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Halse, Sir Reginald Charles (1881–1962)

by K. Rayner

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

Sir Reginald Charles Halse (1881-1962), Anglican archbishop, was born on 16 June 1881 at Luton, Bedfordshire, England, third son and youngest of seven children of James John Halse, a manufacturer of straw hats, and his wife Gulielma, née Hack. Educated at St Paul's School, London, where he made his mark at cricket and Rugby Union football, and at Brasenose College, Oxford (B.A., 1905; M.A., 1907), Reginald had decided by the age of 17 to seek holy orders. At Kelham Theological College he was influenced by Fr Herbert Kelly, founder of the Society of the Sacred Mission. Halse was made deacon in 1906, and ordained priest on 21 December 1907 by A. F. Winnington-Ingram, bishop of London, who became the model for his own subsequent episcopate. Halse served in the East End of London as curate (from 1906) of St Saviour's, Poplar, and priest-in-charge (from 1911) of St Nicholas's, Blackwell.

He was leader of an informal fraternity of young, Kelham-trained priests who wanted to serve abroad when G. H. Frodsham, bishop of North Queensland, came to England seeking recruits for his Bush Brotherhood. The fraternity agreed that Halse would go first and that other members would follow. Arriving at Townsville, Queensland, in January 1913, he served as warden of the Brotherhood of St Barnabas and examining chaplain (until 1925) to the new bishop J. O. Feetham. Under him, Halse and the brotherhood were influential in shaping the Anglo-Catholic ethos of the diocese. His reputation as a preacher grew, and, in the general mission held throughout Queensland in 1917, he conducted five ten-day missions within two months. In 1914 he had established a short-lived boys' school at Herberton which marked his enduring enthusiasm for church schools. After acquiring funds in England in 1919, he was founding headmaster (1920-25) of All Souls School, Charters Towers. Although he was no disciplinarian, his tolerant humanity, enthusiasm for sport, lively preaching and personal interest in each boy won the affection of his students.

Consecrated bishop of Riverina by the archbishop of Canterbury on 29 September 1925 in Westminster Abbey, London, Halse was enthroned in the pro-cathedral at Hay, New South Wales, on 6 January 1926. The vast diocese, covering the far west and south of the State, called for a peripatetic ministry among scattered parishes and often tiny congregations. His easy informality and natural dignity made him a much-loved pastoral bishop. Preaching engagements and missions in parishes and schools often took him beyond his own diocese and earned him the nickname 'bishop of Never-in-'er'. In 1943 he succeeded J. W. C. Wand as archbishop of Brisbane and was enthroned in St John's Cathedral on 3 November. Wand's leadership had not been widely popular, and Halse interpreted his election as an invitation to pursue his low-key, pastoral style of episcopate. He inherited a large diocese disrupted by World War II, short of clergy, with a part-time assistant-bishop ten years his senior, and encumbered by debt stemming from the Depression.

Showing amazing stamina, Halse coped on only a few hours sleep each night, supplemented by catnaps (sometimes during meetings). His lifelong habit of improvising with inadequate resources stood him in good stead. He wrote his letters by hand, conscripted clergy or students to drive his car and piled several jobs on one person. Yet he never appeared hurried or flustered, and his unpretentious style of life was complemented by the natural dignity and sonorous voice which enhanced his liturgical presence. These qualities, while endearing, led to increasing frustration in the diocese in the archbishop's advancing years. Perhaps because he recognized that he was unable to supply the vision, the strategies and the dynamic leadership needed by the Church in the postwar period, he encouraged active, younger men from whom he drew strength and ideas. In 1946 he appointed an economics graduate Roland St John as registrar of the diocese; his prodigious efforts, aided by inflation, eliminated diocesan indebtedness. Halse also relied on others, among them W. A. Hardie, E. E. Hawkey and I. W. A. Shevill, all of whom became bishops, and he gained energy from his students at the neighbouring St Francis's Theological College.

His episcopate was marked by tolerance and reconciliation. A pioneer in the ecumenical movement, Halse suffered criticism from some Anglo-Catholic friends who were alarmed that his tolerance might lead the Church into pan-Protestantism. In the 1930s he had discussed intercommunion with Protestant leaders and proposed a formula which he hoped might enable the reconciliation of ministries. He welcomed the formation of the World Council of Churches in 1948 and led in the setting up of a regional committee in Queensland. In 1961 he stood alone against the entire provincial synod of Queensland in voting for full communion with what was to be the united Church of North India. His personal friendship with the Catholic archbishop (Sir) James Duhig laid a foundation for closer relations between their Churches. Halse was a reconciler, too, within the Anglican Church. He supported constitutional autonomy for the Australian Church and his rapport with bishops of different churchmanship helped to overcome suspicion of the proposed constitution. When smouldering discontent at growing Anglo-Catholic practices exploded in the Brisbane synod in 1953, Halse's inflexible calm and wily delaying tactics deflected the fury. His reputation for employing inactivity as an instrument of policy was enhanced.

The same spirit of toleration characterized his approach to public affairs. Disregarding postwar anti-Japanese sentiment, he visited the Japanese Church in 1947 and faced criticism for inviting the Japanese primate to return the visit. Halse opposed communism, but declined to engage in the bitter tirades of a number of Church leaders. He consistently advocated the path of arbitration for the settlement of industrial disputes. Despite his identification with Australian life, Halse never lost his Englishness. In 1947, on the recommendation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, he was awarded an honorary D.D. (Lambeth); in 1962, by which time he was the senior bishop of the Anglican Communion, he was appointed K.B.E. and delighted in being what he thought was the first Anglican bishop outside Britain to be knighted. He died on 9 August 1962 in Brisbane. Large crowds, silently lining the city streets as the cortège moved to St Matthew's cemetery, Sherwood, testified to the community's widespread affection for him. A portrait by Gwendoline Grant and one by Win Robbins are respectively held at Old Bishopsbourne and St Martin's House, Brisbane.

Select Bibliography

  • Church of England Diocese of Brisbane, Church Chronicle, Dec 1943, Sept 1962
  • Anglican, 16 Aug 1962
  • K. Rayner, The History of the Church of England in Queensland (Ph.D. thesis, University of Queensland, 1962)
  • J. Pryce-Davies, Pilgrim and Pastor (typescript, 1990, Diocesan Archives, Brisbane)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

K. Rayner, 'Halse, Sir Reginald Charles (1881–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/halse-sir-reginald-charles-10401/text18431, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 25 October 2014.

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

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