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William Hey Sharp (1845–1928)

by K. J. Cable

This article was published:

William Hey Sharp (1845-1928), Anglican clergyman and educationist, was born on 21 September 1845 at Kingston-upon-Hull, Yorkshire, England, second son of William Sharp, surgeon, and his wife Emma, née Scott. He was proud of belonging to the family of Granville Sharp, the anti-slavery reformer. Educated at Rugby School and at Lincoln College, Oxford (B.A., 1868; M.A., 1871), Hey, as he was known, was made deacon on 23 May 1869 and ordained priest on 12 June 1870 by the bishop of Ely. He combined a curacy at Silsoe, Bedfordshire, with teaching at Oakfield, a preparatory school at Rugby, Warwickshire. From 1874 he was chaplain and assistant master at the Collegiate School of St Peter, Adelaide, where on 17 June 1876 he married Mary Edith Patteson, daughter of Canon G. H. Farr, the headmaster.

In 1878 Sharp was appointed warden of St Paul's College within the University of Sydney. With little encouragement from the Church the college was languishing. Energetic and ambitious, Sharp appointed an experienced sub-warden, enrolled non-residents as tutors and set up a chemical laboratory. A keen scientist, he conducted experiments on Sydney Harbour water impurity and reported his results to the local Royal Society, which he joined in 1878. When the new chancellor, Sir William Manning, criticized the college for its lack of students, Sharp replied in print that the real fault lay in the university's low enrolment. Acerbic with tongue and pen, Sharp would never spare an opponent.

In fact, Manning and Sharp were natural allies, eager for reform. In the prosperous 1880s the university grew rapidly. Under Sharp, St Paul's responded: by 1889 its six students had been augmented to twenty-nine, a warden's residence had been built and resident tutors appointed. Several undergraduates were sponsored to proceed to Holy Orders, an indication that the college had at last gained the confidence of the Church. The new bishop, Alfred Barry, had given St Paul's a key role in his educational programme and became Sharp's patron, making him an examining chaplain and a cathedral canon.

Sharp returned from a visit to England in 1889 to find the beginning of a downturn in university life and, what was worse from his viewpoint, the departure of Barry. His successor, William Saumarez Smith, showed little interest in St Paul's. He did, however, promote the founding of an examining board for Anglican ordinands, the Australian College of Theology, and in 1896 made Sharp its part-time registrar. Theological colleges were multiplying and Sharp was soon busy. Almost single-handed, he was responsible for a wide range of examinations and syllabuses. Somewhat to the detriment of St Paul's, and despite difficulties caused by the increasingly divergent schools of Australian churchmanship, he enthusiastically took up his new role which grew apace as it depended less on the goodwill of the diocese of Sydney. Sharp was registrar for thirty years. His equally long tenure of the wardenship of St Paul's ended in 1908. Never wholly at ease with undergraduates, he had by then lost most of his interest in them.

Joining the city church of St James, Sharp was elected a parochial nominator and became immediately embroiled in a dispute with the diocesan nominators, engaging the new archbishop, J. C. Wright, in public controversy over the appointment of a rector; it ended in deadlock, with Wright prohibiting the use of eucharistic vestments.

Rendered ineligible as a future nominator, Sharp helped to set up a High Church journal, the Church Standard. It proved influential in Anglican circles but it sealed Sharp's estrangement from his own diocese, although he retained an active interest in its affairs (and his canonry), as well as his work for the Australian College of Theology. He died at Gordon on 3 February 1928, survived by his wife and two of his four sons. He was buried in St John's cemetery there and has memorials at St Paul's College and in St Andrew's Cathedral.

His eldest son Granville Gilbert (1878-1964) was born on 13 July 1878 in Adelaide. Educated at Sydney Grammar School and the University of Sydney (B.Sc., 1902; M.B., Ch.M., 1904; M.D., 1918), he was a distinguished scholar and tennis player—New South Wales singles and doubles champion (1903-04, 1906) and a member of the Australasian Davis Cup team in 1909. After postgraduate work in England in 1907-08, he returned to Sydney and was honorary assistant physician at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. From 1923 he practised as a consulting physician. In World War II he was involved in recruiting for the Royal Australian Air Force before joining the merchant navy as a ship's surgeon. His experience of being twelve days adrift in the Indian Ocean, after Nellore was sunk by a Japanese submarine, did not deter him from serving as medical officer in merchant ships until 1960. He died in Sydney on 19 February 1964, survived by three daughters by his wife Jane Drummond Gordon (d.1942), née Blackmore, whom he had married in Sydney on 29 June 1911.

Of W. H. Sharp's other sons, Lewis Hey (1885-1964) graduated in 1908 in mechanical and electrical engineering at the University of Sydney, where he was senior lecturer in electrical engineering for many years from 1919; and Percival John (1887-1921) was an Anglican clergyman and an assistant master at Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore).

Select Bibliography

  • Church of England (Sydney), Proceedings of General Synod, 1892-1928
  • Sydney University Engineering Year Book, 1926
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 18 Apr 1964
  • Church Standard, 21 Oct 1921
  • St Paul's College, University of Sydney, minutes of Council 1878-1908 (St Paul's College).

Citation details

K. J. Cable, 'Sharp, William Hey (1845–1928)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 21 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


21 September, 1845
Kingston-upon-Hull, Yorkshire, England


3 February, 1928 (aged 82)
Gordon, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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.