Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Arthur Edward Selwyn (1823–1899)

by Rex Davis

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Arthur Edward Selwyn (1823-1899), Church of England clergyman, was born on 7 March 1823 at Kilmington rectory, Somerset, England, son of Rev. Townshend Selwyn, canon of Gloucester Cathedral, and his wife Charlotte Sophia, daughter of Lord George Murray, bishop of St David's, Wales. He was a cousin of Bishop G. A. Selwyn and brother of A. R. C. Selwyn. Educated at Winchester College, he arrived in Sydney in 1841 and in 1846 accompanied W. C. Mayne to the Liverpool Plains. When gazetted a magistrate in 1848 his address was Bucklebone, Namoi River.

Late in 1850 Bishop Tyrrell of Newcastle persuaded Selwyn to prepare for the ministry and in May 1851 he began training at Moreton Bay. He described the primitive conditions and onerous reading course prescribed by the bishop and complained bitterly of four months teaching at Tamworth to his fiancée Rose Elizabeth, sister of G. W. and H. K. Rusden, whom he married at Tamworth on 30 June 1852. In December next year he was ordained priest. In 1854-67 Selwyn was in charge of the large parish of Grafton; in July 1867 he was appointed to Christ Church, Newcastle, and was made a canon of the cathedral in 1871. Selwyn was a loyal supporter of Tyrrell's policies and worked for the development of a synodical and a more powerful provincial system of Church government. Involved in Church finances, education and many lay issues, Selwyn contributed to the press on such subjects as the liquor traffic and synodical authority; he also suggested Cambria as a new name for New South Wales. He strenuously opposed Sir Alfred Stephen's divorce extension bills in 1886-92, and published papers that he had read to the Newcastle Clerical Society and to church congresses. In June 1887 he showed an early ecumenical spirit when he argued that the start of any mission in New Guinea should be in the name of all Christians rather than of divided denominations.

Commissary and vicar-general in 1887-89 while Bishop Pearson was incapacitated in England, Selwyn coped with serious financial problems and administered the diocese quietly and confidently. He wanted promotions for clergy used to Australian conditions rather than inexperienced Englishmen and sought the election of William Chalmers as bishop of Goulburn and G. H. Stanton to Newcastle. Selwyn's appointment as dean by Bishop Stanton marked the start of fresh policy for the diocese. He was involved in disputes with J. H. Hunt and F. B. Menkens over designs for the cathedral, and also in the chronic debate over the relation between cathedral and parish. He was again administrator of the diocese in 1897-98.

Selwyn died childless on 27 June 1899 of cerebral haemorrhage and was buried in the Anglican cemetery, Sandgate; his estate was valued for probate at £757. His widow published the Letters of the Late Dean Selwyn, of Newcastle, chiefly to his wife (Sydney, 1902).

Select Bibliography

  • A. P. Elkin, The Diocese of Newcastle (Syd, 1955)
  • B. R. Davis, The Church of England in New South Wales: The Beginnings and Development of Training Men for its Ministry … 1825-1925 (M.A. thesis, University of Newcastle, 1967): Selwyn papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Rex Davis, 'Selwyn, Arthur Edward (1823–1899)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 19 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Arthur Selwyn, n.d.

Arthur Selwyn, n.d.

Newcastle Region Library, 36514

Life Summary [details]


7 March, 1823
Kilmington, Somerset, England


7 June, 1899 (aged 76)
New South Wales, Australia

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