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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Davies, Robert Rowland (1805–1880)

by P. R. Hart

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

Robert Rowland Davies (1805-1880), Church of England clergyman, was born on 15 September 1805 at Northgate Barracks, Canterbury, England, the eldest son of Robert Davies of Mallow and his wife Harriett, née Batt, of Saltash, Cornwall. He was descended from an old Irish clerical and landowning family dating back to the seventeenth century; one of his ancestors was Dean Rowland Davies, chaplain to William III. His father was a surgeon in the 11th Dragoons, and later practised at Marlborough, County Cork, Ireland, where he died in 1826. After his mother's death in 1812 Robert Davies went to Dr Bell's grammar school at Youghal, to the grammar school at Mallow in 1820 and to Trinity College, Dublin (B.A., 1826). He then studied at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, where he became friendly with Dr Thomas Chalmers, professor of moral philosophy and political economy. Ordained deacon in September 1828, he was appointed to the curacy of Kilbrin and Listowel, Ireland, and private chaplain to Lord Muskerry. In May 1829 he was priested and appointed a chaplain to Van Diemen's Land, through his friend Lord Arden. He was encouraged to emigrate by enthusiastic letters from Dr W. H. Browne. Soon after arrival in Hobart Town on 11 April 1830, he was appointed to Norfolk Plains (Longford), where among other philanthropic work he opened a savings bank.

Davies was married on 26 February 1833 to Maria (1816-1902), the daughter of Captain William Thomas Lyttleton, police magistrate of Launceston, and his wife Ann, née Hortle. Owing to his wife's illness Davies left for England in January 1840. He returned in July 1841 with a loan of £1000 for the new Longford Church from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. Soon after Bishop Francis Nixon's arrival in 1843 he became surrogate in Tasmania, and next year rural dean of Longford. When Nixon went to England in 1846, Davies was made vicar-general and commissary. He became archdeacon of Launceston in September 1850, and two years later succeeded Rev. William Bedford at St David's, Hobart Town. He was appointed archdeacon of Hobart in November 1854 after Fitzherbert Marriott resigned. When Nixon vacated the see, Davies again became commissary in February 1862, and presided over the next two annual synods. Through failing health he resigned the incumbency of the cathedral in September 1866 and retired on a government pension, although he retained the title of archdeacon after his resignation. He died at Hobart on 13 November 1880.

Davies was instrumental in building churches at Longford and Perth, and attempted to set the Church of England on a firm economic footing, especially through glebes and endowments. He showed much interest in the establishment of Christ's College, becoming a trustee in 1845 and an honorary fellow in 1856; he sold 400 pamphlets and books, many in first and rare editions, to the college library in 1852. He was an inspector of schools at Longford and became a trustee of the Hutchins School in 1853. In the ritualist controversy of the 1850s he strongly sided with his friend, Bishop Nixon, against the latter's critics. Davies himself suffered from minor Evangelical intolerance when some of his own congregation raised petitions in 1845 against his 'Puseyite' innovations of the surplice and weekly offertory. A keen horticulturist, he introduced many plants into Tasmania, and was president and guiding spirit of the Launceston Horticultural Society. In politics he was friendly with the various governors, but a strong opponent of transportation, petitioning the Queen against it in 1848.

His engaging Irish wit, genial temperament and liberal mind won him friends from all denominations, who united in presenting addresses and gifts on his departure from Launceston. Jane Williams, an intelligent critic, praised the tastefulness of his home and brilliant sermons, commenting that 'if there were more men in the country like him, the Wesleyans would have no followers among the educated class of the people'.

Select Bibliography

  • P. L. Brown (ed), Clyde Company Papers, vols 2-4 (Lond, 1952-59)
  • Hobart Town Courier, 23 July 1841
  • Church News (Hobart), Dec 1880, 177
  • Davies diaries and papers (privately held)
  • Davies papers (Bishop Barrett collection, Launceston, Tasmania).

Citation details

P. R. Hart, 'Davies, Robert Rowland (1805–1880)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 25 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

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