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Henry Lowther Clarke (1850–1926)

by James Grant

This article was published:

Henry Lowther Clarke (1850-1926), by unknown photographer, c1907

Henry Lowther Clarke (1850-1926), by unknown photographer, c1907

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H90.111/272

Henry Lowther Clarke (1850-1926), Anglican archbishop, was born on 23 November 1850 at Firbank Vicarage, Westmoreland, England, son of the Reverend William Clarke and his wife Sarah, née Lowther. He was educated at home, and at near-by Sedbergh School, and St John's College, Cambridge, graduating B.A. (7th wrangler) 1874 and M.A. 1877.

Clarke was ordained deacon in 1874 and priest in 1875 by Archbishop Thomson of York; he served his title at St John's, Kingston upon Hull, under Canon H. W. Kemp whose daughter, Alice Lovell, he married on 10 August 1876. After two years in Hull he was appointed vicar of Hedon. He went in 1883 to York, first as a housemaster at St Peter's School, then as vicar of St Martin's, Coney Street, beginning an interest in educational administration which he continued when he moved to Dewsbury in 1890. He was appointed an honorary canon of Wakefield Cathedral in 1893, rural dean of Dewsbury in 1898, and vicar and rural dean of Huddersfield in 1901, and elected as proctor for the clergy of Wakefield Diocese in the York Convocation in 1902.

That year Field Flowers Goe, bishop of Melbourne, retired and, for the first time, the Bishopric Election Board determined not to delegate the appointment to an English committee; they sent representatives to England to investigate and Clarke was eventually nominated. His knowledge of Victoria was limited, but he accepted the offer and was consecrated bishop in St Paul's Cathedral, London, on 1 November 1902. He arrived in Melbourne in February 1903 and was installed on 3 March. Following the organization in 1905 of an ecclesiastical province, comprising the five Victorian dioceses, Clarke became archbishop of Melbourne.

The diocese of Melbourne had been reduced in area by the creation of the dioceses of Bendigo, Gippsland and Wangaratta in 1901, but still contained half the population of Victoria. Clarke quickly saw the urgent need to improve the training and conditions of the clergy and the effectiveness of the parishes. St John's College was opened in St Kilda in 1906 under Reginald Stephen to train non-graduate ordinands. Lectures were shared with Trinity College, University of Melbourne; students based on a Clergy House at Fern Tree Gully served the recently settled Dandenong ranges. However, Clark's hopes for a central college were torpedoed in 1910 when a group of evangelical clergy and laity opened Ridley College, and when Alexander Leeper in 1912 restored the teaching of theology at Trinity. Enrolments fell during World War I and St John's closed at the end of 1919. More successful were Clarke's efforts to raise the teaching standard: since the University of Melbourne remained opposed to the granting of degrees in divinity, he persuaded the Victorian parliament in 1910 to establish the Melbourne College of Divinity to examine for and grant degrees.

Clarke had found a variety of arrangements for clergy superannuation. Under pressure from him these were consolidated and in 1906 General Synod established the Australian Clergy Provident Fund, membership of which Clarke made compulsory. Suburban expansion caused a vigorous programme of parochial extension; in 1914 St James' Old Cathedral was moved to West Melbourne and a mission district of St James and St John established.

From Clarke's arrival he urged the adoption of a vigorous educational policy by his diocese. He supported undenominational Bible teaching in schools, and when a referendum on it was defeated in 1905 he backed a voluntary system in state schools. He also strengthened the existing boys' schools at Melbourne and Geelong, and established more secondary schools, especially for girls, and free kindergartens in industrial areas. Enrolments in Anglican schools increased fivefold during his episcopate. As well, the Sunday school system was improved; services to seamen and immigrants begun; the Church of England Men's Society introduced and other organizations encouraged; the Sisters of the Community of the Holy Name were recognized. In 1906 a synod Social Questions Committee was established to focus Anglican concern on community issues.

Clarke's term saw two major controversies. He was pressed to proceed against Ernest Hughes for alleged ritual excesses at St Peter's, Melbourne. Clarke disclaimed any party allegiance himself and in 1906 declined to prohibit Hughes's services and practices 'provided they did not replace the regular Prayer Book rites or contradict its spirit'. In 1907 Canon Clifford Nash, vicar of Christ Church, Geelong, resigned following complaints to the archbishop. Many of his friends and parishioners believed that he had not received justice and Clarke was much criticized for his alleged harshness. In 1909 John Norton made a vicious attack in Truth against 'Clarke the Nark', castigating him as a 'contemptible cowardly conspirator'. Clarke sued Norton and won substantial damages and a public apology. But the incident was damaging both to Clarke and to the Church of England. During the war he gave wholehearted support to recruiting and to the 'Yes' vote in the conscription referenda.

Clarke was tall and handsome in appearance. Beneath a rather blunt north-country manner he concealed considerable shyness and tenderness. He enjoyed a joke against himself, and with family and intimates revealed a softer, even sentimental, side. His style of life was simple and he went to all his engagements by tram or train or bay steamer, carrying his robes in a basket suitcase.

Clarke maintained his scholarly interests, particularly in historical and constitutional fields, throughout his life. His significant publications include Constitutions of the General Provincial and Diocesan Synods of the Church of England in Australia (1918) and Constitutional Church Government in the Dominions Beyond the Seas (1924). He received the honorary degrees of D.D. (Cambridge, 1902; Oxford, 1908; and Melbourne College of Divinity, 1913) and D.C.L. (Durham, 1908).

His wife's sudden death in 1918 affected him greatly and in 1919 he announced that he would retire on his seventieth birthday. He left Melbourne in March 1920, and after attending the Lambeth Conference he settled at Melbourne House, Lymington, Hampshire. He failed rapidly after his housekeeper-daughter's death in 1924 and died at Filkins, Oxfordshire, on 23 June 1926. He was survived by a daughter and two sons, of whom Kemp, a noted theological scholar, was a canon of Chichester Cathedral (1945-68). A portrait by G. A. J. Webb is in the Chapter House of St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Gardiner, Tintern School and Anglican Girls' Education 1877-1977 (Ringwood, 1977)
  • Church of England Messenger (Victoria), 1 July, 7 Oct 1926, 11 Nov 1932
  • Argus (Melbourne), 25, 28 June 1926
  • scrapbook (Trinity College Library, Melbourne)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

James Grant, 'Clarke, Henry Lowther (1850–1926)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Henry Lowther Clarke (1850-1926), by unknown photographer, c1907

Henry Lowther Clarke (1850-1926), by unknown photographer, c1907

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H90.111/272

Life Summary [details]


23 November, 1850
Firbank, Westmorland, England


23 June, 1926 (aged 75)
Filkins, Oxfordshire, England

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