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Stretch, John Francis (Jack) (1855–1919)

by K. J. Cable

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

John Francis (Jack) Stretch (1855-1919), Anglican bishop, was born on 28 January 1855 at Geelong, Victoria, eldest son of Rev. John Cliffe Theodore Stretch and his wife Frances, née Heath, both English born. John senior, himself a clergyman's son, had reached Victoria in the Blackwall in 1853 and joined his elder brother Rev. Theodore Stretch. John Francis belonged to an important clerical family and was influenced by his energetic uncle, a founder of the diocese of Ballarat.

Educated at Geelong Church of England Grammar School, Stretch proceeded to Trinity College, University of Melbourne (B.A., 1874; LL.B., 1887), and worked in the Office of Titles. Abandoning ideas of the Bar, he was made deacon on 22 December 1878 and ordained priest on 21 December 1879 by Bishop James Moorhouse of Melbourne. Stretch was one of several young Australians who responded to the new bishop's liberal theology and constructive approach to the problems of colonial society; they were to become the first generation of locally-trained Church leaders.

After serving as curate and locum tenens at Geelong, St Kilda and Brighton, Stretch was incumbent of Maldon (1883-85). Ethel ('Henry Handel') Richardson in Myself When Young (1948) described the tall and slender Jack Stretch: 'the features were classic and exquisitely modelled, but redeemed from severity by a pair of laughing dark-blue eyes and a fascinatingly cleft chin'. Knowledgeable about horses, at Maldon he 'was mostly to be seen flying about in his light, two-wheeled buggy'. On 7 January 1885 at St Paul's Church, Geelong, Stretch married Amelia Margaret Weekes (d.1914).

After incumbencies at Fitzroy (1885-92) and Brighton (1892-94), in 1894 he moved to the diocese of Ballarat as dean. Next year he was made assistant bishop (from 1896 coadjutor) of Brisbane. With Henry Cooper, Stretch was consecrated by the primate, Bishop William Saumarez Smith, on 1 November 1895; Cooper's appointment to a similar position at Ballarat would have overshadowed Stretch's continuation there as dean.

The 'first Australian, born and bred, to become a member of the episcopal bench in Australia', Stretch was proud of his achievement. He aided Bishop William Webber in a vigorous expansion programme in Brisbane; in 1897 he visited Britain for the Pan-Anglican Congress and was awarded an honorary D.D. by the University of Oxford. As rector of Roma, archdeacon of the Western Downs and residentiary canon of the cathedral, he played a key role in the diocese, but the failure of the Peattie fund to provide an adequate stipend led him to move to Newcastle, New South Wales, as suffragan bishop and dean in 1900.

Bishop Augustus Stanton, scholarly and retiring, lived at Morpeth, leaving Stretch to attend to the industrial region around the see city. He did so with energy. It was almost a matter of course that (despite some conservative opposition) he was elected bishop on 21 February 1906 after Stanton's death. Stretch made the diocese Newcastle-centred: he moved his official residence and the registry from Morpeth and pushed on with the construction of Christ Church Cathedral, a process long impeded by architectural problems and by the personal animosities generated by Horbury Hunt and Dean Arthur Selwyn. Parish life in the rapidly expanding Newcastle area received a major impetus, the number of clergy increased from forty-five to seventy and the bishop organized the diocesan finances on a sound basis. Bishop Francis Wentworth-Sheilds of Armidale found Stretch 'deliciously human and deliciously humorous', 'the most genial and entertaining of hosts'.

As much an Imperialist as his episcopal colleagues, Stretch nevertheless maintained an independent attitude to the industrial disputes that plagued his diocese and to the issues raised by the conscription referenda (three of his sons, of whom Thomas was killed in action, served with the Australian Imperial Force). Stretch published little, but his short, pungent, practical addresses received widespread recognition. Believing that there was a model for an Australian bishop—a socially conscious leader who would be pragmatic and yet expound a clear spiritual message—he did his best to realize this role.

In failing health Stretch resigned his see early in 1919 and died of a cerebral haemorrhage at Killara, Sydney, on 19 April; he was buried in Sandgate cemetery, Newcastle; two daughters and four sons survived him. Two of his sons, John Carlos William (1885-1967) and Cliffe Maurice Osmond (1889-1939), were Anglican clergymen.

Select Bibliography

  • A. P. Elkin, The Diocese of Newcastle (Syd, 1955)
  • Geelong Church of England Grammar School, Grammar School Quarterly, Dec 1895, p 24, and Corian, May 1919, p 38
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 21 Apr 1919
  • Newcastle Sun, 21 Apr 1919
  • Newcastle Morning Herald, 21, 22 Apr 1919, 19 Dec 1939
  • Church Standard, 25 Apr 1919, 22 Dec 1939
  • Australian Church Record, 4 Jan 1940
  • Stretch papers (University of Newcastle Archives).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

K. J. Cable, 'Stretch, John Francis (Jack) (1855–1919)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/stretch-john-francis-jack-8699/text15223, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 1 October 2014.

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

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