Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Edwin John Davidson (1899–1958)

by Ruth Teale

This article was published:

Edwin John Davidson (1899-1958), Anglican bishop and publicist, was born on 12 February 1899 at Goulburn, New South Wales, only son of William Andrew Davidson, a native-born storekeeper, and his wife Edith Amy, née Quartly, from London. Edwin was educated at Petersham Superior Public School, passed the junior public examination in 1914 and joined the State taxation department. Encouraged by Bishop A. W. Pain, in 1916 he entered the divinity hostel at Sale, Victoria. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 17 May 1917, fought on the Western Front as a gunner in the 13th Field Artillery Brigade and was discharged in Sydney on 15 June 1919.

In 1920 Davidson enrolled at the University of Sydney (B.A., 1924); he played representative Rugby Union football and was president of the Student Christian Movement. After a year at Moore Theological College and as catechist at Erskineville and Picton, he was made deacon on 19 December 1924 and ordained priest by the archbishop of Sydney on 18 December 1925. He served his curacy at St Clement's, Marrickville. At the invitation of Rev. P. T. B. Clayton, founder of Toc H, he spent 1926-27 in England as a chaplain based at Manchester. Davidson was subsequently Toc H padre for New South Wales (1928-30). He married Doris Evelyn Whatmore on 26 November 1930 at St Thomas's Church, North Sydney. That year he entered the Bathurst diocese where he officiated as curate, canon residentiary of the cathedral (1932), acting-rector of Orange (1934) and rector of Carcoar (1935). In 1936 he became curate to E. H. Lea at St Mark's, Darling Point, Sydney.

His appointment in February 1938 by Archbishop Mowll as the first Australian-born rector of St James's, Sydney, in succession to P. A. Micklem, occasioned a trial of strength between the Anglo-Catholic parishioners and the Evangelical diocese. Davidson's immediate 'simplification' of ritual incited protests from the wardens and worshippers, and culminated in the memorial of fifty clergy to the archbishop in July.

Davidson's eloquence as a preacher, his appreciation of the parish's inner city mission and, above all, his newspaper articles and radio broadcasts, gradually erased memories of the controversy that surrounded his appointment. From early 1942 he wrote frequently for the Sydney Morning Herald on such subjects as 'Faith and Freedom' (1942), 'Japan and Justice' (1945), 'Obstacles to Peace' (1946) and 'Why the Down and Outs?' (1947); he also contributed regularly to its 'Religion and Life' series (1946-58). In August 1948 he resigned as chairman of the Australian-Russian Society and in November criticized ministerial censorship of religious broadcasts. An honorary canon (from 1949) of St Andrew's Cathedral, he chaired the Sydney Diocesan Synod's social problem committee, and belonged to the Rotary Club of Sydney, the State executive of the Australian Board of Missions, the editorial board (1952) of the Anglican and various experimental theatre groups.

In January 1955 Davidson was elected bishop of Gippsland and was consecrated on 29 June at St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne. Survived by his wife and two daughters, he died of cancer on 1 April 1958 at Epworth Private Hospital, Richmond, and was cremated. With G. M. Long, E. H. Burgmann and J. S. Moyes, Davidson represented a line of native-born bishops of country sees who led opinion on national and social issues in a way that contemporary, English-born archbishops never matched in Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • K. J. Cable, St James' Church, Sydney (Syd, 1982)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Sept 1928, 3 Nov 1937, 7, 8, 18 Feb, 27 Aug 1938, 15 July, 5 Aug, 29 Nov 1948, 2 Apr 1958
  • Anglican, 11 Apr 1958.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Ruth Teale, 'Davidson, Edwin John (1899–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 15 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


12 February, 1899
Goulburn, New South Wales, Australia


1 April, 1958 (aged 59)
Richmond, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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