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Robert Allwood (1803–1891)

by K. J. Cable

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Robert Allwood, by Montagu Scott, 1870s

Robert Allwood, by Montagu Scott, 1870s

National Library of Australia, 22336687

Robert Allwood (1803-1891), Church of England clergyman, was born on 24 September 1803 at Kingston, Jamaica, the son of Robert Allwood, chief justice. He went to Eton and matriculated at Cambridge in Michaelmas term 1821. He had been entered as pensioner at Gonville and Caius in February and became a foundation scholar (B.A., 1825). Although he retained his scholarship until 1828, he was ordained deacon by the bishop of Bath and Wells on 5 November 1826, and appointed to a minor canonry of Bristol. The bishop of Bristol priested him on 12 January 1828, and next year he became curate of Dowry Square chapel, Clifton; in 1834-35 he served as chaplain to the mayor of Bristol. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel began recruiting graduate clergy for the new diocese of Australia and in June 1839 Allwood was accepted. In May 1835 he had married Anna Rebecca (b. 2 August 1813), daughter of Joseph Bush of Martinique. They sailed in the Kinnear in July 1839 and reached Sydney in December.  

In January 1840 Allwood was appointed to the incumbency of St James's Church, King Street, where he remained until he retired in 1884. His devotion to the parish, combined with his indifferent health and personal humility, prompted him to decline at various times to be considered for the new sees of Melbourne and Newcastle or as William Grant Broughton's successor at Sydney. St James's was already the principal church in Sydney and served as the pro-cathedral until 1843. It was the 'carriage parade' church, and counted many important officials and citizens among its members. Allwood, with his good education and social standing, and his long experience in a fashionable Bristol parish, was well equipped to minister to such a congregation. His tact and diplomatic skill were necessary when his influential laymen sometimes took an independent line in church affairs. Allwood himself was never a meek conformist, but his individualism was tempered by loyalty to his diocese and a reluctance to carry matters to extremes. He was an incisive and thoughtful preacher, and his pulpit became a powerful influence on churchmen of his time. Despite its conventional interior arrangements, box pews, large galleries, tall pulpit and small Holy Table, St James's was not a mere preaching-box. Allwood had been influenced by the Oxford movement and maintained his interest in the Tracts for the Times. With Broughton's support he introduced choral and week-day services and more frequent Communions. This meant a greater emphasis upon sacramental worship, as well as the more elaborate order of service which befitted an important city church. Allwood's liturgical policy was 'advanced' for the 1840s but made few concessions to the ritualism of a later day. He remained essentially an academic High Churchman. From 1855 the episcopate of Dr Barker meant a new emphasis on Evangelicalism. Allwood and his parish lost some official favour at first, but the moderation of the minister and the importance of the congregation kept St James's in a prominent position.

Allwood maintained a vigorous ministry to the convict and immigrants' barracks, the hospitals and other institutions in his district. He trained a succession of able curates, and his own precise and orderly methods enabled him to achieve a great amount of pastoral work. He played a major part in the affairs of the diocese. He had soon become Broughton's trusted adviser on ecclesiastical and public matters; they had similar views on the significance of the Tractarian movement. In 1843 he defended the position of the Church of England in relation to Roman Catholicism in Lectures on the Papal Claim of Jurisdiction. In 1848 he took part in a controversy with several Anglican clergymen who had seceded to Rome, and this was followed by articles in a new and vigorous learned journal, the Guardian. Meanwhile, as an authority on church law, Allwood became important in the long controversies which led finally to the setting up of synodical government in 1866. His opinions on the extent of the laity's participation in a church legislature were in advance of the bishop's, but he came to support Broughton's policy in 1852 in the face of well-organized lay opposition. Allwood visited England in 1853 to encourage action on local church government, but the whole question was remitted to the colonies. He helped to draft bills for submission to the New South Wales parliament, although he differed from Bishop Barker on the need for the 'legislative enactment' as against the 'consensual compact' basis for church administration. The compromise form adopted in 1866 was a justification of Allwood's common-sense analysis of the situation. It was typical of Allwood's character and his position in the diocese to favour an independent attitude, but to support official policy in the interests of peace. Similarly, he had reservations about the Church Society with its home mission and quasi-representative organization, yet he gave it his support and his services as secretary. In 1876 he became chancellor of the diocese and held office for eight years, during which much was done in the ordering of synod procedure and the administration of church property.

Allwood's main interest was education. He defended his church's policy before the select committee of 1844. His parish school, one of the largest in the colony, became the model school for the training of Anglican denominational teachers, and Allwood acted as an examiner. He was in close touch with St James's Grammar School (1838-57), a diocesan foundation but conducted within the parish. In 1845 St James's College was set up, primarily to train candidates for the ministry. Allwood was appointed principal and conducted much of the teaching, first at his church and, from 1847, at Lyndhurst, Glebe. He was an able and devoted principal, but charges of Tractarian influence made the college unpopular with some of the clergy and laity and it closed in 1849, the year before the University of Sydney was founded. Allwood's attitude to the university was less hostile than that of the bishops. He made a moderate defence of it in 1852 and supported the compromise proposal for affiliated colleges. In 1855 he was elected a fellow of St Paul's College, whose classes were held initially at his church. In the same year he became the first Anglican cleric to be a member of the university senate and served as vice-chancellor in 1869-82.

In the early 1880s the parish, in difficulties through the loss of its resident population, had to adjust to a new role as a city church. The school had been closed and the church needed repair, but was threatened with resumption. Allwood was too old to lead a revival and resigned his cure in 1884 after a ministry of forty-four years. His wife died on 3 April 1890 and he died at Woollahra, Sydney, on 27 October 1891.

Apart from his lectures on Papal jurisdiction, Allwood published several sermons and addresses. Portraits are at St James's Church and the University of Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • F. T. Whitington, William Grant Broughton (Syd, 1936)
  • K. J. Cable, ‘St James' Church, Sydney’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 50, part 4, Oct 1964, pp 241-61, 'Part 2', vol 50, part 5, Nov 1964, pp 346-74 and 'Part 3', vol 50, part 6, Dec 1964, pp 433-52
  • minutes of trustees and wardens (St James' Church, Sydney).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

K. J. Cable, 'Allwood, Robert (1803–1891)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 28 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Robert Allwood, by Montagu Scott, 1870s

Robert Allwood, by Montagu Scott, 1870s

National Library of Australia, 22336687

Life Summary [details]


24 September, 1803
Kingston, Jamaica


27 October, 1891 (aged 88)
Woollahra, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

general debility

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Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

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