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Fry, Henry Phibbs (1807–1874)

by Michael Roe

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

Henry Phibbs Fry (1807?-1874), Church of England clergyman, was the son of Oliver Fry, of Sligo, Ireland. After private schooling he went to Trinity College, Dublin (B.A., 1828). In 1838 the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel nominated him for service in Van Diemen's Land. He was ordained deacon at Worcester in August 1838, and embarked in the Trafalgar in November. The ship was wrecked near Cape Town and Fry reached Launceston in the Arabian in May 1839.

Archdeacon William Hutchins appointed Fry first to Clarence Plains, then in 1840 transferred him to St George's in South Hobart. Simultaneously he became second master to John Gell at Queen's School, but in 1841 opened a private school. Gell found his assistant 'a redhot Puseyite' (F. J. Woodward, The Doctor's Disciples, London, 1954, p. 95); and Fry, ordained priest in September 1843, soon made his Tractarian beliefs apparent. Early in 1843 he and a parishioner, J. D. Loch, scathingly and effectually criticized the government's public school system, which followed the British and Foreign School Society model. His first book, The Scriptural Evidence of the Apostolic Ministry and Tradition of the Church Catholic (Hobart, 1843), probably the most erudite work until then published in Australia, preached a full-blooded traditionalism. So did the church newspaper, Hobart Town Herald (later Herald of Tasmania), which he edited in 1845-46. Anti-Romanism increasingly characterized his theology, prompting him to hope for 'the union in one Catholic Church of all Evangelical Christians'. In 1847 he argued for modified transportation, but thereafter switched to abolition.

Fry left Hobart on leave in February 1849. In Britain he concentrated on social problems, propounding A System of Penal Discipline (London, 1850), which urged Christian action in the alleviation of poverty, and especially the use of systematic and healthy gaols. He also became interested in Caroline Chisholm's emigration schemes. In 1850 he graduated M.A., B.D., and D.D. from Trinity.

After some procrastination Fry returned to Hobart early in 1851 to enter his most remarkable phase. Pursuing a very rare course, consistent only in its extremism, the 'redhot Puseyite' had become an equally enthusiastic Low Churchman. He consequently led an extremely bitter and vigorous campaign against Bishop Francis Nixon, accusing his prelate of allowing the diocese to move towards Rome. The 'protestants' urged freedom of judgment, and the right of the laity to govern the church; Fry was prepared to establish an independent church organization (Protestant, Hobart, 1853-54, edited by Fry). For six years the two parties battled each other to exhaustion. The establishment of a synod in 1857 was a partial victory for Fry, and the occasion for reconciliation. Meanwhile he had continued his anti-Roman propaganda (Forty Reasons for Leaving the Church of Rome, Hobart, 1854) and his social and educational interests. Suffering ill health Fry returned to Britain on leave early in 1858, and this time stayed there. He died at Oxford on 11 January 1874.

Fry was married on first arriving in Tasmania. His wife had no children and suffered much ill health. She remained in Britain after her husband departed late in 1850 and died soon afterwards. On 16 December 1852 Fry married Catherine, eldest daughter of John Dunn and widow of T. L. Belcher. She bore Fry several children; the second son, Oliver Armstrong, won renown in British education and journalism. Catherine Fry died in London on 5 January 1905. Fry lived in 1841-49 at the corner of Gore and Macquarie Streets, and later at Ellerslie, Hampden Road; both places were handsome. Fry carried on the building of the beautiful church of his parish.

Fry's intellect and sympathies both ran deep. Environment and personality so thwarted satisfying expression of these qualities that he developed characteristics which an anonymous enemy described as 'restless vanity, insatiable craving after notoriety, questionable ambition and peculiarity of temperament' (A Letter From John Smith to John Jones …, Hobart, 1852, p. 15).

Select Bibliography

  • N. Batt, Bishop Nixon and Conflicts Within the Church of England in Tasmania in the 1850s (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Tasmania, 1962).

Citation details

Michael Roe, 'Fry, Henry Phibbs (1807–1874)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fry-henry-phibbs-2072/text2589, published in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 26 July 2014.

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

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