Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Stone-Wigg, Montagu John (1861–1918)

by Diane Langmore

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Montagu John Stone-Wigg (1861-1918), Anglican bishop, was born on 4 October 1861 at Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England, son of John Stone Wigg, gentleman, and his wife Ellen Matilda, née Clements. Montagu's father was stern and forbidding; five of his six children chose to migrate. Educated at Winchester College (1875-80) and University College, Oxford (B.A., 1883; M.A., 1887), Montagu prepared for the Anglican priesthood at Ely Theological College; he was made deacon in 1884 and ordained priest in 1885. He served as curate at St Andrew's, Well Street, London, in 1884-86, and in the mission district of Holy Innocents', Hammersmith, in 1886-89.

Responding to a plea for clergy from Queensland's Bishop William Webber who had been his former vicar at St Andrew's, Stone-Wigg became assistant curate (1889-91), vicar (1891) and canon residentiary and sub-dean (1892-98) at St John's Cathedral where he confessed himself less at home among the 'swells' of Brisbane than among the artisans of Hammersmith. A dedicated Anglo-Catholic, he established a sisterhood in 1892.

In 1898 Stone-Wigg was appointed bishop of the newly established see of New Guinea where an impoverished, understaffed mission had struggled for survival since 1891. Consecrated in St Andrew's Cathedral, Sydney, on 25 January 1898, he was enthroned at Dogura, head-station of the diocese, in May. The Australian Board of Missions transferred responsibility to him for recruiting staff, raising funds and finding his own stipend. He committed his personal inheritance of £10,000 to the diocese.

Stone-Wigg's response to his Papuan flock was scholarly, sympathetic and humane. In 1902 he collaborated with anthropologist Alfred Haddon in a lecture at Cambridge on the similarities between Christianity and Papuan religions, and in 1907 he published The Papuans, a People of the South Pacific. When the Papua bill (1906) threatened the security of Papuan land tenure, Stone-Wigg was in the vanguard of a successful missionary effort to have the offending clause removed.

Although he failed to fulfil his Tractarian ideal of a celibate mission committed to life service, Stone-Wigg inculcated discipline in his priests and lay workers. Ascetic, frugal and devout, he had high expectations of others. If his staff chafed at the uncompromising régime, they relished his humour and admired his outspoken loyalty to the Anglican Church. Tall, handsome and urbane, Stone-Wigg married Elfie Marcia Mort at St John's Church, Gordon, Sydney, on 21 August 1907.

During his episcopacy he extended the mission's traditional activities of preaching, teaching and healing, initiated plantations and industrial work, cleared the mission of debt and gained endowment for the see. These constant demands wrought havoc with a constitution already debilitated by chronic asthma and malaria. Bishop Henry Montgomery remembered Stone-Wigg's 'spare and wasted form' at Anglican synods.

Resigning on medical advice in 1908, Stone-Wigg settled in Sydney, an uncongenial climate for his uncompromising Anglo-Catholicism. There he founded and edited the monthly Church Standard, established a children's home at Burwood and served on the Australian Board of Missions. Increasingly incapacitated, he died at his Burwood home on 16 October 1918 and was buried in St Thomas's churchyard, Enfield. His wife and two young daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Langmore, Missionary Lives (Honolulu, 1989)
  • Australian Christian World (Sydney), 25 Oct 1918
  • Australian Board of Missions, ABM Review, 1 Nov 1918
  • Times (London), 7 Nov 1918
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 26 Jan 1898, 17 Oct 1918
  • Stone-Wigg diaries (New Guinea Collection, University of Papua New Guinea)
  • Stone-Wigg papers (privately held).

Citation details

Diane Langmore, 'Stone-Wigg, Montagu John (1861–1918)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/stone-wigg-montagu-john-8682/text15187, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 31 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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