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Flower, Willoughby (1858–1914)

by K. J. Cable

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Willoughby Flower (1858-1914), Anglican clergyman, was born on 22 January 1858 at Matlock Bath, Derbyshire, son of Thomas Simpson Flower, chemist and druggist, and his wife Jane, née Keeling. Although baptized as a Wesleyan Methodist, he received an Anglican schooling. At 20 Flower entered the University of Cambridge with non-collegiate status, a new category designed for impecunious students. With help from the Cambridge Clerical Education Society and his stipend as a lay assistant at St Matthew's, Cambridge, Flower put himself through the university (B.A., 1881; M.A., 1884). After attending the requisite divinity lectures, he was made deacon on 12 June 1881 and ordained priest on 4 June next year by Bishop Woodford of Ely. He remained at St Matthew's as curate until 1885 when he became curate of St Mary's, Twickenham. The parish was in sequestration and Flower was virtually in charge. For an able young man without patronage, the position was a useful opportunity. Flower impressed Bishop Thornton of Ballarat who invited him to come to Australia. On 7 May 1885 he had married Emily Sarah George (1855-1936). They left for Australia late in 1886.

For more than ten years, Flower was a leading country clergyman. He served no apprenticeship but was given at once positions of importance, becoming in 1887 vicar of St Peter's, Ballarat, and, four years later, a canon and a diocesan delegate to General Synod. When Archdeacon A. V. Green of Ballarat was elected bishop of Grafton and Armidale, he requested Flower's aid. Flower, as vicar and archdeacon of Grafton, was virtually in charge of one part of the joint diocese. In 1897 he acted as diocesan administrator but, in the same year, abandoned his prospects of becoming a country bishop by moving to St Mark's, Darling Point, Sydney, which was then at its height as an upper-class area.

Flower had matured into a capable minister with courtly manners and intellectual tastes, including church music, without losing his strong personal piety. His incumbency was successful, although he failed to sub-divide his parish. A moderate High Churchman, he preserved good relations with the predominantly Evangelical diocese of Sydney, becoming archbishop's chaplain in 1910 and a canon of the cathedral in 1913. At the same time, he kept his connexions with the wider Church, being commissary for the bishops of New Guinea and Bathurst, examining chaplain and commissary for Grafton and Armidale, acting registrar in 1911-13 of the Australian College of Theology (of which he had become a fellow in 1896) and, from 1901, a fellow of St Paul's College within the University of Sydney. As honorary chaplain to the New South Wales Corps of Engineers, he developed a military link.

By the end of 1913 Flower was at the peak of his reputation. But his health and temperament had deteriorated and he went back to England in search of recovery. He returned on the Demosthenes greatly depressed, in pain and suffering from sleeplessness. On 21 July 1914, the day after his arrival in Sydney, he died at the rectory at Darling Point from the effects of a self-inflicted bullet wound while suffering from temporary mental derangement.

Flower was buried at South Head cemetery and is commemorated by a stained glass window at St Mark's. He was survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of N.S.W. (Syd, 1907)
  • H. W. A. Barder, Wherein Thine Honour Dwells (Syd, 1949)
  • Church Standard (Sydney), 31 July 1914
  • Guardian, 17 Sept 1914.

Citation details

K. J. Cable, 'Flower, Willoughby (1858–1914)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 21 March 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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