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Boyce, Francis Bertie (1844–1931)

by K. J. Cable

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

Francis Bertie Boyce (1844-1931), Anglican clergyman, was born on 6 April 1844 at Tiverton, Devon, England, son of Francis Boyce, accountant, and his wife Frances, née Dunsford. In 1853 the family sailed for Australia in the Earl of Charlemont and, after shipwreck on 18 June at Barwon Heads, Victoria, settled in Sydney. Boyce attended St James's Grammar School and James Kean's Cleveland House School. His father's death in 1858 cut short his education and he joined the Union Bank of Australia, showing considerable promise. Serious-minded, Boyce taught Sunday school at Redfern and at Enfield, and resolved to enter the Anglican ministry. After studying at Moore Theological College, Liverpool, under William Hodgson and R. L. King, he was made deacon by Bishop Barker on 21 December 1868 and ordained priest on 19 December 1869.

Boyce was stationed in western New South Wales, soon to be the diocese of Bathurst: he served at Georges Plains (1868), with Blayney attached (1869), Molong and Wellington (1873), and from 1875 at Orange. On 5 July 1871 at Georges Plains he married Caroline (d.1918), daughter of William Stewart of Athol, near Blayney. Energetic and innovative, Boyce was a missioner on the Darling (described in his Our Church on the River Darling, Sydney, 1910), a builder of churches, a champion of denominational education (on which he later wrote pamphlets) an advocate of inter-church co-operation, and a keen member of the diocesan synod. He declared that his early training as an original member of the Volunteer Artillery Corps helped him in outback life. Failing to obtain a more sedentary post at Bathurst Cathedral he returned to Sydney in 1882. After two years in the industrial parish of St Bartholomew, Pyrmont, where he gained his first insight into slum housing, Boyce was appointed to St Paul's, Redfern. He remained there for forty-six years.

St Paul's parish, first developed by Canon A. H. Stephen, was important in diocesan affairs. As its incumbent, and aided by his own administrative ability and diplomatic skill, Boyce rose in ecclesiastical rank. He became a canon of St Andrew's Cathedral in 1901 and archdeacon of West Sydney in 1910, serving on most diocesan committees and representing Sydney in the provincial and general synods. A convinced Evangelical but no narrow 'party' man, he claimed to have been decisive in securing the election of the moderate J. C. Wright as archbishop in 1909.

The growing working-class character of Boyce's Redfern parish, which included Sydney's railway-yards and workshops, made him a vigorous social reformer. He joined he Christian Social Union in the 1890s and worked for the alleviation of unemployment distress. He campaigned for slum clearance and helped to erect 'model' dwellings for some of his parishioners, and claimed that he had helped materially in bringing about old-age pensions; he also promoted female suffrage. A skilful publicist from the time when he had unsuccessfully championed church schools, Boyce became a notable public figure. Temperance was his chief concern, his motive being humanitarian rather than puritanical. He was president of the New South Wales Alliance for the Suppression of Intemperance in 1891-1915, fighting for local option and, later, for early closing. An astute campaigner, not averse to exercising strong political pressure, Boyce believed that his work was crucial in the legislative restrictions introduced from 1904. He used interdenominational means also, being leader of the New South Wales Council of Churches in 1911-17 and 1926-27.

Boyce had no distinct political creed; he worked with Labor politicians such as J. S. T. McGowen, whom he admired, but was happier with the Liberals. An ardent Imperialist, he was first president of the British Empire League in Australia in 1901 and also in 1909-11, and helped to bring about the proclamation of Empire Day in 1905. He viewed the Empire as a great moral force in the world; after 1918 he supported the League of Nations as an extension of this ideal. A good Australian, he was no narrow patriot, and was interested in history, writing on the church of England and some of its notable figures. He was a fellow of the (Royal) Australian Historical Society, and saw history as recounting the development of a moral sense in mankind; in this way, he could account for, and defend, his own reformist activities.

Boyce resigned his parish in 1930 and died at Blackheath on 27 May 1931. He was survived by two sons of his first marriage, and by his second wife Ethel Elizabeth, née Rossiter, widow of Captain Burton, R.N.R., whom he had married on 8 September 1920. Memorials to Boyce were placed in the Sydney and Bathurst cathedrals and his portrait by Julian Ashton was presented to the National Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1917. His memoirs were published posthumously in 1934 as Four-Score Years and Seven.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Church Record, 11 May 1917, 4 June 1931
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 28 May 1931, 28 June 1940
  • Bulletin, 1 July 1931
  • Synod reports, 1870-82 (Diocesan Registry, Bathurst).

Citation details

K. J. Cable, 'Boyce, Francis Bertie (1844–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/boyce-francis-bertie-5319/text8983, published in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 16 September 2014.

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

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