Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Alfred Depledge Sykes (1871–1940)

by David Hilliard

This article was published:

Alfred Depledge Sykes (1871-1940), clergyman, was born on 20 March 1871 at Lepton, Yorkshire, only son of Samuel Sykes, fancy weaver, and his wife Annie, née Depledge; although baptized Abraham, he later took the name Alfred. Having been raised an Anglican, as a young man he joined Queen Street Wesleyan Chapel, Huddersfield, and in 1893 transferred membership to Moldgreen Congregational Church. In 1894-96 he studied at the Congregational Institute, Nottingham, then trained for the ministry at Western College, Plymouth. On 15 May 1902 in St Helier, Jersey, he married Julia Agnes Hooper. In 1900 he had been ordained at Romford Road Congregational Church, Forest Gate, London, where he ministered until 1904; that year he took the pastorate of Stow Memorial Church, Adelaide, the 'cathedral church' of South Australian Congregationalism.

A well-known exponent of liberal Christianity who believed in the need for 'a theology which reckons with the dominant intellectual conceptions of the twentieth century', he introduced his congregation to the ideas of Adolf von Harnack and the 'New Theology' of R. J. Campbell. Sykes taught that religion's primary function was to 'specialise on the spiritual life' and to 'foster the worshipful spirit'. To this end, he altered the church's interior to emphasize the sanctuary and persuaded his congregation to adopt a semi-liturgical form of service with a robed choir.

Because of his wife's tuberculosis, Sykes resigned in 1906 to take her to the Channel Islands. There she died. He resumed his pastorate in 1907-13 and in 1911 was chairman of the Congregational Union of South Australia. At Unley Park on 9 January 1912 he married Dorothy Grace Bakewell, daughter of a wealthy deacon of Stow Church. Having visited England, he accepted appointment in 1915 to Collins Street Independent Church, Melbourne. After two years he resigned and moved to Strathfield-Homebush Congregational Church, Sydney, where he became prominent in New South Wales Congregationalism.

Tall and red-headed, Sykes thrived on debate and had a restless, inquiring mind. Although he remained liberal in theology, he embraced the view that Christianity required a corporate expression through dogma, sacraments and the 'historic episcopate'. In 1922 he joined the Church of England and was ordained priest next year in Adelaide where he was assistant curate of St John's, Halifax Street, and priest-in-charge of St Cyprian's, North Adelaide (1923-35). He frequently wrote on topical and religious subjects for Adelaide newspapers, including a weekly column in the News as 'Mark Western'. He retained an interest in scholarly theology and in 1924, with Congregationalist E. S. Kiek, founded the interdenominational Adelaide Theological Circle.

In the early 1930s Sykes became involved in the Oxford Group movement and grew dissatisfied with Anglican ecclesiasticism.

Following nine months in Perth in 1936 as locum tenens at Christ Church, Claremont, he returned to Adelaide and withdrew from the Anglican ministry. In 1937 he rejoined Stow Church which appointed him associate pastor. Survived by his wife and two sons, Sykes died of heart disease in Adelaide on 31 July 1940 and was buried in Mitcham cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • E. S. Kiek, Our First Hundred Years (Adel, 1950)
  • South Australian Congregationalist, Dec 1907
  • Stow Church Magazine, 1909-11
  • Congregationalist (Sydney), Aug 1922
  • Observer (Adelaide), 30 Mar 1907
  • Register (Adelaide), 23 June 1922
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 1 Aug 1940
  • Stow Memorial Church records (held by Pilgrim Uniting Church, Adelaide)
  • Congregational Union of South Australia records (State Library of South Australia)
  • Sykes sermons and addresses (privately held).

Citation details

David Hilliard, 'Sykes, Alfred Depledge (1871–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 24 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Sykes, Abraham

20 March, 1871
Lepton, Yorkshire, England


31 July, 1940 (aged 69)
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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