Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William James Gunther (1839–1918)

by K. J. Cable

This article was published:

William James Gunther (1839-1918), Anglican clergyman, was born on 28 May 1839 at Wellington, New South Wales, son of Rev. James William Gunther and his wife Lydia, née Paris. His father, a German-born missionary, had a long and distinguished career in the Mudgee district and was an archdeacon of the diocese of Bathurst when he died in 1880. In 1852-57 William was educated at The King's School, Parramatta, where he won three scholarships, and at Queen's College, Oxford (B.A., 1862; M.A., 1865). He was made deacon in 1863 by the bishop of Chester, ordained priest by the bishop of Lichfield in 1864 and Bishop Frederic Barker secured him a curacy at Stapenhill, Derbyshire. In 1865 Gunther returned to Sydney and on 1 January 1866 was licensed as curate of St Philip's Church, where he won Barker's commendation. In 1868-1909 he was incumbent of the old and important parish of St John, Parramatta. In 1868 he joined the committee of management which aided George Macarthur in reviving The King's School. Later he helped to associate the school with the diocesan synod, and remained on its council and other school committees for many years. When the local denominational school closed, he converted it into St John's Grammar School and prepared pupils for entry to The King's School. From 1883 he was a fellow of St Paul's College, University of Sydney.

Gunther's activity in education was a part of his involvement in the affairs of the diocese. He had become an episcopal examining chaplain in 1868 and rural dean of Parramatta in 1870. In 1875 he was secretary of the provincial synod and in 1877 was made a canon of St Andrew's Cathedral; meanwhile he became an active member of many diocesan organizations. In the episcopate of Bishop Saumarez Smith, his responsibilities grew heavier. He delivered the presidential address to the 1897 synod and when Rev. William Cowper died in 1902 declined the offer of the deanery, as he had of two country bishoprics. He became vicar-general and commissary, the principal clergyman of the diocese and an important figure in provincial and general synods. A firm Evangelical, he did his best to moderate the bitter party feelings in Archbishop Smith's last years. When he presided over the synod which in 1909 chose J. C. Wright as Smith's successor, Gunther was able to avoid the confusion and disorder which had marked earlier elections. He left Parramatta in 1910 but retained his extraparochial appointments until 1916 when, having administered the diocese five times in twenty years, he resigned. Aged 79 he died on 16 June 1918 and was buried in the Anglican cemetery, Parramatta. He was survived by his wife Mary Jane, née Willis, whom he had married on 7 July 1868, and by three sons and two daughters.

In addition to his administrative duties and membership of a wide variety of religious bodies, Gunther was a prominent ecclesiastical historian. He wrote pamphlets and articles on St John's Church, The King's School, Samuel Marsden and early Australian church history. His results were sometimes uncritical but he did invaluable work in preserving old books and records. He was president of the (Royal) Australian Historical Society in 1906 and began the systematic study of Sydney's Anglican history.

Select Bibliography

  • S. M. Johnstone, The History of The King's School, Parramatta (Syd, 1932)
  • Church Standard (Sydney), 21 June 1918
  • Votes & Proceedings, Synod 1897, 1909, 1917, 1918 (Sydney Diocesan Registry).

Citation details

K. J. Cable, 'Gunther, William James (1839–1918)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 16 July 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]


28 May, 1839
Wellington, New South Wales, Australia


16 June, 1918 (aged 79)
Parramatta, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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.