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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hart, John Stephen (1866–1952)

by B. H. Reddrop

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

John Stephen Hart (1866-1952), Anglican bishop, was born on 27 December 1866 at Caulfield, Melbourne, eldest son of John Hart, accountant, and his wife Mary Anne Sibella, sister of J. W. Stephen. His younger brother was Thomas Stephen Hart. He was educated at East St Kilda Grammar School and the University of Melbourne where he graduated B.A. with first-class honours in natural science in 1887, and B.Sc. and M.A. in 1889. Hart then taught matriculation classes at Tintern Ladies' College, Hawthorn, where the principal told him he was a born teacher. Believing that 'there is only one thing I consider worth teaching for the rest of my life', he offered himself for ordination to Bishop Goe and was made deacon in 1893 and ordained priest in 1894.

He served his title at St Paul's, Geelong, 1893-96, and a second curacy at Christ Church, South Yarra. After his marriage on 18 September 1900 to Catherine Lucy Buckhurst he was appointed incumbent of Holy Trinity, Benalla (1900-03), St Anselm's, Middle Park (1903-07), and St Martin's, Hawksburn (1907-14), where he became well known for his lucid preaching and High Church sympathies. Hart headed the first Th.L. list of the Australian College of Theology in 1898, and gained his Th.Schol. with first-class honours in 1901 and a fellowship in 1907. He was then appointed visiting lecturer at St John's College, East St Kilda, which prepared non-matriculants for ordination, and in 1914 became warden and chaplain. However, falling wartime enrolments and the suspicion, quite unfounded, that Hart and St John's were producing ordinands in the mould of Fr Cyril Barclay, the militant Anglo-Catholic missioner at St John's, La Trobe Street, resulted in the college's unceremonious closure at the end of 1919.

Hart had been a canon of St Paul's Cathedral from 1908 and was elected dean in September 1919. Though the dean's position provided honour and influence, Hart had to find his own living. In his own words he survived 'on the rental from the Deanery, my Pharmacy College' (where he was examiner and later lecturer in botany between 1895 and 1927) 'and Trinity College Lectureships and my wife's money'. Hart used the cathedral pulpit effectively as teacher and apologist and entered vigorously into debates on ecclesiastical, social and political issues. He had been an active member of the diocesan Social Questions Committee since its inception and soon acquired a reputation at the hands of the Argus as the 'Labour Dean'. In fact his main concern, as in his defence of Fr Barclay and his vehement efforts on behalf of striking police in 1923, was to ensure that individuals and causes be judged on the merits of their case and not on the distortions and prejudices of their opponents.

Hart was elected bishop of Wangaratta in 1927, being consecrated on 29 June. The diocese was small and rural and, though he ministered faithfully as pastor and teacher, his gifts were clearly appropriate to a wider sphere. Thus, in General Synod he succeeded Bishop G. M. Long of Bathurst as leader of the movement to secure constitutional authority for the Church of England in Australia. In 1932, at the special Constitutional Convention, Hart, though a leading Anglo-Catholic, succeeded in gaining the confidence and adherence of the diocese of Sydney, only to have his draft rejected by the diocese of Brisbane. At the time he was described as 'a little man in spectacles', with 'a mild manner, a certain whimsical humour—and a mind like a knife'. But Hart's brusque and distant manner and thin piping voice precluded a wide or easy popularity and, contrary to expectations, he was not translated to a larger diocese.

His literary output was considerable, including in addition to articles, sermons and pamphlets, his two Moorhouse lecture series—Spiritual Sacrifice (1915) and The Gospel Foundations (1928)—and A Companion to St John's Gospel (1952).

Hart's wife died in August 1942, and in December he retired to Glen Iris where he died on 29 May 1952, survived by one son. He was buried in St Kilda cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • T. B. McCall, The Life and Letters of John Stephen Hart (Syd, 1963)
  • Trinity College, University of Melbourne Archives.

Related Thematic Essay

Citation details

B. H. Reddrop, 'Hart, John Stephen (1866–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 15 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

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