Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Edwards, William John (1891–1967)

by George Garnsey

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

William John Edwards (1891-1967), Anglican clergyman and headmaster, was born on 9 December 1891 at Riverstone, New South Wales, son of native-born parents John Edwards, butcher, and his wife Ida, née Drayton. Educated at Fort Street Model School, Moore Theological College and the University of Sydney (B.A., 1916), William enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in January 1916, but was discharged in July to become a field secretary for the Young Men's Christian Association of Australia. On 29 April that year he had married Amy Stephenson (d.1963) at St Anne's Church, Ryde.

Embarking for England in October 1916, Edwards served on the Western Front as a Y.M.C.A. representative and was appointed honorary second lieutenant, A.I.F., in May 1918. Next year he gained a certificate from Cambridge University Training College for Schoolmasters and completed his studies at Ridley Hall for the Anglican priesthood. Returning to Sydney, he was made deacon on 14 March 1920 and ordained priest on 21 December. He taught at Trinity Grammar School while a curate (1920-22) at Dulwich Hill and from 1923 was rector of the parish of Bulli.

In 1926 Edwards was appointed headmaster of Monaro Grammar School, Cooma. Three years later he took charge of its successor, relocated as Canberra Grammar School. Overcoming funding difficulties during the Depression and staff shortages in World War II, he saw the school through its formative years, laying a foundation based on sound learning, effort and application, and setting a discipline characterized by firmness, fairness and gentleness. After clashing with Bishop E. H. Burgmann, especially over control of the school, Edwards resigned in 1947. He was a member (1930-47) and acting-chairman (1937) of the council of Canberra University College and a canon (1935-56) of St Saviour's Cathedral, Goulburn.

Edwards had been a delegate to the British Commonwealth Relations Conference, Lapstone, New South Wales (1938), and to the Institute of Pacific Relations Conference, Hot Springs, Virginia, United States of America (1945). He was chief of the United Nations Children's Relief Mission to Greece in 1947-52 and also worked in Italy and Malta in 1951-52. Despite the lack of interest by officials and the opposition of black marketeers, he succeeded in establishing an aid organization. The National and Capodistrian University of Athens awarded him an honorary Ph.D. in 1951. Back in Australia, in 1952-53 he was senior welfare adviser to the Department of External Affairs. As rector (1956-62) of St James's Church, King Street, Sydney, he developed its property to provide a permanent income for the parish.

His face conveyed strength and authority, emphasized by impressive eyebrows, but his gaze was often kindly and compassionate, and betrayed a keen sense of humour. Edwards's Anglicanism was representative, upholding the best of the Church's traditions while combining progressive thought with action for human welfare and dignity. He kindled faith in many, and restored and strengthened it in others. Possessing a clear vision of what was attainable, once his goals were set he gave of himself unstintingly. He died on 24 September 1967 at Bellevue Hill, Sydney, and was cremated; his three daughters and one of his two sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • P. J. McKeown (ed), Deo, Ecclesiae, Patriae (Canb, 1979)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 18 Nov 1947, 8 July 1962
  • private information.

Citation details

George Garnsey, 'Edwards, William John (1891–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/edwards-william-john-10102/text17831, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 23 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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