Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Thomas, Arthur Nutter (1869–1954)

by Lionel E. W. Renfrey

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

Arthur Nutter Thomas (1869-1954), by unknown photographer, c1900

Arthur Nutter Thomas (1869-1954), by unknown photographer, c1900

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 18592

Arthur Nutter Thomas (1869-1954), Anglican bishop, was born on 11 December 1869 at Hackney, London, second child and first son of Charles James Thomas, feather merchant, and his wife Mary Matilda, née Nutter. Arthur was educated at St John's Grammar School, Hackney, and Oundle school (1884-88). At Pembroke College, University of Cambridge (B.A., 1893; M.A., 1895; D.D., 1906), he gained a first in the classical tripos (1891) and won the Jeremie Septuagint (1892) and Carus Greek Testament (1893) prizes; he was also an active sportsman. After a year in Wells Theological College, he was made deacon in 1894 by the bishop of Wakefield and ordained priest on 9 June 1895. Thomas was domestic chaplain to the archbishop of York in 1895-99, assistant curate at Leeds in 1899-1901 and rector of Guisborough in 1901-06. He married Mary Theodora Lewis (d.1941) at the parish church of St Peter, Upper Gornal, Staffordshire, on 1 June 1904.

Elected bishop of Adelaide (in succession to J. R. Harmer) by a panel of selectors in England, Thomas was consecrated in Westminster Abbey on 2 February 1906. He arrived with his wife in South Australia on 2 April and was enthroned in St Peter's Cathedral two days later; his episcopate was to span 34 years and 179 days, the longest, to then, of any Anglican in Australia. The diocese covered the whole State so that, in addition to the tasks of administration in Adelaide, the bishop had to do much travelling. He had a strong frame and tackled his work with vigour. Although he appeared reserved and undemonstrative to many, none doubted his unsparing devotion to duty. After assessing his diocese, Thomas recognized the need for more episcopal oversight. At first he hoped for an assistant bishop, but synod pressed for dividing the area of his responsibility: the diocese of Willochra, covering the vast northern area of the State, was founded in 1915.

The years 1911-22 were marked by Thomas's attempts to deal with a ritual controversy. Canon P. W. C. Wise of Goodwood, who had been his contemporary at Cambridge, was the central figure in the catholic revival in South Australia. Thomas issued a public admonition to Wise in 1919 and charged him in the ecclesiastical courts with breach of ritual. The case came to nothing and Wise continued at Goodwood, but there remained considerable bitterness in the diocese and Thomas was saddened by his inability to heal the breach.

Deeply interested in education, Thomas played a leading part in founding Woodlands Church of England Girls' Grammar School at Glenelg in 1923 and St Mark's College, affiliated with the University of Adelaide, in 1925. On political and social issues his outlook was conservative. In the Depression his public statements on unemployment and economic policy created controversy and aroused the indignation of members of the labour movement. In religious matters he was cautiously innovative, administering his diocese fairly and resolutely. He was a clear rather than an eloquent preacher, and presided over the synod with patience, skill and occasional flashes of humour. During his episcopate St Peter's Cathedral was completed by the addition in 1927 of the choir stalls and bishop's throne, and improvements were made in the grounds. In the 1920s he advocated a wider role for women in church affairs and supported the movement for Christian reunion.

Thomas was tall and stately, with an English manner. His three children were born at Bishop's Court. Both daughters married clergymen, and his son Christopher, a chaplain in the Royal Navy in World War II, became a canon in the diocese of Melbourne. Retiring on 30 September 1940, Thomas lived in North Adelaide. He died there on 10 April 1954 and was cremated; his estate was sworn for probate in South Australia at £20,003. There is a memorial panel in St Peter's Cathedral under his coat of arms, and his portrait by Ivor Hele hangs in Bishop's Court, North Adelaide.

Select Bibliography

  • G. W. Halcombe, The Birth of the Diocese of Willochra (Adel, 1918)
  • P. W. C. Wise, An Appeal of an Australian Priest (Adel, 1920)
  • D. Hilliard, Godliness and Good Order (Adel, 1986)
  • L. E. W. Renfrey, Arthur Nutter Thomas (Adel, 1988)
  • Year Book of the Church of England in the Diocese of Adelaide, 1906-40
  • scrapbooks of A. N. Thomas (privately held).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Lionel E. W. Renfrey, 'Thomas, Arthur Nutter (1869–1954)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/thomas-arthur-nutter-8778/text15389, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 20 December 2014.

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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Arthur Nutter Thomas (1869-1954), by unknown photographer, c1900

Arthur Nutter Thomas (1869-1954), by unknown photographer, c1900

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 18592