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Mathew Blagden Hale (1811–1895)

by A. De Q. Robin

This article was published:

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Mathew Blagden Hale (1811-1895), by unknown photographer

Mathew Blagden Hale (1811-1895), by unknown photographer

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 7005

Mathew Blagden Hale (1811-1895), Anglican bishop, was born on 18 June 1811 at the manor of Alderley, Gloucester, England, son of Robert Hale Blagden Hale and his wife Lady Theodosia Eleanor, youngest daughter of Joseph Bourke, third Earl of Mayo and archbishop of Tuam. His father was a direct descendant of Sir Mathew Hale, lord chief justice of the King's Bench in 1671-76.

Hale was educated at Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucester School and Trinity College, Cambridge (B.A., 1835; M.A., 1838; D.D., 1857). After six months in Lausanne he read theology for a term at Cambridge and was made deacon by the bishop of Gloucester on 5 June 1836 and ordained priest in June 1837. His family dissuaded him from going to the West Indies on missionary service, and in Gloucester he was curate at Tresham with Kilcott in 1836, Wotton-under-Edge in 1838 and permanent curate of Stroud in 1839. In 1840 he married Sophia Clode by whom he had two surviving daughters, Amy and Mary. His wife's and his mother's deaths in 1845 severely affected his health. He resigned from Stroud, was rector of Alderley for a year and then curate of Atworth, living with his father in Wiltshire.

Soon after Augustus Short was consecrated bishop of Adelaide in 1847 he invited Hale to become archdeacon and examining chaplain in South Australia. Eager for missionary work among the Aboriginals, Hale accepted and sailed in the Derwent with his daughters and Short's party. On arrival in December he was given charge of St Matthew's, Kensington, and soon afterwards of St John's, Adelaide. When Short visited the Western Australian section of his diocese in October 1848, Hale went with him and on the Vasse at John Molloy's home found five daughters 'who although being in the most complete seclusion, possess a grace and dignity and ease of manner which would do honour to the most refined society'. At St Mary's, Busselton, on 30 December 1848 Hale married the eldest daughter, Sabina Dunlop.

Hale's observation of work among Aboriginal people in Western Australia spurred his intention to help those in South Australia. In 1850 he persuaded Lieutenant-Governor Sir Henry Young to grant him £200 and a year's rations to found an institution where Aboriginals from Adelaide could receive practical training in isolation from corrupting influences. Boston Island was chosen as the site, but it lacked fresh water, so Hale bought the lease of Poonindie run, twelve miles (19 km) from Port Lincoln, and had it declared a native reserve. There Aboriginal people were brought after schooling in Adelaide to be taught farming and to receive further instruction in Christianity. So successful was the venture that in 1853 Hale took over Pastor C. W. Schurmann's school in Port Lincoln and in exchange for a government grant of £1000 a year he agreed to receive any Aboriginal people sent to Poonindie by the protector of Aborigines. Sharply rising costs in the gold rushes and the failure of the crops in 1854 proved formidable challenges, but once through the first decade the institution managed to become self-supporting. By 1856 the residents at Poonindie had risen from 19 to 62, a total of 110 had been received and the buildings and stock were worth £4700. Many material difficulties had been solved by Hale's personal generosity and by 1860, despite criticism of the high incidence of deaths from lung complaints, the institution had demonstrated the capacities of the Aborigines in useful employment. After his father died in December 1855 Hale returned to England on family business. He visited Western Australia en route and from observations in that colony published The Transportation Question (Cambridge, 1857), advocating 'a Reformatory Colony' instead of 'a Penal Settlement'.

Recommended by Short, Hale was appointed the first bishop of Western Australia and on 25 July 1857 was consecrated at Lambeth by the archbishop of Canterbury and by the bishops of London and Ripon. His episcopate was most notable for his attempts to introduce secondary education. In Perth on 28 June 1858 he opened a boys' college founded on the model of the Collegiate School of St Peter, Adelaide, but seven years elapsed before he could vest the property in trustees and obtain a grant from the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge to reimburse his initial private outlay. Known as 'the Bishop's School', it trained many community leaders but the indifference of the colonists to education and the trustees to management as well as the scarcity of suitable permanent staff combined to defeat his efforts. In 1872 he wrote, 'There is no such thing as convincing the people that education pays. Making their sons messengers on a sheep station pays, and that settles the question … Parents won't use the school so it's no use to keep it struggling on'. The school passed out of church control when the trustees arranged for it to be taken over by governors appointed by the government. Hale's attempt to found a girls' boarding school in 1860 suffered similar lack of response and cost him the return fares of the schoolmistress whom he had brought from England.

As a member of the Board of Education Hale believed that Governor (Sir) Arthur Kennedy's introduction of the Irish National system in government schools was in the interests of the colony. In 1871 he vigorously opposed an attempt to give Roman Catholic schools a separate grant, but later saved sectarian division by proposing state aid for all private schools. Hale wanted the government to treat every denomination alike but would tolerate no state interference in church affairs. When Governor John Hampton interfered with the duties of convict chaplains and attacked Hale for alleged lack of efficient supervision of his clergy, the bishop's representation to the Colonial Office was a major factor in Hampton's recall.

Hale had consulted with his clergy since 1860 and because of the size and isolation of his diocese he appeared to sense no urgency in settling the mode of church government. Just before the meeting in Sydney to found a general synod for the Australian Church in 1872, he introduced synodical government to his diocese, following the constitutional model of consensual compact devised in Adelaide by Bishop Short in 1855. The population of Western Australia rose in 1857-75 from 13,368 to 26,709, while the Anglican clergy increased from 8 to 17 and the number of churches from 14 to 28 with 9 new rectories. Although 59 per cent of the population claimed Anglican allegiance in 1875, more than three-quarters of clerical stipends was paid by the government. Hale's liberality in building the Bishop's House at his own expense was a fine gesture to the diocese struggling in poverty. Constant travelling in his huge diocese had brought on repeated attacks of lumbago and in 1875 when it was suggested that he should succeed Bishop Edward Tufnell in Brisbane Hale protested against 'putting a man of sixty-four in such a position'. Somewhat typically he added, 'Nevertheless as I have always professed to go by duty and not by choice [and] if the bishops should unanimously say that … I should go, I should consider that a sufficient indication of my duty'.

The Australian bishops were unanimous and Hale was installed in Brisbane on 15 December. His concern for the more remote parishes was a feature of his work in Queensland and by 1878 he had arranged the division of his huge diocese, with George Stanton taking charge of North Queensland. Another sign of progress was the increase of clergy; in 1875 he found 25 clergy ministering in the whole colony and in 1885 had 35 in the subdivided diocese of Brisbane. His introduction of a Clergy Widow and Orphan's Fund to the diocese in 1877 showed his concern for the welfare of his priests but his attempts to improve the lot of the Aboriginals and the Chinese had little effect. Hale always struggled against the congregational spirit of a diocese in which established parishes prospered whilst isolated centres were neglected. He tried to create a strong central fund to assist these centres but the response was so meagre that he registered his protest by resigning in 1876. Only after Bishop Frederic Barker intervened and the Diocesan Council promised greater efforts did Hale withdraw the resignation; yet by 1878 only £2200 had been collected, most of it by the bishop's personal efforts and his own private gift of £300. When Barker went to England in 1881, Hale as senior bishop presided over the General Synod of the Church of England in Australia until Alfred Barry was appointed bishop of Sydney and metropolitan bishop of Australia in 1884.

Hale retired in March 1885 and returned to England where he continued to promote the Church's mission to the Australian Aboriginals by his writings. He died at Bristol on 3 April 1895, survived by his second wife and by five sons and three daughters.

Hale was more a missionary than an administrator. He could win the confidence of people in all classes and his generous and paternal disposition earned him the title of 'the good bishop'. Although never profound, he remained a disciplined and serious scholar and his conservative theological views were respected more for their wisdom than for their originality. Compared with contemporaries like Short, Charles Perry and William Tyrrell he lacked nothing in unselfish devotion to duty. His letters after retirement show his continued interest in the development of the Church in Australia while his wide experience in three Australian colonies made him a valued adviser. Hale School in Perth is named to honour his contribution to education in Western Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Burton, Hale School, Perth: The Story of its Foundation and Early Years, 1858-1900 (Perth, 1939)
  • F. Alexander (ed), Four Bishops and their See (Perth, 1957)
  • A. de Q. Robin, ‘Mathew Blagden Hale and the Poonindie Experiment: An Assessment of a Mid-Nineteenth Century Aboriginal Mission Station’, University Studies in History, vol 5, no 2, 1968, pp 34-50
  • Western Mail, 6 Nov 1919, 23 Sept 1925
  • West Australian, 25 July 1936, 8 Jan 1938
  • K. Rayner, The History of the Church of England in Queensland (Ph.D. thesis, University of Queensland, 1962)
  • A. de Q. Robin, The Life of Mathew Blagden Hale (Ph.D. thesis, University of Western Australia, 1971)
  • P. U. Henn, The Perth Episcopate of Bishop M. B. Hale, 1857-75 (State Library of Western Australia)
  • A. Burton (ed), M. B. Hale diary, 1856-75 (State Library of Western Australia)
  • Hale letters, 1848-75 (State Library of New South Wales, Perth Diocesan Registry)
  • Hale papers, 1835-91 (University of Bristol, State Library of New South Wales, National Library of Australia, and State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

A. De Q. Robin, 'Hale, Mathew Blagden (1811–1895)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 18 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

Mathew Blagden Hale (1811-1895), by unknown photographer

Mathew Blagden Hale (1811-1895), by unknown photographer

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 7005

Life Summary [details]


18 June, 1811
Alderly, Gloucestershire, England


3 April, 1895 (aged 83)
Bristol, Gloucestershire, England

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