov 1913

Bishop Kelly once described Bachmair as a "holy and timid man", but his letters give the impression of a feisty personality, despite personal insecurities about his education, which probably tongue-tied him in the presence of the English-speaking Bishop. However, his health was not strong. Bischofs as Parochus reported to Limburg:

... we are all well and happy, except the Rev. Fr. Thomas. In the last few years he was never really well and the doctor had to recommend a change of climate. Maybe he will go to New Norcia for a period of recreation.

Sonst geht es uns in diesem sonnigen Lande noch recht gut, wir sind alle wohl und munter, mit Ausnahme des hochw. Herrn Pater Thomas. In den letzten Jahren war er nie recht wohl und der Doktor hat Luftwechselung anordnen müssen. Vielleicht geht er für einige Zeit nach New Norcia zur Erholung.[10]


During World War I Fr. Bachmair and Fr. Droste took turns in overseeing Lombadina. A constable stationed at Beagle Bay to keep an eye on the Germans reported that Bachmair had forbidden all reference to the war and ‘only says he hopes it will soon be over’. [11] Bachmair is credited with initiating the church building project at Beagle Bay during the war. At the opening of the Sacred Heart church on 15 August 1918 he held the missa solemnis with Fr. Collins as subdeacon, Fr. Droste as deacon and delivered the sermon following a ceremonial procession into the new church.

Two weeks later Fr. Bachmair became the first to be laid out in the new Beagle Bay church. Fr. Droste’s diary records his last days with moving detail in the otherwise economically worded diary:

17. August 1918 [the date is corrected several times] Fr. Thomas came to me and said, have a look what I’ve got there on my head. I said, nothing, it’s just a small pimple. For several days afterwards I saw him scratch his head and told him not to scratch.

23. August Fr. Creagh took Fr. Thomas to the convent and showed Fr. Thomas’ head to Sr. Visitat, who commenced to bathe it with hot water.

25. August Fr. Creagh called me in the afternoon and said that Fr. Thomas had a strong fever, 104o. The pimple had swollen but nobody thought it was dangerous. Solemn Blessing of new church by F. Creagh.

26. When we returned after lunch from the church we saw Fr. Thomas completely dressed going from his room to mine. When he had nearly reached my house I called Fr. Creagh back. Fr. Thomas told me he wanted to go to my room. I heard his general confession and then Br. John and Heinrich carried him on a deckchair to my room. He still had a high fever, at 8pm I brought him the last sacraments. When frequently asked whether he had great pains, he said, no. The swelling on his head kept getting bigger. Rev. Mother Bernard said farewell to him in the afternoon and departed for Lombadina. In the evening he started to speak confusedly but only for a moment.

27.  His pulse kept increasing but he maintained mental presence almost all the time. August Sixt arrived in the afternoon, I had sent for him. Fr. Thomas recognised him at once and laughed. At 6pm I held the devotional service and asked everyone to pray for Fr. Thomas. Immediately afterwards I visited him. Mother John was with him, she told me ‘I think he is going to die.’ I informed Fr. Thomas of this, and called Fr. Creagh and then ran to the church to fetch the Mass Vestments. By the time I came back he was just drawing his last breath, it was 25 minutes before 7.

R. I. P.

28. August 1918 At 8.30am we carried him to the church, Fr. Creagh, Fr. Collins and I conducted the service for the soul. Fr. Creagh gave the sermon. Fr. Thomas is the first one to be laid out in the new church. At 10am we went to the graveyard.


Fr. Bachmair was just 55 years old. Thomas Well on the Beagle Bay mission lease was named after him.




[1] Bischofs at Beagle Bay to Provinzial, 4 February 1907, Australien 1900-1907 B7 d.l.(3) ZAPP.

[2] Bachmair to Kugelmann, 16 August 1910, Australien, Nachlass Kugelmann, B7d.l (1) ZAPP.

[3] Wollseifer to Kugelmann, 15 Juni 1910, Nachlass Kugelmann, B7d.l (1) ZAPP.

[4] "The Churches." The Daily News (Perth, WA) 25 Mar 1911: 4 Edition: Third Edition. Web. 30 Sep 2013

[5] Bachmair to Kugelmann, 19 September 1911, Australien, Nachlass Kugelmann, B7d.l (1) ZAPP.

[6] Bachmair in Broome to Kugelmann, 31 January 1912, Australien, Nachlass Kugelmann, B7d.l (1) ZAPP.

[7] Bachmair at Beagle Bay to Kugelmann in Masio, 20 August 1912, Australien, Nachlass Kugelmann, B7d.l (1) ZAPP.

[8] Bachmair in Broome to Kugelmann, 6 September 1913, Australien, Nachlass Kugelmann, B7d.l (1) ZAPP.

[9] Bachmair to Kugelmann, 30 November 1913, Australien, Nachlass Kugelmann, B7d.l (1) ZAPP.

[10] Bischofs to Kugelmann, 17 February 1913, in Australien: Nachlass Kugelmannn B7d,l(1) ZAPP.

[11] Constable Watson to Intelligence Corbett 9 June 1917 NAA PP14/1/0 – 4/4/22 (B795928) C NAA.