Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Thomas, Richard (1880–1958)

by Bruce Rosier

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

Richard Thomas (1880-1958), by unknown photographer, c1927

Richard Thomas (1880-1958), by unknown photographer, c1927

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 48706

Richard Thomas (1880-1958), Anglican bishop, was born on 24 October 1880 at Lydney, Gloucestershire, England, son of Daniel Thomas, railway clerk, and his wife Jane, née Griffiths. Baptized in 1888 at Glendower Street Congregational Church, Monmouth, Wales, Richard was educated at the Monmouth Grammar School. After working as a railway clerk, he trained for the Anglican ministry at the Society of the Sacred Mission, Kelham, Nottinghamshire, and was placed in the first class in the 1908 universities preliminary theological examination.

Made deacon on 14 June 1908 and ordained priest on 6 June 1909 in Worcester Cathedral, Thomas was assistant curate of St John the Baptist, Coventry, from 1908. He came to Australia in 1914 to serve as a Bush Brother in northern Queensland. A good rider and bushman, he travelled widely in his pastoral role. He was made sub-warden of the Community of St Barnabas in 1923 and archdeacon of North Queensland. Elected second bishop of the outback South Australian diocese of Willochra in succession to Gilbert White, Thomas was consecrated on 6 April 1926 in St Andrew's Cathedral, Sydney, and enthroned at Port Pirie on 21 April.

In constant need of clergy and money, Thomas proposed forming a local Bush Brotherhood in 1926; next year he announced the establishment of the Willochran Association as a British base. He went to Britain regularly, seeking support and recruiting clergy. With rural Australia deep in Depression and Willochra suffering dry years during the 1930s, the Bush Brotherhood of St Stephen (centred at Quorn) closed in 1939. Thomas's failure to appreciate that all business had to be transacted through the synod led to difficulties with his standing committee over clerical appointments and grant payments; it took the committee some years to convince him that he was not free to act without their advice and consent.

He kept the diocese in touch with the wider Church, attended general synod and bishops' meetings, and was awarded a Lambeth D.D. in 1928. A fine, strong preacher, he modelled his style on that of the celebrated English Baptist, C. H. Spurgeon. Thomas was an early exponent of tree-planting and advocated the conservation of native plants and animals. He wrote vigorously to Adelaide newspapers and his regular letters in the Willochran gave vivid accounts of his ministry and teaching.

Although he was loved by people in the bush, Thomas seemed too remote to a number of his clergy. His wide outback pastoral experience and high standards led him to assume that others would cope as well as he did: when they turned to him for support, they could find him distant and unhelpful. In 1954 Bishop Robin of Adelaide notified his intention to resume the Eyre Peninsula; the decision disappointed Thomas who had not been consulted.

Thomas did not marry. En route to Lambeth Conference, he died on 16 April 1958 at Grays Thurrock, Essex, England, and was buried at Cowbridge, Glamorgan, Wales. His estate was sworn for probate at £16,187.

Select Bibliography

  • J. O. Feetham and W. V. Rymer (eds), North Queensland Jubilee Book 1878-1928 (Townsville, 1929)
  • R. A. F. Webb, Brothers in the Sun (Adel, 1978)
  • H. A. J. Witt, Bush Bishop (Adel, 1979)
  • D. Hilliard, Godliness and Good Order (Adel, 1986)
  • Willochran, 55, 1 Jan 1926, 183, 1 July 1958.

Citation details

Bruce Rosier, 'Thomas, Richard (1880–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/thomas-richard-8780/text15393, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 23 October 2014.

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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Richard Thomas (1880-1958), by unknown photographer, c1927

Richard Thomas (1880-1958), by unknown photographer, c1927

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 48706