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Thomas Thornton (Tom) Reed (1902–1995)

by David Hilliard

This article was published:

Thomas Thornton Reed (1902–1995), Anglican archbishop, was born on 9 September 1902 at Eastwood, Adelaide, younger son of Victorian-born Alfred Ernest Reed, horse-trainer, and his locally born wife Clara, née Wells. After financial pressures led to his father’s suicide in 1903, Tom was raised by his mother and an aunt. At St Oswald’s Church, Parkside, he was influenced by Rev. S. J. Houison, who introduced him to Anglo-Catholic worship based upon the Book of Common Prayer. He was educated at St Oswald’s parish school and the Collegiate School of St Peter (1912–21), where the headmaster, K. J. F. Bickersteth, encouraged him to consider taking holy orders. In 1922 he entered Trinity College at the University of Melbourne (BA Hons, 1925; MA, 1927).

Following study at St Barnabas’ Theological College in Adelaide, Reed was made deacon in 1926 and ordained priest in 1927. His first appointment was as assistant curate in the parish of St Augustine, Unley. He was priest-in-charge of the Berri mission (1928–29) and then State chaplain of Toc H (1929–31) while also a resident tutor at St Mark’s College, University of Adelaide. On 21 December 1932 at St Augustine’s Church, Renmark, he married Audrey Airlie Balfour Ogilvy, a nurse. The couple moved to Victoria where he was assistant chaplain of Melbourne Church of England Grammar School (1932–36). He returned to Adelaide as priest-in-charge (later rector) of St Michael and All Angels’, Henley Beach (1936–44), and then rector of St Theodore’s, Rose Park (1944–54).

Having served as a chaplain, 4th class, in the Citizen Military Forces since 1939, Reed was called up for full-time duty with the Australian Imperial Force on 1 July 1944. A few days later he was posted to New Guinea Force headquarters, Port Moresby. In January 1945 he returned to South Australia, where his AIF appointment concluded. He later resumed with the CMF (1953–57), rising to chaplain, 3rd class. A shrewd and efficient administrator, he impressed Bishop B. P. Robin with his ability. Robin appointed him as a canon of the Cathedral Church of St Peter (1947), archdeacon of Adelaide (1949), and dean of Adelaide (1953). In 1951 he had been awarded the Fred Johns scholarship for biography to complete his study of the poet Henry Kendall (begun in about 1930) at the University of Adelaide (DLitt, 1954). This work led to two books: Henry Kendall: A Critical Appreciation (1960) and The Poetical Works of Henry Kendall (1966). In 1955 he was awarded a doctorate in theology by the Australian College of Theology.

In March 1957 Reed was elected bishop of Adelaide, the first Australian to hold the office, and was consecrated on 30 May in St Peter’s Cathedral. He led the diocese through a period of institutional expansion as it sought to keep up with the postwar growth of Adelaide. With the aim of ensuring a supply of locally trained clergy, in 1965 he reopened St Barnabas’ College. To strengthen the Anglican Church in South Australia, he instigated the transfer of territory from Adelaide (1967) to enlarge the struggling diocese of Willochra, and successfully pressed for the creation (1970) of a third diocese, The Murray, that embraced the south-east of the State. In 1973, with three dioceses, it was then possible for South Australia to form an ecclesiastical province with Adelaide as the metropolitan see, and Reed became the first Anglican archbishop of Adelaide.

Instinctively conservative, though not inflexible, Reed resisted moves to allow the marriage in church of those who had been divorced. He was deeply attached to the Book of Common Prayer and cautious about liturgical revision, prompting his criticism of An Australian Prayer Book (1978) on both doctrinal and aesthetic grounds. Although on friendly terms with the heads of other denominations in South Australia, he was wary of the ecumenical movement. He maintained a good relationship with the prominent laymen of the diocese, and his confident High Church Anglicanism and admiration for the English religious tradition resonated with many among his denomination. Yet some regarded him as legalistic and backward looking. He insisted on the use of the title Lord Bishop and was among the last Anglican bishops in Australia to wear frock coat and gaiters as formal dress. At the same time, he was recalled as a ‘small man with an indomitable spirit’ who ‘could be rollicking, good fun’ (Murray 1995, 16). He smoked constantly, wrote comic verse, and pursued interests outside the church, including heraldry and family history. In 1972 and 1973 he helped to establish the South Australian Genealogy and Heraldry Society.

Reed retired on 30 September 1974. With Audrey, he moved from Bishop’s Court to a smaller house in North Adelaide and spent more time playing golf and painting watercolours. Continuing to research and write, he published several works on the history of the Anglican Church in South Australia and also Historic Churches of Australia (1978). In 1980 he was appointed CBE. He died on 19 August 1995, survived by his wife and two of his three daughters. Following cremation, his ashes were interred in St Peter’s Cathedral. Portraits in oils by Sir Ivor Hele are held by St Peter’s College and the diocese of Adelaide.

Research edited by Nicole McLennan

Select Bibliography

  • Adelaide Church Guardian. ‘Retirement of Archbishop.’ May 1974, 5
  • Advertiser (Adelaide). ‘Archbishop’s Strong Sense of Duty.’ 22 August 1995, 4
  • Black, Airlie. Personal communication
  • Black, Airlie, comp. Thomas Thornton Reed, Anglican Archbishop of Adelaide: Essays and Reminiscences. Adelaide: Peacock Publications, 2015
  • Church Scene. ‘Archbishop T. T. Reed.’ 25 August 1995, 20
  • Cockburn, Stewart. The Patriarchs. Adelaide: Ferguson Publications, 1983
  • Diocesan Archives, Anglican Diocese of Adelaide. T. T. Reed, Personal Papers
  • Hilliard, David. Godliness and Good Order: A History of the Anglican Church in South Australia. Netley, SA: Wakefield Press, 1986
  • Lawson, Elaine. Personal communication
  • Murray, James. ‘Devoted Pastor with an Indomitable Spirit.’ Australian, 5 September 1995, 16
  • State Library of South Australia. PRG 344, Thomas Thornton Reed, Papers and Records
  • Trenorden, Mabel. Personal communication

Additional Resources

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Citation details

David Hilliard, 'Reed, Thomas Thornton (Tom) (1902–1995)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2019, accessed online 15 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


9 September, 1902
Eastwood, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


19 August, 1995 (aged 92)
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Cause of Death


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Military Service
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