Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Charles Frederick Garnsey (1828–1894)

by K. J. Cable

This article was published:

Charles Frederick Garnsey (1828-1894), Church of England clergyman, was born on 15 November 1828 at Berry Hill, Gloucestershire, England, son of Thomas Rock Garnsey, incumbent of Christ Church, and his wife Elizabeth, née Hare. His father had been a chaplain in Sierra Leone in 1819-21 and was a firm Evangelical.

Charles was educated at Monmouth Grammar School and articled to a solicitor. Impatient with legal work, he migrated in 1848 to Van Diemen's Land armed with family references. He hoped for outdoor occupation to benefit his health but soon won Bishop Francis Nixon's patronage and tutored his children. He was made deacon in 1853 and became Gell fellow in Christ College and then bursar. He preferred teaching and parochial work to administration and resigned from the college in 1855 to teach at the Hutchins School. Failing appointment as a school inspector, he became Nixon's secretary in 1857 and did good work in a difficult time. Next year he moved to Sydney and taught at Rev. W. H. Savigny's new 'collegiate school' at Cook's River.

In 1860 Garnsey set up his own 'collegiate school' at Windsor. The incumbent, Henry Stiles, who had known his father, had reservations about Garnsey's prospects as a headmaster and as his son-in-law, but the school prospered and he married Mary Emma Stiles (d.13 April 1886). Garnsey was ordained priest by Bishop Frederic Barker on 18 December 1864 and assumed a large share of the Windsor work. He became incumbent on Stiles's death in 1867. His cricketing prowess and his heroism in a local fire and flood made him popular and enabled him to renovate the church and extend parochial activity. Garnsey had abandoned his early Evangelicalism and, under Nixon's influence, had become a High Churchman, for which he was criticized by local Dissenters and by a group of earnest Low Churchmen led by the astronomer, John Tebbutt. A series of petty incidents made him anxious to serve in a larger sphere and in 1876 he became Canon Robert Allwood's assistant at St James's, Sydney.

Much of the burden of a famous city church with a declining congregation and an ageing incumbent fell on Garnsey, and in April 1878 he became incumbent of Christ Church St Laurence. An energetic pastor, he founded the Guild of St Laurence, opened a mission room for the slum areas, maintained his large school after the withdrawal of state aid and served in many charitable organizations. A Tractarian for many years, he returned in 1884 from a visit to England a proponent of ritualism and his leadership made Christ Church a centre of the liturgical movement in Sydney. He instituted a daily Eucharist with appropriate vestments, furnishings and music. After experience on the Australian Churchman, he edited the Banner and Anglo-Catholic Review in 1890-92 and helped to found the Churchman on 6 July 1894. He was a member of the Church Union and the Churchman's Institute and a patron of religious sisterhoods. In 1877 he had joined the Royal Society of New South Wales. Although a good scholar Garnsey was not an ecclesiastical antiquarian. A vigorous, practical churchman, he sought to link the sacramentalism of his later years to a positive social gospel. He had little local support but his influence extended beyond the diocesan boundaries.

Garnsey died suddenly on 3 December 1894, survived by four sons and six daughters of his first marriage, and by his second wife Marion Laura, née Walker, whom he had married in 1887. He was buried in Waverley cemetery. A fund was raised for the education of his family and a memorial window placed in Christ Church in July 1895.

Select Bibliography

  • W. P. Carter, The Cathedral of the Hawkesbury: A Sketch of St. Matthew's Windsor (Lithgow, 1961?)
  • L. M. Allen, A History of Christ Church St Laurence Sydney (Syd, 1940)
  • R. Teale, ‘Party or Principle? The Election to the Anglican See of Sydney 1889-90’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol 55, part 2, June 1969, pp 141-55
  • Churchman, 7 July, 6 Dec 1895
  • Garnsey papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Stiles papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • C. F. Garnsey diaries and memoranda (privately held).

Additional Resources

Citation details

K. J. Cable, 'Garnsey, Charles Frederick (1828–1894)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


15 November, 1828
Berry Hill, Gloucestershire, England


3 December, 1894 (aged 66)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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