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Harrington Clare Lees (1870–1929)

by J. D. McKie

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Harrington Clare Lees (1870-1929), by unknown photographer, c1934

Harrington Clare Lees (1870-1929), by unknown photographer, c1934

Herald & Weekly Times Portrait Collection, State Library of Victoria, H38849/2387

Harrington Clare Lees (1870-1929), Anglican archbishop, was born on 17 March 1870 at Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire, England, eldest son of William Lees, cotton salesman, and his wife Emma, née Clare. He was head boy at the Methodist Leys School and a scholar of St John's College, Cambridge, graduating in 1892 with a second class in theology and a prize in New Testament Greek. Preaching and interpretation of the Bible were to be lifelong interests. He received the degree of M.A. in 1896 and D.D. in 1921. A keen sportsman, he developed 'athlete's heart' while at Cambridge.

Lees became a deacon in 1893 and a priest next year. On 9 December 1895 at St Andrew's, Southport, Lancashire, he married Winifred May Cranswick. After serving curacies at Reading, Berkshire, and Childwall, Lancashire, and a chaplaincy at Turin, Italy, he was vicar of three evangelical parishes: St John's, Kenilworth, Warwickshire (1900-07), Christ Church, Beckenham, Kent (1907-19) and Swansea, Glamorganshire (1919-20) where, according to the Archbishop of Wales, 'He got possession of the town in a wonderful way'. He was always popular. Honorary chaplain to military depots in England during World War I, he was mentioned in 1919 by the British Red Cross Society for services.

Having refused the offer of the bishopric of Bendigo, Victoria, in 1919, Lees accepted appointment as Archbishop of Melbourne in 1921. He was consecrated in St Paul's Cathedral, London, on 1 November and enthroned in St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne, on 15 February 1922. In appearance he differed markedly from his predecessor. Lowther Clarke was of big build, Lees was like a sprightly wicket-keeper. Of middle height, head set well back on wide shoulders, with dark eyes and aquiline nose, he was described by Melbourne Punch in 1925 as showing 'a wondrous juvenility that defies his years'. Earlier, he had sported a fine moustache.

Lees is remembered as archbishop in three ways. First he was an attractive, Christian man with a most real pastoral sense. Uniformly affable, he was a welcome visitor at vicarages and took a lively interest in all diocesan activities. At the Bishopscourt ordination retreats conversation was permitted at meals so that the bishop and candidates might become better acquainted. Lees was no party man and did all he could to keep antagonisms, such as those aroused by the establishment of Ridley College, in check. He was on good terms with the leaders of the other Christian denominations and was a foundation member of the Old Melburnians' Masonic Lodge. In 1922-24 he was president of the Melbourne College of Divinity. He was, however, no ascetic; on one occasion he included in his round of diocesan engagements 'Social duties of Cup Week', and unlike Archbishop Clarke who travelled by public transport, carrying his suitcase, Lees had the full-time use of a car and chauffeur.

Second, Lees was a great speaker. When he preached at Evensong in the cathedral it was necessary to be there at least fifteen minutes early to be sure of a seat. He took infinite pains in the preparation of his sermons and delivered them with 'fire and persuasion', making the structure clear at the start and developing his theme with many varied illustrations. From 1925 he broadcast sermons over the radio; he was described at his death as 'an ideal broadcaster'.

Third, Lees was an extremely effective administrator. He presided with distinction over the Melbourne Church Congress in 1925 and initiated the successful appeal for the building of the spires of St Paul's. He proved a competent chairman at synod; although he spoke little, he was always en rapport with members and had the knack of quickly distinguishing essential from non-essential matters. His chief administrative changes concerned the enlargement of the Mission of St James and St John and the Church of England kindergarten system.

Between 1905 and 1919 Lees wrote at least fifteen theological works including The King's Way (1910) and The Practice of the Love of Christ (1915). He was the author of numerous articles and pamphlets and contributed to J. Hastings's Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels.

Overwork contributed to Lees's early death from coronary vascular disease on 10 January 1929 at Bishopscourt, East Melbourne. He was the first Archbishop of Melbourne to die in office and many thousands attended his funeral service at St Paul's Cathedral before his cremation. Winifred Lees had died in 1927 and he was survived by his second wife Joanna Mary, née Linnell, of Beckenham, Kent, whom he had married at Westminster on 19 April 1928. He had no children. A fine portrait by John Longstaff is in the Melbourne Chapter House.

Select Bibliography

  • T. B. McCall, The Life and Letters of John Stephen Hart (Syd, 1963)
  • Church of England Messenger (Victoria), 11 Jan 1929
  • Age (Melbourne), 11 Jan 1929
  • Punch (Melbourne), 26 Feb 1925
  • Argus (Melbourne), 11, 14 Jan 1929.

Citation details

J. D. McKie, 'Lees, Harrington Clare (1870–1929)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Harrington Clare Lees (1870-1929), by unknown photographer, c1934

Harrington Clare Lees (1870-1929), by unknown photographer, c1934

Herald & Weekly Times Portrait Collection, State Library of Victoria, H38849/2387

Life Summary [details]


17 March, 1870
Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire, England


10 January, 1929 (aged 58)
East Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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