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Turner, James Francis (1829–1893)

by Keith H. Aubrey

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

James Francis Turner (1829-1893), Anglican bishop, was born at Yarmouth, Norfolk, England, son of Sir George James Turner, a lord justice of appeal in Chancery, and his wife Louisa, née Jones. Educated at Charterhouse in 1838-44, he was apprenticed for four years in an architect's office in London. In 1848 he matriculated at University College, Durham (B.A., 1851; M.A., 1854; D.D., 1868). Made deacon in 1851 and ordained priest in 1853 by Bishop Maltby, Turner was chaplain and censor at Bishop Cosin's Hall in the university in 1852-54. Honorary secretary of the Architectural and Archaeological Society of Durham and Northumberland, he designed the chapel of Bishop Hatfield's Hall. He became curate of Walton, Somerset, in 1857 and was rector of North Tidworth, Wiltshire, from 1858; he was appointed rural dean of Amesbury in 1868.

Turner was nominated to the new see of Grafton and Armidale, New South Wales, and was consecrated in Westminster Abbey on 24 February 1869. With his wife Mary, née Sorsbie, he arrived in Sydney on 13 August in the Commissary and was installed at Armidale on 10 September. His see, equal in area to England and Wales, had a nominal Anglican population of about 25,000 and ten clergymen, mostly itinerant. In forming new parishes and providing new clergy, he found himself hampered by lack of financial aid from any of the British missionary societies. Letters in the Sydney Morning Herald accused him of ritualism before and after his arrival, and he suffered pain when the Irby family of Tenterfield took up the cry and stirred up animosity. He convened the first diocesan synod in May 1873 and in 1881 divided his diocese into two archdeaconries. The decision enabled the Grafton section to deal with some of its own affairs, but the duality expressed in the title of his diocese constituted a major problem throughout his episcopate.

Because of failing health Turner was unable to make extensive visitations in the 1880s, but diocesan growth continued. By 1892 the original ten clergy and parishes had increased to twenty-eight and the number of churches from twenty-one to fifty-eight. St Peter's Cathedral, Armidale (1875) and Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton (1884) owe much to Turner's continuing interest in architecture, his opposition to pretentiousness and regard for 'fitness and goodness' in church building.

Clearly High Church in outlook, Turner insisted on the Catholic rather than the Protestant character of the Church of England, but he was consistent in advocating less party spirit within the Church. Pessimistic on the question of Christian unity, he strongly defended the Church's role and attitude to marriage and outspokenly criticized Sir Alfred Stephen's divorce extension bill of 1887. While he supported the temperance cause he advocated moderation rather than total abstinence. He reaffirmed the traditional standpoint of the Church on education, but in practice was forced to acquiesce in the closure of denominational schools except on a proprietary basis; he urged his clergy to take full advantage of religious instruction in public schools. His Letter to the Members of … the diocese of Grafton and Armidale (1883) was commended by the Church Quarterly Review. He was a vice-president of the English Church Union.

Turner resigned his see in 1892; on his way to England he died, aged 64, in Rome, on 27 April 1893 and was buried there in the English cemetery. Predeceased by his wife in 1879, he left his estate, valued for probate at £1766, to their adopted child Emily Harriett, daughter of Robert Issel Perrott of Haroldston near Armidale. His portrait is in St Peter's Cathedral, Armidale.

Select Bibliography

  • J. T. Fowler, Durham University (Lond, 1904)
  • Durham University Journal, May 1893, 146
  • K. H. Aubrey, The Church of England … in the Diocese of Grafton and Armidale 1867-1892 (M.A. thesis, University of New England, 1964)
  • Bishop Turner letters 1869-73, 1884-92, and Diocesan Synod reports 1873-92 (Diocesan Registry, Armidale)
  • Bishop Turner letters (SPG Archives, Lond)
  • private information.

Citation details

Keith H. Aubrey, 'Turner, James Francis (1829–1893)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/turner-james-francis-4761/text7911, published in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 23 October 2014.

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

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