Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Frederick Waldegrave Head (1874–1941)

by James Grant

This article was published:

Frederick Waldegrave Head (1874-1941), Anglican archbishop, was born on 18 April 1874 at Tollington Park, London, son of the Reverend George Frederick Head, later canon of Bristol, and his wife Mary Henrietta, née Bolton. He was educated at Alton School, Plymouth, Windlesham House, Brighton, and Repton School, Derbyshire. In 1893 he entered Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and graduated in 1896 (M.A. 1900), with a first class in the historical tripos. He was awarded the Lightfoot and Whewell scholarships and in 1900 was appointed to a junior fellowship at Emmanuel.

Head was ordained deacon in 1902 and priest in 1903 by Bishop Alwyne Compton of Ely; he returned to Emmanuel that year as dean and tutor, and in 1907 was appointed senior tutor and chaplain. As a Cambridge don, Head exercised an important though restricted ministry, known, respected and appreciated within his university and college communities.

In 1915, feeling too old to serve as a chaplain, he volunteered for service in France with the Young Men's Christian Association. However, his effectiveness was such that in 1916 he was appointed to a chaplaincy with the Guards' Division. He finished as senior chaplain and was awarded the Military Cross and Bar.

He resumed his Cambridge appointments in 1919 but in 1922 became vicar of Christ Church, East Greenwich. This was a large working-class parish, very different from a Cambridge college, but Head quickly commended himself by his genuine friendliness. In 1922, also, he was appointed chaplain to King George V and preached regularly at Buckingham Palace and Sandringham. After four hectic years at Greenwich he moved to Liverpool as canon and sub-dean of the cathedral, charged with breathing life into Scott's monumental new edifice. In addition to these ministries, Head served as examining chaplain to the bishops of Southwark and Peterborough, and proctor in the convocations of both Canterbury and York, and lectured in pastoral theology at Cambridge.

In August 1929 he was elected archbishop of Melbourne and accepted, seeing the unexpected invitation as a clear call to serve God. He was consecrated in Westminster Abbey on 1 November and enthroned in Melbourne on 23 December.

Head came to a diocese that was in good heart, that had shared in the expansion of the 1920s, and whose cathedral spires were then being built. But his arrival coincided with the onset of the Depression which crippled parochial work and created immense social problems. Head believed that his diocese's major contribution to recovery lay in strengthening parochial life. By preaching, teaching and visitation, by regular meetings with country bishops and with his own archdeacons and rural deans, and by the appointment of Joseph Booth as the first Melbourne coadjutor bishop in 1934, he strove to equip clergy and parishes for more difficult times. Church societies received his active encouragement, particularly the Boys' Society for its camping programme and the Men's Society for its evangelistic and beach missions. The Brotherhood of St Laurence moved to Melbourne from Newcastle, New South Wales, in 1933 at his invitation, and Reginald Nichols, 'Brother Bill' was strongly supported in his settlement work at St Mark's, Fitzroy. In the referenda on prohibition held in 1930 and 1938 Head joined Protestant leaders in campaigning unsuccessfully for a 'Yes' vote. A scholar himself, Head invited a series of overseas scholars to Melbourne and spoke frequently on platform and radio on historical and apologetical subjects. Ecumenically, Head was chairman of the local committee of the world Faith and Order movement and initiated a series of conversations with Victorian Methodists.

Grave but kindly, gentle but fearless and strong in character, Head, while lacking the bubbling bonhomie of his predecessor, Harrington Clare Lees, was held in high regard in every section of his diocese and the Victorian community. Despite his Establishment background, he knew no distinction of class or education and impressed as a man of engaging modesty and unfailing courtesy. He believed wholeheartedly in the British Empire, declaring at his welcome by 10,000 Anglicans in the Exhibition Building, 'I love the Empire, I want to serve it and keep it Christian'. However, his outspoken support for the Premiers' Plan in 1931 drew criticism and this intervention in politics was not repeated.

Head's major publications comprise The Fallen Stuarts (1900) and Six Great Anglicans (1929), together with contributions to The Heart of the Empire (1901). In 1927 he was appointed a life fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and in 1929, when visiting Canada, he received the honorary degree of D.D. from Emmanuel College, Saskatoon.

Head died on 18 December 1941, following injuries received in a motor accident, and his ashes are interred in St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne. He was survived by his wife, Edith Mary, née Colman, whom he had married on 30 August 1904, and a son. A memorial bronze by Andor Meszaros is in St Paul's Cathedral, and a portrait by Aileen Dent, painted posthumously from a photograph, is in its chapter house. Other memorials are the Archbishop Head flats for retired clergy at Oakleigh, and the Edith Head Hostel for country girls at North Melbourne.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Head, F. W. Head, Archbishop of Melbourne. A Sketch for Those Who Loved Him (Lond, 1943)
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 23 Jan 1930
  • Argus (Melbourne), 19 Dec 1941.

Citation details

James Grant, 'Head, Frederick Waldegrave (1874–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


18 April, 1874
London, Middlesex, England


18 December, 1941 (aged 67)
Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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.