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Augustus Short (1802–1883)

by Dirk Van Dissel

This article was published:

Augustus Short (1802-1883), by George Richmond, 1847

Augustus Short (1802-1883), by George Richmond, 1847

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 7939

Augustus Short (1802-1883), Anglican bishop, was born on 11 June 1802 at Bickham House near Exeter, Devon, England, third son of Charles Short, barrister, and his wife Grace, née Millett. Educated at Westminster and Christ Church, Oxford (B.A., 1824; M.A., 1826; D.D., 1847), he spent two years as tutor and was ordained priest in 1827. After two years as curate at Culham near Abingdon, he became tutor and lecturer at Christ Church, examiner in 1833 and censor in 1834. Next year he was appointed vicar of Ravensthorpe, Northampton, and on 10 December 1835 married Millicent Clara, daughter of John Phillips of Culham House, Oxfordshire. He became interested in the Oxford movement and wrote but did not publish an apologia in defence of Newman's Tract No. 90; in 1846 when he delivered the Bampton lectures at Oxford he steered clear of the controversy and published them as The Witness of the Spirit with Our Spirit.

In 1845 Short was given the choice of either the Adelaide or Newcastle diocese. He chose Adelaide and on 29 June 1847 was consecrated bishop in Westminster Abbey. He arrived in the Derwent on 28 December. His vast diocese, which included Western Australia, had only eight clergy, four church buildings, with five under construction, one parsonage and one school but, helped by state aid he began to build. In October 1848 with Archdeacon Hale he visited Perth where he consecrated St George's Church. With help from the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge and William Allen, he transformed the school which had been started at Trinity Church in Adelaide into the Collegiate School of St Peter, and on 24 May 1849 laid its foundation stone.

As a high churchman Short frequently clashed with his predominantly Evangelical flock and with the province's Nonconformists. In 1850 at a bishops' conference in Sydney he supported the doctrine of baptismal regeneration; he provoked protest from the South Australian Church Society and the formation of a vigilant committee to petition the archbishop of Canterbury for protection from episcopal interference with doctrine. Short was unperturbed and assured his flock of his dislike of most of the Tractarian beliefs. In 1848 Governor Frederick Robe had granted land in Victoria Square as a cathedral site, but in 1855 the Supreme Court ruled the grant illegal: eventually in 1869 Short laid the foundation stone of St Peter's Cathedral in North Adelaide. In 1858 he created a furore by refusing to allow the Congregationalist divine Thomas Binney to preach in an Anglican Church. His precedence as bishop of Adelaide was regarded by many as repugnant to the foundation principles of the colony and in 1872 Short voluntarily surrendered his claim.

Abolition of state aid in August 1851 had increased Short's financial problems and led to the independent organization of the diocese. In 1852 he replaced the Church Society by a provisional diocesan assembly of clergy and laity, and in 1853-54 on a visit to England sought ecclesiastical legal opinion on a proposed constitution for a diocesan synod. Advised that imperial legislation was not required, he called the first synod at Christ Church, Adelaide, on 16 January 1855. In October the fundamental provisions, regulations and compact were finally signed, ending satisfactorily an extended struggle about the rights of the laity in determining doctrine and discipline; but in 1862 the Legislative Council sent the Church of England incorporation bill to a select committee which declared it unnecessary. Finally in 1871 Short brought the synod under the Associations Incorporation Act.

He took an interest in Hale's Poonindie Mission to the Aboriginals at Port Lincoln and in 1853 wrote a report, Mission to the Heathen. In 1857 Short wrote a pamphlet against marriage with a deceased wife's sister and in 1869 read a paper to the Philosophical Society of Adelaide, 'On the proper relations of physical science to revealed religion'. He was actively involved in the founding of the University of Adelaide and was vice-president of the University Association. Elected vice-chancellor on 11 December 1874, he delivered the university's inaugural address on 25 April 1876 and that year succeeded Sir R. D. Hanson as chancellor.

In 1877 the citizens of Adelaide presented Short with an address and a testimonial to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of his ordination. Next year he represented the diocese at the Lambeth Conference. In November 1881 failing health compelled him to resign his see, but he dedicated St Barnabas Theological College and on 6 January 1882 he celebrated his last communion service in the cathedral; he left for England that day. He lived quietly in London until his death on 5 October 1883. He was survived by his wife, three of their five sons and four of their five daughters. His estate was valued for probate at £8200.

Short successfully accomplished the immense task of building up the Church of England in South Australia. His Tractarian churchmanship was divisive, but it proved to be a firm basis for the Church and imparted to the diocese of Adelaide its distinctive character. Portraits hang in the Collegiate School of St Peter and in the Church Office and Bishop's Court, North Adelaide.

Select Bibliography

  • The Adelaide Correspondence (Syd, 1859)
  • F. T. Whitington, Augustus Short (Adel, 1887)
  • E. K. Miller, Reminiscences of Forty-Seven Years' Clerical Life in South Australia (Adel, 1895)
  • F. W. Cox and L. Robjohns, Three-Quarters of a Century (Adel, 1912)
  • G. H. Jose, The Church of England in South Australia, vols 1-2 (Adel, 1937, 1954)
  • A. G. Price, The Collegiate School of St Peter, 1847-1947 (Adel, 1947)
  • D. Pike, Paradise of Dissent (Melb, 1957)
  • T. T. Reed, A History of the Cathedral Church of St Peter (Adel, 1969)
  • Judith M. Brown, Augustus Short (Adel, 1974)
  • N. K. Meaney, ‘The Church of England in the Paradise of Dissent. A problem of assimilation’, Journal of Religious History, 3 (1964)
  • Register (Adelaide), 9 Oct 1883, 16 Apr 1923
  • Hale-Short letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • A. Short, diary and papers (State Records of South Australia).

Citation details

Dirk Van Dissel, 'Short, Augustus (1802–1883)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 18 July 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

Augustus Short (1802-1883), by George Richmond, 1847

Augustus Short (1802-1883), by George Richmond, 1847

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 7939

Life Summary [details]


11 June, 1802
Exeter, Devon, England


5 October, 1883 (aged 81)

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