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Taylor, Robert (1834–1907)

by K. J. Cable

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

Robert Taylor (1834-1907), Anglican clergyman, was born on 30 April 1834 at Brighton, Sussex, England, son of Robert Taylor, contractor, and his wife Elizabeth, née Barnard. Educated at Haileybury College he became a teacher and, after marrying Elizabeth Stevenson in 1854, migrated to Australia. In Sydney he was influenced strongly by Rev. Thomas Smith. After training at Moore Theological College, Liverpool, he was made deacon by Bishop Frederic Barker on 26 June 1859 and became locum tenens for Smith at St Barnabas's Church, George Street West, which had a large working-class congregation; though less demonstrative than Smith, he carried on the same kind of vigorous ministry. Sent later to the rural district of Castle Hill, he was ordained priest on 24 February 1861. In January 1866 he returned to St Stephen's, Newtown, as curate; he became officiating minister in 1868 and incumbent in 1870.

Newtown had many wealthy parishioners but the subdivision of the large estates was providing working-class housing. To replace the overcrowded church-school, Taylor promoted the building of a new St Stephen's within Camperdown cemetery; opened in 1874 it was one of Edmund Blacket's best Gothic churches. Taylor saw the church as comprehending all classes of Anglicans while exemplifying his own strict principles. He held a high proportion of free sittings and planned to meet the cost of £12,700 by freewill donations, but they proved insufficient and land previously granted for a church had to be sold. The enabling legislation was resisted by parishioners whose landed interests made them prefer the old site and who resented his firm direction and uncompromising Evangelicalism. He prevailed in 1873 but his health suffered and he took leave in 1877 in England.

Taylor was impressed by the efforts of English Evangelical churchmen in organizing parochial life and work. He returned to the colony in 1878 determined to invigorate and unify his socially fragmented parish by religion-oriented cultural, charitable and community activities. He justified the programme by a 'holiness' doctrine that stressed Christian leadership. His theology aroused opposition (he was dubbed 'sanctification' Taylor) but his methods provoked emulation in a hitherto conservative diocese. From Newtown came a stream of ordinands and laymen who contributed especially to the 'Bible belt' of the expanding western suburbs: one local organization became the nucleus of the Church Lads' Brigade. When Moore College moved from Liverpool in 1886 to the site of old St Stephen's parsonage, his parish provided practical training for its students and he lent his house at Mount Victoria for its use. In 1884-88 he was also incumbent of the new church built in the working-class district of Erskineville. From work such as Taylor's the concept of modern parochial communal activities emerged.

He published addresses and played a large part in diocesan affairs. Taylor was rural dean of West Sydney, 1884-85, canon of St Andrew's Cathedral, 1891-1907, and served on most synod committees. He was prominent in the Evangelical opposition both to ritualism in the diocese and the emphasis on episcopal authority made by the 1897 Lambeth Conference. His advocacy was rarely strident; he co-operated with the moderate Archbishop Saumarez Smith and, in his later years, was regarded as an elder statesman. His wife died on 19 December 1897 and at Gladesville on 28 December 1898 he married a deaconess Mary Augusta Sophia Schleicher. He died of angina pectoris in St Stephen's rectory on 21 July 1907 and was buried in Randwick cemetery. He was survived by five sons and two daughters of his first wife and by his second wife; his estate was valued for probate at £1161. There are memorials to Taylor in St Andrew's Cathedral and at St Stephen's, where the church hall is named in his memory.

Select Bibliography

  • T. G. Rees, Historic Camperdown (Syd, nd)
  • M. L. Loane, A Centenary History of Moore Theological College (Syd, 1955)
  • M. E. Herman, The Blackets (Syd, 1963)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1872, 2, 727, 1872-73, 3, 239
  • Church of England Historical Society, Journal, 7 (1962), no 3
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 22 July 1907
  • Gledhill collection (Moore College).

Citation details

K. J. Cable, 'Taylor, Robert (1834–1907)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/taylor-robert-4694/text7773, published in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 18 April 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

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