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William Isaac Carr Smith (1856–1930)

by K. J. Cable

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William Isaac Carr Smith (1856-1930), Anglican clergyman, was born on 28 July 1856 at Boulton, Derbyshire, England, eldest of six children of William Smith, joiner, and his wife Ann, née Coxon. Having trained as an elementary teacher and had some teaching experience, Smith decided to enter the Anglican ministry. He studied at Lichfield Diocesan Theological College and was made deacon on 23 May 1880 and ordained priest on 12 June 1881.

Smith served four curacies in seven years in semi-industrial Staffordshire parishes and assisted as inspector of diocesan schools. He was keenly interested in the Christian Socialism of Scott Holland and the Guild of St Matthew. Given the parish of St John's in the small industrial town of Longton in 1887, Smith exercised his social Christianity and was influenced by Charles Gore's new Incarnational theology. For Smith, and many other clergy, the Anglo-Catholic school of churchmanship could best give liturgical representation to the new theology and its social dimension. On 26 October 1895 he was appointed to the Sydney church of St James. Soon after arrival he added Carr as a double-barrelled surname. St James' had recently declined, its middle-class congregation having moved to the suburbs.

Realizing that St James', though already in the Tractarian tradition, could survive only by upholding a style of churchmanship visibly different to that of an Evangelical diocese, Carr Smith adopted eucharistic vestments and instituted a High ritual (at least by colonial standards). The box-like interior was turned into a theatrical Wren church. With good transport available, suburban people returned in large numbers. Carr Smith used the methods of successful suburban parishes in promoting intellectual, devotional, social and charitable communal groups, thereby making St James' a significant religious centre in the city.

A devout Anglo-Catholic, and man of deep and simple piety, Carr Smith was much in demand beyond Sydney to conduct retreats and to preach. In the pulpit his quiet dignity gave way to impassioned oratory. The little man with the aggressive beard became prophetic as he denounced social injustice and proclaimed the kingdom of God on Earth. He preached also to the unemployed in the Domain and, with Sister Freda (Emily Rich), set up a mission to the city poor. He joined the Christian Social Union and was made a labour commissioner by the government in 1900. Carr Smith supported women's suffrage but was no rigorist on the associated and, in church circles, conventional issues of moral reform. His appeal in 1904 for the reduction, rather than the abolition, of liquor licences was reprinted in pamphlet form by the publicans' Liquor Trades Defence Union of New South Wales.

The career of an Anglo-Catholic Christian socialist in Sydney had its pitfalls: Carr Smith's congregation was devoted to his churchmanship but could not understand his socialism. His Anglo-Catholicism alienated many Protestants who, at a time of intense sectarian bitterness, regarded him as a secret agent of Rome. The polarization of politics from 1900 found him in the protectionist camp while most leading Anglicans were liberals. Opposition in the Sydney synod to 'ritualism' grew steadily, despite Archbishop Saumarez Smith's moderating policy. In his final sermon before leaving for England in 1909, Carr Smith declared his mission a failure. He exaggerated: but by his standards he had not succeeded.

His departure sealed his defeat. He resigned St James' to take up the parish of Grantham, Lincolnshire, where he remained until 1917, holding also a canonry of Lincoln. He then removed to St Peter's, Eastbourne, and to Jesus Church, Forty Hill, Middlesex, in 1922. In each place he served as rural dean, but the pioneering spirit had gone: he became a middle-class priest. Returning to St James' in 1924 as locum tenens, he found the Anglo-Catholicism that he had set up there flourishing (though without vestments) but isolated from the mainstream of the Church in Sydney. Carr Smith died, unmarried, in London on 3 July 1930 and was buried at Bromley, Kent.

Select Bibliography

  • J. D. Bollen, Protestantism and Social Reform in New South Wales 1890-1910 (Melb, 1972)
  • R. L. Broome, Treasure in Earthen Vessels (Brisb, 1980)
  • K. J. Cable, St. James' Church, Sydney (Syd, 1982)
  • S. Judd and K. Cable, Sydney Anglicans (Syd, 1987)
  • St James' Messenger, 1896-1910, 1924
  • Church Times, 11 July 1930
  • Church Standard, 11 July 1930
  • Australian Church Record, 17 July 1930.

Citation details

K. J. Cable, 'Smith, William Isaac Carr (1856–1930)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 18 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]

Alternative Names
  • Carr Smith, William Isaac

13 October, 1856
Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England


3 July, 1930 (aged 73)
London, Middlesex, England

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