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Herbert Edward Elton Hayes (1882–1960)

by D. C. Lewis

This article was published:

Herbert Edward Elton Hayes (1882-1960), Anglican clergyman and heretic, was born on 31 October 1882 at Greenhithe, Kent, England, son of George Herbert Hayes, carpenter, and his wife Eliza Ann, née Jenkins. Herbert was educated at a local Church of England school and at a Nonconformist academy. After five years in the militia, he transferred to the regular army in 1904. When he baulked at military discipline he was sent to Dublin; there he came under the influence of a Protestant mission to Catholics. Quitting the army, Hayes began Baptist theological training at Harley College in 1907, but resigned without completing the course. In 1910 he joined the Egypt General Mission in Cairo; while a genuine missionary, he also acted as an observer for British military intelligence. On furlough in England at the outbreak of World War I, he was called up and served on the Western Front with the Army Ordnance Corps, rising to acting lance sergeant.

During the last years of the war a close association with Rev. P. B. 'Tubby' Clayton—founder of the Toc H movement—led Hayes to change his allegiance to the Church of England. At the war's end he entered Knutsford Ordination Test School. Made deacon in 1919 and ordained priest on 19 December 1920, he returned to Egypt with the Church Missionary Society and took charge of the church and school at Menouf, near Cairo, where he also resumed his undercover work as a political agent. On 15 June 1923 at the British consulate, Cairo, he married Kathleen Blanche Gawler, an Australian-born nurse from the C.M.S. hospital at Menouf. He followed her to her homeland, working his passage as a welfare superintendent in an emigrant vessel.

Commissioned by Clayton to begin the Toc H movement in Australia, Hayes was an enthusiastic, good-humoured and indefatigable promoter of the cause. As first national padre, he travelled throughout the Commonwealth to promote the movement. The Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia offered him office accommodation in Anzac House, Melbourne. In 1926 his support of British ex-servicemen who were alleging discrimination against them by the R.S.& S.I.L.A. so angered that body that he was forced to move his office to Swanston Street. That year the Toc H leadership was appalled to learn that he had taken part in an intercommunion service with Baptist members.

While Hayes spent leave in England, Egypt and Palestine, Clayton's close associate Rev. Pat Leonard was sent to Australia to take over as national padre. On Hayes's return in 1927, Archbishop Lees offered him the new parish of Mernda where Hayes proceeded with an unconventional ministry, hectoring the authorities and his congregation. Always a compulsive 'scribbler', he wrote under various aliases for Smith's Weekly, the Bulletin, Argus and Herald, as well as publishing at his own expense a dozen or so pamphlets and several small books of verse that included material lightheartedly attacking episcopacy, proposing nudity and advancing pro-feminist views.

Those who sought a pretext for his dismissal found it in the Christmas number of Labor Call in 1934, in which Hayes described Jesus as an illegitimate child whose mother's honour had been saved by Joseph. Finding the article immoral, heretical and blasphemous, Archbishop Head wrote to Hayes asking for an immediate recantation. Hayes refused and was suspended from his duties on 27 April 1935. He faced an ecclesiastical tribunal on 4 June on charges of false doctrine and conduct disgraceful to a clergyman. Emotionally disturbed but unprepared to recant, he was granted an adjournment during which he visited England. Throughout 1935 the case attracted widespread national interest. In December he was found guilty, but, because ecclesiastical courts had no civil jurisdiction in Australia, he could not be compelled to resign. The diocesan authorities dissolved the parish and the vicarage was offered for sale. Mrs Hayes anonymously purchased it.

A short, stocky, sandy-haired man, balding as he aged and 'full of fight and poetry', Hayes continued to conduct services in the empty and decaying wooden church of St Stephen, supported by his wife who bred Irish terriers and did embroidery. He long hoped for reinstatement. Believing himself a 'scapegoat', he attacked his trial in a lengthy pamphlet, God's Priceless Mountebank (1935), which confirmed the view of his detractors that he was naive and intemperate, and an embarrassment. Increasingly eccentric and surrounded by a large collection of Egyptian antiquities, he continued his association with Freemasonry and developed an interest in numismatics and the occult. He died on 13 October 1960 at Fairfield and was cremated; his wife survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • People (Sydney), 2 July 1952
  • Smith's Weekly (Sydney), 10 Oct 1931
  • Labor Call, 20 Dec 1934
  • Argus (Melbourne), 25 Feb, 29 Apr, 5 June, 12, 24 Dec 1935
  • Herald (Melbourne), 28 Feb, 23, 24, 27 Dec 1935, 3 Apr 1936
  • Hayes papers (National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

D. C. Lewis, 'Hayes, Herbert Edward Elton (1882–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 13 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


31 October, 1882
Greenhithe, Kent, England


13 October, 1960 (aged 77)
Fairfield, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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