Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Barlow, Christopher George (1858–1915)

by Barbara Thorn and John Charles Vockler

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Christopher George Barlow (1858-1915), by unknown photographer

Christopher George Barlow (1858-1915), by unknown photographer

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an22947457

Christopher George Barlow (1858-1915), Anglican bishop, was born on 9 December 1858 in Dublin and educated at Brecknock College, Wales. He entered his stepfather's manufacturing firm in London, but resigned his partnership to become secretary to his lifelong friend George Henry Stanton, appointed bishop of North Queensland. Made a deacon on 18 December 1881, Barlow served his curacy at Mackay under Albert Maclaren; after ordination on 24 September 1882, he became rector of St Paul's Church, Charters Towers, for three years. Barlow's sympathy, insight and humour endeared him to his people. He was a man's man with a powerful and attractive personality. In 1885 he was transferred to St James' Pro-Cathedral, Townsville, where his unobtrusive nature, organizing abilities and spiritual qualities were valued by clergy and laity. With Stanton, he worked to collect funds for the cathedral which he himself was to consecrate as one of his first episcopal acts.

On Stanton's translation to Newcastle, Barlow was elected to succeed him, becoming the first man ordained in Australia to be elected bishop by an Australian synod. As he had no university degree the appointment was challenged but he was immediately granted a Lambeth D.D. by the archbishop of Canterbury. After consecration in Sydney on 25 July 1891, he left for England to recruit priests. He was enthroned in Townsville on 10 April 1892 and for the next ten years travelled constantly throughout the diocese. Financially tried by droughts, cyclones and depression, Barlow still reorganized diocesan and parish accounts and widened the Church's activities. He encouraged mission work among the Aboriginals at Yarrabah, among the Pacific islands sugar-workers at Mackay and on the Herbert River, and among the Chinese in Townsville, Cairns and Charters Towers. Realising that his diocese was too large for one bishop, he gathered funds for the new diocese of Carpentaria which was created on 28 November 1900. It was once regarded as his greatest achievement, but the wisdom of its creation came to be questioned.

In his churchmanship, there was a gradual change from his original Evangelicalism towards a more moderate liberalism with its emphasis on spirituality in worship and the personal faith of the clergy. In an address to the New South Wales Provincial Synod in 1907, he deplored party bigotry within the Church and pleaded for more tolerance and humanity towards differing points of view. The strain of a tropical climate, long visitation tours and frequent attacks of endemic diseases weakened his health, and in 1902 he accepted an invitation to the diocese of Goulburn, New South Wales.

Barlow was enthroned in St Saviour's Cathedral on 23 April. He found an under-manned diocese still bedevilled by the acrimonious Rossi dispute and financially crippled by a long drought. To strengthen the links of the bishop with the scattered parishes, he divided the diocese into four archdeaconries on the lines of the plan initiated by Bishop Mesac Thomas; he founded the Southern Churchman (1902), and by reorganizing the Church Society increased support from £600 to nearly £3000 a year. This financial stability enabled him to subsidize the poorer districts, establish a clergy superannuation fund and provide for clerical training. In 1907 all diocesan accounts were amalgamated and this facilitated the general management of financial affairs. The establishment of a full-time diocesan registry, the collation of a record of diocesan land, and the building of many churches and rectories indicate the strength of his administrative policy. Other visionary projects, such as the Bishopthorpe High School for Girls at Goulburn and a theological college, both set up in 1906, failed through lack of funds.

Barlow was a warm, humane man of simple faith, a courteous peacemaker but authoritative when necessary. Signing himself 'your affectionate bishop', he befriended his clergy and shared their personal problems. On his return from England in 1908 he bought, and became probably the first Australian bishop to drive, a motor car. To remedy the loneliness and intellectual frustration of the country clergy, he often lived for months in one centre. He also instituted 'quiet days' and conferences of clergy during synod meetings. He was a lonely man, and the burden of responsibility for matters like the complicated legal aftermath of the Rossi dispute oppressed him. He sometimes lacked wisdom and foresight, but his love of people overcame much that was less attractive.

Barlow's health deteriorated and he had to take several periods of leave. After his house, Bishopthorpe, was burned down in 1914, he resigned on 31 March 1915 and died, unmarried, at Cooma rectory on 30 August of uraemia; he was buried in Goulburn cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £2861; the major bequest was £1000 to the diocese of Goulburn for clerical training. The high altar in St Saviour's Cathedral is a memorial to him.

Select Bibliography

  • The Diocese of Carpentaria (Thursday Island, 1913, 1927, copy Fryer Library, University of Queensland)
  • J. O. Feetham and W. V. Rymer (eds), The North Queensland Jubilee Book 1878-1928 (Townsville, 1929)
  • R. T. Wyatt, The History of the Diocese of Goulburn (Syd, 1937)
  • E. C. Rowland, The Tropics for Christ (Townsville, 1960)
  • Southern Churchman (Goulburn), 15 Sept, 15 Oct 1915
  • Australian Church Quarterly, 29 June 1936
  • K. Rayner, Attitude and Influence of the Churches in Queensland on Matters of Social and Political Importance 1859-1914 (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Queensland, 1951), and The History of the Church of England in Queensland (Ph.D. thesis, University of Queensland, 1962)
  • C. G. Barlow, letter book, 1907-10 (St Mark's Institute of Theology, Canberra).

Citation details

Barbara Thorn and John Charles Vockler, 'Barlow, Christopher George (1858–1915)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/barlow-christopher-george-5133/text8587, published in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 25 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Christopher George Barlow (1858-1915), by unknown photographer

Christopher George Barlow (1858-1915), by unknown photographer

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an22947457