Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Coles Child (1817–1898)

by A. P. Elkin

This article was published:

Coles Child (1817-1898), clergyman, was born on 22 November 1817 in London, son of William Knox Child (1793-1874) and his wife Elizabeth, née Harris. He was educated at Merchant Taylors' School and at St John's College, Cambridge (B.A., 1840; M.A., 1883). He left England with his parents, a brother and three sisters on 8 March 1840. His father, sometime deputy-lieutenant of Kent and inspecting director of the London and County Bank, had sold his estate at Denton Court, Gravesend, and invested £20,000 in machinery which he brought to Sydney with a number of carefully chosen emigrants under the bounty system; he settled in Sydney and was appointed a magistrate in 1841. With his son Coles and the Kembles he had formed the Australian Sugar Co. They bought sixty acres (24 ha) at Canterbury, but after disagreements between the founders the company was reconstituted in 1842 as the Australasian Sugar Co. As difficulties remained, the Childs sold their interests to Edward Knox in 1843 and left Sydney. W. K. Child bought the Mount Vincent estate near Kurri Kurri, and worked it with the help of his sons. At his request Bishop William Grant Broughton arranged for Rev. R. T. Bolton of Hexham to visit Mount Vincent one Sunday each month; on other Sundays W. K. Child took the services himself, in his house until a slab church was built by him and another settler in 1848. For about ten years he also served on the committee of the Newcastle Diocesan Church Society founded in 1851.

Coles Child offered himself as a candidate for the ministry soon after the arrival of the first bishop of Newcastle, Dr William Tyrrell, in January 1848. He read for orders with Rev. R. G. Boodle, M.A., chaplain to the bishop and incumbent of Muswellbrook parish. He was made deacon in St James's Church, Morpeth, on Trinity Sunday 1849, and appointed to the Clarence and Richmond district on the north coast with Grafton as headquarters, to take the place of the pioneer clergyman, John McConnell, who after five years there had left in ill health.

Coles Child was ordained priest in September 1850, and stayed in the district until February 1853. A few extant letters to his sisters describe the routes followed on his assiduous travels through the parish, and the primitive nature of the country; they also refer to families and stations still known or remembered (A. P. Elkin, The Diocese of Newcastle, Sydney, 1955, 426-31). Child arranged to buy land in Grafton for building a four-roomed slab cottage as a parsonage. Services were held in the small court-house at North Grafton and in South Grafton in a makeshift building; at that time the total population of both centres was 150 adults and 144 children. In 1853 he was appointed to Scone in succession to Rev. John Morse, M.A., who had died in 1852 and whose daughter, Mary Ann Susan, Child married in 1853. The parish included the Upper Hunter and its tributaries and crossed the Liverpool Range. The northern part with its centre at Murrurundi became a separate parish in 1857. Child also developed the centres which in 1884 became the parish of Gundy. In 1870 he was moved to Morpeth. There he paid special attention to church buildings in the township and in the outside centres of Woodville and Hinton, and to the work of church schools until these gave way to state schools in the 1870s. He retired from Morpeth in 1886 to live in Petersham.

Child's main contribution was in the field of diocesan organization. Appointed a canon of the Newcastle pro-Cathedral in 1866, he became the senior clergyman in ecclesiastical rank. At Morpeth, the diocesan headquarters, his administrative and financial talents were used fully on synod committees, as the bishop's constant adviser and examining chaplain and later as first archdeacon and vicar-general of the diocese. His contemporaries long referred to him as 'the walking Diocesan reference' and as 'the Canon who guards the Diocesan stock' and 'bears the battle shock of Diocesan worry and care'. He became archdeacon only three months before Tyrrell's death on 27 December 1878. In May, however, when the bishop was absent through illness, Child had presided as commissary over the synod, and after the bishop's death he took the necessary steps for the election of a new bishop under the diocese's own ordinances. The election of Dr Josiah Pearson took place at a special session of synod on 3-4 September 1879. This was the first election of a bishop by an Australian synod. Significantly the new bishop did not receive his authority from the Crown but directly from the diocese and the constitutions of the Church in Australia as accepted by the General and Diocesan Synods. The Queen simply authorized the archbishop of Canterbury to consecrate Pearson a bishop, 'to the intent that he should exercise his functions in one of Our possessions abroad'.

As senior executor of Bishop Tyrrell's will, on which the financial stability of the diocese largely depended, Archdeacon (emeritus) Child continued in his retirement to advise the diocese on financial and institutional problems. He died in Sydney on 20 August 1898 and was buried in the churchyard of St James's Church, Morpeth. He was survived by his wife and by four of their six children.

Select Bibliography

  • A. P. Elkin, Morpeth and I (Syd, 1937)
  • Report of the Vicar-General During the Vacancy of the See of Newcastle to the Second Bishop of Newcastle, 30 Sept 1880 (manuscript, held by author)
  • John Dunmore Lang papers, box 6 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Selwyn papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • CO 201/296-300, 316-26, 331-36.

Citation details

A. P. Elkin, 'Child, Coles (1817–1898)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 26 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


22 November, 1817
London, Middlesex, England


20 August, 1898 (aged 80)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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