Review of Michael Gladwin, Anglican Clergy in Australia 1788-1850: Building a British World (Royal Historical Society/Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 2015).

Michael Gladwin, Anglican Clergy in Australia 1788-1850: Building a British World (Royal Historical Society/Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 2015).

Reviewed by W. M. Jacob

Citation Information
To cite this review: W. M. Jacob, ‘Review: Michael Gladwin, Anglican Clergy in Australia 1788-1850: Building a British World (2015)’, CCEd Online Journal Reviews 2, 2015.
Little attention has been paid to the Anglican clergy who in the century between 1750 and 1850 were present in almost every British colonial enterprise, and played significant parts in establishing and developing settler colonies and relations with indigenous inhabitants of the lands being occupied. The information now available via the Clergy of the Church of England Database, providing details of clergy backgrounds, education and careers, makes it possible to undertake a collective or group biography of the clergy in a colony, Their part in the development of a colony can be explored by using archives and libraries to discover whether their diaries or letters survive, and if there is any correspondence with Colonial Office officials, bishops, missionary societies and family and friends with or about them, and whether they wrote books or pamphlets or contributed to local newspapers,

Michael Gladwin has provided an excellent model of how to build up a collective biography of an occupational group or profession, in this case Anglican clergy who served in the Australian colonies between 1788 and 1850. This dispels many myths about the part clergy played in early colonial life, and reveals the challenges, rigours and privations of life in these colonies.

Dr Gladwin briefly sets the context of the establishment of the four Australian colonies and the appointment of chaplains to minister in the initial penal colonies, and subsequently settler communities, and the development of the Church of England’s oversight of clergy serving in the colonies. Much recent scholarship about the development of Anglicanism overseas has claimed that, in response to the loss of the American colonies, until the 1830s, successive governments used clergy to promote a conservative, hierarchical settler society in new colonies. Dr Gladwin demonstrate there is little evidence to support this, at least in Australia, where successive governments showed little interest in the Church. The earliest chaplains in Australia seem to have been recruited through English Anglican evangelical networks. Only after 1810 did governors of the colonies request the Colonial Office to appoint chaplains. In 1826 the British government authorised the creation of an archdeaconry in the diocese of Madras to oversee the twenty-one chaplains serving in the then two Australian colonies (New South Wales and Tasmania), and, in 1836, a diocese of Australia was created.

Initially it was difficult to recruit clergy to go to Australia as chaplains, but by the 1840s more people wanted to work there than there were openings. Dr Gladwin analyses the social, educational national and churchmanship backgrounds of the 234 clergy (excluding bishops) who served in the Australian colonies between 1788 and 1850, and shows the wide variety of backgrounds from which they came. A sizable minority already had overseas experience – as sons of military officers, diplomats and planters from other parts of the Empire, as missionaries in India and the West Indies. Some had previously been Nonconformist missionaries, and some naval chaplains. Some were recruited as a result of family and friendship networks. When bishops were appointed to the Australian colonies after 1836, they recruited friends and former pupils from public schools and Oxford and Cambridge. Over 25% of the clergy were Irish Anglicans. The rest were mostly English, from London and the home counties. 70% of all clergy were graduates suggesting that, like most Anglican clergy, they were from middle class or professional backgrounds. Some subsequently moved on to other colonies or chaplaincies and about a third returned to England. They illustrate the diverse and wide-ranging opportunities the British world offered Anglican clergy in this period.

Their motivations for working in the colonies are shown to be many and varied. Their average age when going to Australia (thirty-seven amongst those arriving between 1800 and 1819, and thirty-two for those arriving between 1820 and 1859) suggests they were making mature decisions. Amongst those whose letters and diaries survive many were motivated by a strong vocational sense. The nationalist, imperialist or patriotic aims that many historians have attributed to them are virtually absent from the reasons given by this random sample of those going to Australia.

In many ways their roles in a colony were similar to clergy roles in England. Obviously they conducted Sunday and daily services and baptisms, weddings, and burials, preached, and taught children the Catechism. They were also, like clergy in England, much occupied in charitable and philanthropic work, either personally, or through philanthropic and benevolent societies, which they were often instrumental in setting up, and in encouraging thrift and responsibility amongst laypeople, for example through setting up savings banks. Clergy continued, as in England, to maintain registers of baptisms, marriages and burials, and contributed to the good ordering of new societies by their preaching and teaching. A few, as in England, were appointed magistrates (only twelve before 1850), for there was a shortage of suitable lay candidates. This has led early Australian clergy to be caricatured as ‘flogging parsons’. Dr Gladwin shows that, while Samuel Marsden, the first chaplain, did have a reputation for unduly severe sentences, contemporaries, even critics, generally thought clergy were no more, and perhaps less, severe than lay magistrates. He produces evidence that clerical magistrates were concerned for the welfare of convicts, and used their role as a means of conciliation. He found that on numerous occasions they took the part of the poor, and the illiterate, and convicts against officials. He points out that clergy were the interface between administrators of charity and benefits and the poor, noting that, as most early settlers were convicts or poor, most welfare was provided by the government via hospitals, asylums and orphanages, on the boards of which clergy sat, and in which they made pastoral visitations. From the 1830s, when colonial governments began cutting back on such provision, clergy took initiatives in establishing voluntary provision for hospitals, lying-in institutions, asylums, Magdalen societies for fallen women, temperance societies, ragged schools, savings banks, and friendly and life insurance societies.

He shows that clergy were in the vanguard of the transformation of penal colonies into free settler societies. They contributed a religious and moral framework to the developing community life in the colonies, and in their early economic, political and scientific life. They lobbied governments on behalf of the poor, contributed to newspapers, wrote pamphlets on current social and political issues, contributed to and edited literary journals, founded literary, philosophical and scientific societies, museums, botanic gardens, choral societies, mechanics’ institutes to provide adult education for the poor, and played an active part in running them. Clergy in rural areas contributed to developing the agricultural economy, for example in cultivating vineyards, citrus fruit and tobacco. They also undertook statistical and geological surveys.

Gladwin concludes that clergy regarded ministry to settlers as their first priority, so there was little coordinated missionary effort amongst Aboriginals before 1850. However, a few clergy devoted themselves to indigenous peoples, and some contributed articles to newspapers condemning depredations on Aboriginals, and claims that they were subhuman, and criticised colonial governments’ policies and attitudes towards them, especially in relation to property rights. But he points out that they were mostly compromised by their tendency to support and sympathise with settlers, and their support for ‘better’ use of Aboriginal lands.

It is clear that life, especially in rural areas, was often very challenging for clergy, and especially their wives.

From the appointment of the first chaplain, Anglican clergy in Australia were forced to reconcile the role of state-employed clergyman with that of Christian minister. They were in part agents of the state, whether British, or later colonial, by virtue of their funding and their general political and social outlook, and their status aligned them with the elite and the hierarchy. Yet Gladwin shows most of them consistently rejected the subordination of Church to State and adopted an independent and critical posture towards the State, emphasising the duties of governors as well as governed, of masters, as well as servants. They supported Aborigines, convicts and the indigent and made humanitarian interventions to challenge the perceived evils of authority and empire.

In the 1830s, British governments began to withdraw from making grants to fund church building and clergy in both England and the colonies, and largely delegated responsibility for internal affairs to colonial legislatures. Colonial governments reduced contributions towards clergy salaries, and ceased to appoint chaplains, and to contribute towards the provision and upkeep of parsonages and glebe, and churches and schools, and to pay sextons and parish clerks. The Church in the Australian colonies was thus effectively disestablished. Dr Gladwin shows how clergy contributed to reshaping the Church, as a voluntary body under episcopal government, including seeking funds from lay people for their salaries and housing, and to build and maintain churches and schools. Questions about whether English ecclesiastical legislation applied in self-governing colonies also raised doubts about clergy’s security of tenure, and relationships with the newly-created bishops. Australian Anglican clergy had to adjust to a very different situation from the early days, and in England. They became much more dependent on the goodwill and financial support of their congregations, who were keen, in return, to be have a say in the government of the Church. Clergy were also more dependent on their new bishops, who had more time and power than English bishops to oversee, and take an interest, not always welcome, in clerical activities.

This is an excellent account of who the clergy were, the challenges they faced, and how they rose to them, but it would have been helpful to have had more of a sense of the contexts in which clergy were working, beyond their dealings with officials. It would be interesting to know if there is any evidence of how they and their ministrations were received by and responded to by laypeople. There are hints from time to time that relations may have been tense. There also is little sense that Anglican clergy were working in a competitive religious market place. Methodists, Church of Scotland, and Roman Catholics are mentioned briefly, but there is no sense of competition and tensions, especially with Irish Roman Catholics, for example in Sydney, and no doubt elsewhere, and whether, perhaps this was exacerbated by the more than 25% of Anglican clergy from Irish backgrounds, and the high proportion of the rest who were evangelicals.

Dr Gladwin has very helpfully thrown new light on the early development of Anglicanism in Australia, making clear the differences between the five colonies, and shows how much Anglican clergy contributed to the early development of Australian society. He has provided a model that might be used for similar studies of clergy in settler communities elsewhere in the British Empire.

W. M. Jacob.

Dr Jacob was until recently archdeacon of Charing Cross in the Anglican Diocese of London. He is the author of many works on the history of the Church of England, notably in the eighteenth century, including The Clerical Profession in the Long Eighteenth Century 1680-1840 (Oxford University Press, 2007)