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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Garnsey, Arthur Henry (1872–1944)

by D. A. Garnsey

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

Arthur Henry Garnsey (1872-1944), Anglican clergyman, was born on 3 December 1872 at Windsor, New South Wales, son of Rev. Charles Frederick Garnsey, from Gloucestershire, England, and his first wife Mary Emma, daughter of Rev. H. T. Stiles. In 1876 the family moved to Sydney where Garnsey senior was rector of Christ Church St Laurence. Arthur was educated at Sydney Grammar School and the University of Sydney (B.A., 1894; M.A., 1896). He captained the university cricket team, also won a 'blue' for tennis and graduated with first-class honours in Greek.

Garnsey was made deacon in 1897 and ordained priest next year by Bishop Stanton of Newcastle, who appointed him curate of Muswellbrook. In 1899-1905 he was chaplain at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, where he also taught classics. At Croydon, Sydney, he married Bertha Edith Frances Benn (d.1919) on 9 July 1901; her sister Caroline married W. M. Fleming. In December 1905 Garnsey became sub-dean and precentor of Christ Church Cathedral, Newcastle, New South Wales. Next year he was warden of St John's Theological College, Armidale. He secured the Th.Schol. in 1908. Made canon of St Peter's Cathedral in 1914, he was examining chaplain to the bishops of Armidale in 1916-29.

In June 1916 Garnsey was appointed warden of St Paul's College, University of Sydney. In that volatile community he won the affectionate respect of the students by his fairness, his respect for their freedom and his pastoral concern. He loved nature, literature, history and music. Keenly interested in university affairs, he was a member of the senate in 1919 and in 1934-44. He was largely responsible for the establishment of the board of studies in divinity in 1936—a notable departure from the prevailing secular assumptions about the nature of the university. A leader in the Australian Student Christian Movement, he worked for church union, and was a founder with Rev. Samuel Angus, of the interdenominational Heretics' Club, and of the Sydney Theological Society. He was also president of the New South Wales branch of the League of Nations Union in 1925-29 and a vice-president of the Friendship with Russia League in 1941-44.

Garnsey came into conflict frequently with other churchmen and political conservatives whenever he felt that truth or freedom was being attacked. He defended the academic freedom of radical students and professors and in 1938 led forty-five senior clergymen in 'A plea for liberty', seeking the representation of points of view other than the dominant Evangelicalism of the Sydney Diocese, but Archbishop Howard Mowll declined to meet them.

From his father Garnsey had inherited the austerity and reverence of the Oxford Movement. His theology was based on the Broad Church radicalism of F. W. Robertson, Charles Kingsley and F. D. Maurice. He welcomed the results of proved biblical scholarship and stressed the humanity of Jesus Christ and the need to relate His teaching to contemporary problems. Although not a profound theologian, Garnsey was a good scholar and teacher: his A Study of Jesus (1927) was widely used and How the Gospels Grew (1935) was one of the earliest expositions in Australia of 'Form-Criticism'. He was examining chaplain to the archbishops of Sydney from 1918 and a canon of St Andrew's Cathedral from 1928.

Garnsey died from cancer on 21 June 1944 in Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, nine days before he was due to retire, and was cremated. He was survived by two sons and a daughter from his first marriage and by his second wife Ann Stafford Smairl, daughter of Bolton Stafford Bird, a widow whom he had married at Bruny Island, Tasmania, on 28 August 1922. His portrait by Arthur Murch is held by St Paul's College.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22 June 1944
  • Union Recorder, 6 July 1944
  • E. R. Garnsey, History of the Garnsey Family (manuscript) and family papers (privately held).

Additional Resources

Citation details

D. A. Garnsey, 'Garnsey, Arthur Henry (1872–1944)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 9 August 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 8

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