Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Addis (1844–1917)

by C. R. Badger

This article was published:

William Addis (1844-1917), clergyman, was born on 9 May 1844 in Edinburgh, son of Rev. Thomas Addis—close friend and associate of Thomas Chalmers, founder of the Free Church of Scotland—and his wife Robina Scott, née Thorburn. Educated at Merchiston Castle School, he attended classes at the University of Glasgow in 1859-61 and was awarded the Snell Exhibition in 1862. He matriculated at Balliol College, Oxford, on 12 October 1861, and graduated B.A. with first-class honours in 1866. At Oxford, Addis came under the influence of J. H. Newman and was received into the Roman Catholic Church on 6 October 1866, shortly before his close friend Gerard Manley Hopkins. He joined the Brompton Oratory in October 1868, when he took the name Edward, and was ordained deacon and priest on 20 October 1872. In September 1878 he became priest of a chapel in Lower Sydenham, South London. Elected fellow in mental and moral philosophy in the new Royal University of Ireland in April 1882, he spent six months in Dublin and then returned to Sydenham. In London in 1883, with Thomas Arnold, he published A Catholic Dictionary.

In 1888 Addis suddenly rejected the Roman faith, married a parishioner Mary Rachel Flood on 5 November and accepted appointment as assistant minister to a former classmate at Glasgow, Rev. Charles Strong of the Australian Church, Melbourne. He arrived in Victoria with his wife in the Oroya on 4 January 1889.

From the first Addis did not enjoy a happy association with the increasingly radical Strong. Their theological, political, economic and social views differed widely. Addis's conservatism attracted the wealthier members of the congregation and, unlike Strong, he was fond of ceremony and liturgical worship. He found his position ambiguous and his relationships to Strong, the congregation and the church's committee of management remained undefined. Misunderstandings between the two men widened the rift and produced factions in the church, particularly over the question of renewal of Addis's two-year appointment. At his request but without consulting Strong, the committee of management met to reappoint Addis. Strong did not pursue his disapproval but objected strongly to the decision being taken without his knowledge. In June 1892 Addis told Strong that he would not seek reappointment and in December announced his plans to leave Victoria in the New Year. He was farewelled by the Australian Church on 20 January 1893 and given a purse of sovereigns. Shortly after, he left with his wife and baby daughter for England where he became minister of the Unitarian High Pavement Chapel, Nottingham.

In Melbourne Addis had contributed to the monthly Australian Herald and published Miracles of the Bible: Six Lectures Delivered in the Australian Church (1889) and Lectures on the Trinity and Incarnation … (1893). His translation and arrangement of the Documents of the Hexateuch was published in 1892.

Addis was appointed professor of Old Testament criticism at the Unitarian training institution, Manchester College, Oxford, in 1899. Still teaching there in 1901 he joined the Church of England and officiated as a priest. In 1910 he resigned from the college and was nominated vicar of All Saints, Knightsbridge, London. Retiring in 1916 to Twickenham, he died in hospital there on 20 February 1917 after being knocked down by a motor van. He was survived by one of his two daughters and a son.

Addis was a fine scholar. The one episode in his life which possibly shows him in an unfavourable light is his brief stay in Melbourne. Yet he commanded the loyalty and affection of many adherents of the Australian Church, while failing to work happily with his chief.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Pearson, Bernard Shaw. His Life and Personality (Lond, 1942)
  • C. S. Dessain (ed), The Letters and Diaries of J. H. Newman (Lond, 1961)
  • O. Chadwick, The Victorian Church, part 1 (Lond, 1966)
  • C. R. Badger, The Reverend Charles Strong (Melb, 1971).

Citation details

C. R. Badger, 'Addis, William (1844–1917)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 13 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Addis, Edward

9 May, 1844
Edinburgh, Mid-Lothian, Scotland


20 February, 1917 (aged 72)
Twickenham, London, England

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