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Sharp, Gerald (1865–1933)

by George P. Shaw

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Gerald Sharp (1865-1933), missionary and archbishop, was born on 27 October 1865, at Childer Thornton, Cheshire, England, son of Thomas Sharp, merchant, and his wife, Mary Anne, née Lillee. Educated at Manchester Grammar School, St John's College, Cambridge (B.A., 1886; M.A., 1910; D.D., 1914) and Lincoln Theological College (1888-89), he was made deacon in 1889 and ordained priest in 1890. Sharp was curate at Taunton, Somerset (1889-93), and Hammersmith, London (1893-98), and vicar of Whitkirk, Leeds, Yorkshire (1898-1910).

He was consecrated bishop of New Guinea on 25 April 1910 in Brisbane, ending a two-year interregnum in episcopal administration. Although he endorsed the hope of his predecessor Stone-Wigg of developing a 'National Church, manned by a Native Ministry, and self-supporting', he undermined any prospect of diocesan self-sufficiency by abandoning mission plantations because they involved the alienation of native lands. Sharp curbed missionary eccentricity by introducing 'Rules and Methods of the Diocese of New Guinea', and extended native education and medical missions. He challenged the exploitative practices of white-settler commercial penetration and land alienation, and generally supported (Sir) Hubert Murray's administration. With no original instinct for missionary work, Sharp relied on the advice of Rev. Henry Newton, to whom he left a mission 'where trading was forbidden and where all lived in a state of pinching poverty'.

In November 1921 Sharp became second archbishop of Brisbane. Primarily a pastor with a deep spirituality and an Anglo-Catholic love of ritual, Sharp was shaped by Tractarian piety, especially Keble's Christian Year, rather than by intellectual debate. He elevated character above intellect and thereby consolidated the formation of a non-theological Australian clergy. Believing the uniformity of public worship in the Book of Common Prayer prevented diversity from degenerating into divisiveness, he deplored alternative forms of worship in the revised Prayer Book of 1928. 'There must be in essentials unity, in non-essentials diversity, in all things charity'. Sharp closely associated Christianity with morality and propriety. He criticized gambling, but refused to join any anti-gambling organization; he deplored drunkenness, but opposed the 1923 referendum on prohibition; he disapproved of organized Sunday sport but refused to support the Sabbatarian cause. He condemned beauty competitions as 'absolutely abhorrent to every considering Christian man and woman'. He deplored Australian priests' avoidance of service in the Bush Brotherhoods which he believed to be 'the most attractive and valuable work in the diocese'.

Sharp's strength was his sanctified ordinariness to which it was difficult to take exception. Apart from his advocacy of Australian church autonomy and a sustained, but forlorn, effort to rouse interest in the reunion of Christendom, Sharp's success was in doing well what was ordinarily expected of a diocesan bishop.

A member of the Senate of the University of Queensland (1923), which had conferred on him an honorary M.A. (1922), Sharp was president of the Royal Geographical Society of Queensland and the Brisbane branch of the League of Nations Union. During the Depression he surrendered one-quarter of his salary. On 30 August 1933 he died in office in Brisbane of renal failure. A bachelor and a relatively poor man, he was buried in Toowong cemetery. His Roman Catholic counterpart, Archbishop (Sir) James Duhig, considered Sharp 'the most lovable man I knew'.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Wetherell, Reluctant Mission (Brisb, 1977)
  • Church of England, Diocese of Brisbane, Church Chronicle, 1910, 1920-1934 and Year Book, 1922-34
  • Brisbane Courier, 26 Apr 1910, 17 Nov 1923, 31 Aug 1933
  • Queenslander, 7 Sept 1933
  • K. Rayner, The History of the Church of England in Queensland (Ph.D. thesis, University of Queensland, 1962).

Citation details

George P. Shaw, 'Sharp, Gerald (1865–1933)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/sharp-gerald-8401/text14753, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 2 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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