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Halford, George Dowglass (1865–1948)

by George P. Shaw

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

George Dowglass Halford (1865-1948), Anglican bishop, was born on 9 June 1865 at Kensington, London, son of Edward Halford, surgeon, and his wife Frances Jones Trist, née Dowglass. George was educated at Felsted School, Essex, Keble College, Oxford (B.A., 1888; M.A., 1893)—where he rowed and was prominent in the drama society—and Leeds Clergy School. Made deacon in 1890 and ordained priest on 24 May 1891, he was assistant-curate (1890-95) and vicar (1895-97) at St Peter's, Jarrow, Durham. His mentor Bishop Westcott groomed him for the Oxford Mission to Calcutta, India, before persuading him to pioneer a ministry to outback Queensland. Halford's establishment of St Andrew's Mission House in 1897 at Longreach began the Bush Brotherhood movement. He was archdeacon (1899-1907) of the diocese of Rockhampton, but quit the 'weariness and dulness' of the outback in 1902 to become rector of St Paul's Cathedral where he also gained repute as the city's champion exhibitor of gloxinia and caladium. His monastic inclination encouraged him to reorganize St Paul's rectory into a clergy community-house, and in 1907 he set up a short-lived female religious community to care for unmarried mothers from the bush.

In 1907 Halford resigned to return to England. He declined bishoprics in Polynesia, New Guinea and north-west Australia, choosing instead a lectureship at St Saviour's College, Southwark. On 2 February 1909 in Brisbane he was consecrated bishop and on the 9th was enthroned as the second bishop of Rockhampton. Halford spent almost his entire espiscopate maintaining a modest ministry to the White population of Central Queensland. A mission to South Sea Islanders, which he launched at Moores Creek, foundered for lack of resources, but he campaigned strongly for the 'Bible in State Schools' movement. Moved by the willingness of the young for sacrifice in battle, he abandoned his episcopate during World War I to establish an 'emergency corps' to minister to pioneering communities of workmen in railway and mining camps. In 1920 he resigned his bishopric.

By 1923 he had established the Order of Witness at Tingalpa, near Brisbane, which pledged absolute obedience to Archbishop Sharp. Halford freelanced until 1936, mostly in the Dawson, Burnett and Callide valleys, then being opened to closer settlement. In 1930 he declined work as an assistant-bishop at St Albans, England. He also refused an episcopal ministry in the 170,000 sq. miles (440,298 km²) surrounding Charleville, leading Sharp to comment that Halford would not go an 'inch' except where he wanted. By 1932 colleagues considered him a drifter, 'neither exercising authority nor under authority'. He studied economics in a slab hut at Monto, and later attempted to introduce the Christian Social Order movement to Brisbane. In 1935 Archbishop Wand ordered his return from Monto and appointed him canon missioner of the diocese of Brisbane. His supporter J. H. F. Fairfax bought him a house at Wilston, where Halford conducted a legendary ministry to men and boys. He died on 27 August 1948 at Grange, Brisbane, and was cremated.

Happiest roughing it 'as a wandering friar living in a tent', Halford had a larrikin trait which provided his point of contact with men. His reputation as the founder of the Bush Brotherhood sits uneasily, given his dislike of the outback and preference for the coastal bushlands. The refinement in manners which he retained suggested to his obituarist that Queensland was a mistaken destination, Halford's gifts and sensibilities being more suited to the ancient civilizations of India or Japan.

Select Bibliography

  • Bush Brother, 44, no 3, Dec 1948, pp 159, 166, 171
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 3 Feb 1909, 26 June 1922, 10, 18 Jan 1923, 28 Aug 1948
  • R. H. H. Philp, George Dowglass Halford (M.A. thesis, University of New England, 1982)
  • A. E. Cocksidge, A History of the Parish of St Alban the Martyr, Wilston (manuscript, no date, Anglican Diocesan Archives, Brisbane)
  • Halford papers (Anglican Diocesan Archives, Brisbane).

Citation details

George P. Shaw, 'Halford, George Dowglass (1865–1948)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/halford-george-dowglass-10393/text18415, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 22 October 2018.

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

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