Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Charles Henry Selfe Matthews (1873–1961)

by K. J. Cable

This article was published:

Charles Henry Selfe Matthews (1873-1961), Anglican clergyman, was born on 16 November 1873 at Sandhurst, Berkshire, England, son of Rev. John Henry Dudley Matthews and his wife Edith Annie, née Selfe. His father, a master at nearby Wellington College, later became headmaster of Leeds Grammar School. Matthews was educated there and at King's College, Cambridge (B.A., 1896; M.A., 1902). After teaching science at Crewkerne Grammar School, he entered Wells Theological College, was made deacon on 18 December 1898 and ordained priest by Bishop Randall Davidson (later Archbishop of Canterbury) on 21 December 1899.

After serving as curate at St Mary-extra-Southampton, an important centre of industrial mission work, Matthews was recruited in 1901 to the new Brotherhood of the Good Shepherd for service in New South Wales. He laboured in the western section of the diocese of Bathurst, which stretched to the Queensland border. At first he lived at the Brotherhood house, which he helped to extend, at Dubbo, but in 1904 he moved to Gilgandra. This involved a more settled ministry but still included many long journeys. While remaining English in outlook and habit, Matthews appreciated and, to an unusual extent, understood the problems and habits of the outback. He brought to them a dry humour and a practical spirituality and was quite devoid of the patronizing attitude so often adopted by English clergymen in Australia.

The Bush Brothers had to overcome opposition centred in Evangelical Sydney from supporters of the traditional parochial structure and from those who thought the Brotherhood's monastic-like discipline to be inimical to episcopal authority. Some believed the Brothers to be too English and others too Anglo-Catholic. Aware of these difficulties, as first editor of the magazine Bush Brother from 1904 Matthews expounded the Brotherhood case with vigour and a fair degree of success. In 1908 he returned to England and became vicar of Catsfield in the diocese of Chichester. That year he published in London A Parson in the Australian Bush (reprinted 1909, new edition 1910). At one level it was a vivid description, serious but with many a wry twist, of the life of a Bush Brother. At another, it showed an understanding of the outback that few other churchmen had approached.

At Kensington, London, Matthews married Gertrude Ethelwyn Malkin on 15 June 1909. Apart from serving as chaplain of Marlborough College (1930-38), he remained in the parish ministry until his retirement in 1948, serving at St Peter-in-Thanet, diocese of Canterbury, and Kenilworth and Fenny Compton, diocese of Coventry; he was an honorary canon of Coventry from 1946. A persuasive writer and a zealous editor, Matthews kept abreast of current religious and social developments and produced a steady stream of books and pamphlets, notably on Modernism, his chief theological concern. But he did not forget Australia—he published Bill: A Bushman in 1914 and continued to serve on Brotherhood committees. He died at Wilcot, Wiltshire, on 30 September 1961, survived by his wife and at least one son.

Select Bibliography

  • J. W. S. Tomlin, The Story of the Bush Brotherhoods (Lond, 1949)
  • R. A. F. Webb, Brothers in the Sun (Adel, 1978)
  • Bush Brother, Dec 1961
  • Church Times (London), 30 Oct 1961
  • R. M. Teale, By Hook or by Crook: The Anglican Diocese of Bathurst, 1870-1911 (M.A. thesis, University of Sydney, 1968).

Citation details

K. J. Cable, 'Matthews, Charles Henry Selfe (1873–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 25 February 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

Life Summary [details]


16 November, 1873
Sandhurst, Berkshire, England


30 September, 1961 (aged 87)
Wilcot, Wiltshire, England

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