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Edward Wyndham Tufnell (1814–1896)

by K. Rayner

This article was published:

Edward Wyndham Tufnell (1814-1896), Church of England bishop, was born on 3 October 1814 at Bath, Somerset, England, son of John Charles Tufnell, army officer, and his wife Uliana Margaret, daughter of Rev. John Fowell, of Bishopsbourne, Kent. Educated at Eton and at Wadham College, Oxford (B.A., 1837; M.A., 1842; Hon. D.D., 1859), where he became a fellow; he was made deacon, ordained priest in 1839 and served as curate of Broadwindsor, Dorset, in 1837-40 and Broadhinton, Wiltshire, in 1840-46. He was rector of Beechingstoke, Wiltshire, in 1846-57 and of St Peter and St Paul, Marlborough, in 1857-59. In 1850-59 he was a prebendary of Salisbury Cathedral.

Tufnell was consecrated first bishop of Brisbane in Westminster Abbey by J. B. Sumner, archbishop of Canterbury, on 14 June 1859. Though an honorary secretary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, his mild, cultured manner and restricted rural experience made him an unlikely candidate for the bishopric. He sailed in the Vimiera on 5 May 1860 with five priests, two deacons, four laymen, £7000 in donations and the promise of further annual contributions. He reached Brisbane in September. Tufnell expected to find the Church in Queensland 'in an exceedingly languid state' and was not disappointed. The new diocese included all Queensland south of the twenty-first parallel; its five parishes had a scattered population of 25,000 who were served by three clergymen including Benjamin Glennie. State aid to religion had been abolished during Tufnell's journey.

At his enthronement on 4 September 1860, Tufnell said that he sought the people's acceptance of the doctrines and precepts of the Church of England; he also desired the conversion of the Aboriginals but was never able to begin it. His new priests filled vacancies and he arranged a further supply from England; though the flow diminished he had twenty-five clergymen by 1874. He set up new parishes, encouraged building and visited the chief centres of population seeking increased financial support. Church attendances increased and the Church became a more effective force.

Initially, with no constitution, Tufnell wielded sole authority over appointments, finance and property. Glennie's promotion as archdeacon in 1863 made no significant difference. Some of the laity resented this autocratic rule and critics questioned the bishop's financial competence. Tufnell projected synodical government in 1864, but neither clergy nor laity seemed enthusiastic; nevertheless, next year an attempt was made by disaffected laymen to pass ill-conceived legislation regulating the Church. The example of the southern dioceses, and the recognition by the mid-1860s of legal deficiencies in the letters patent establishing the bishop's temporal authority changed the climate. In 1867 Tufnell convened a conference which accepted synodical government based on consensual compact, and a committee including Judge Lutwyche prepared a constitution that was approved by the first synod in 1868, thus reducing the bishop's burden. But Tufnell did not manage his synod and council skilfully and was too ready to expect the synod to take responsibilities that were still his own.

From the six weak schools that he had inherited Tufnell wanted to develop a comprehensive and efficient system of Church education. Needing government subsidies, he announced on arrival strong opposition to the abolition of state aid. Opposed by powerful secularist and non-conformist forces, Tufnell organized meetings and petitions and even joined Bishop J. Quinn in a wide campaign. His cause was weakened by the opposition of many of his laymen and, though by 1871 he had succeeded in securing payment of teachers, the secularist victory in the 1875 Education Act signalled defeat and presaged the collapse of the Anglican school system.

In 1865-67 Tufnell sought funds in England but illness and other factors prolonged the visit, reducing his already slender popularity. He seemed unable to identify with the crudity of colonial life. Though dignified, devout and high principled, and a good administrator with sound policies, he had not related well to his flock. His moderate High Churchmanship widened the gap. His stipend was modest and he used private means generously for diocesan purposes, but he was criticized for devoting money to the see endowment and to Bishopsbourne, the gracious episcopal residence which he erected. His weaknesses were real, but his pioneering achievements were significant though not recognized at the time. His resignation came after he had sailed for England in February 1874 and was received in Brisbane without surprise or regret.

Tufnell returned to the kind of English country ministry that he had known before he became a bishop. He was curate of Charing, Kent, in 1877-79, vicar and rural dean of Croydon, Surrey, in 1879-82, and vicar of Felpham and residentiary canon of Chichester Cathedral in 1882-96. Survived by his wife Laura, née Tufnell, a cousin whom he had married in England on 12 February 1867, and by a son and daughter, he died on 3 December 1896 at Chichester and was buried in Felpham churchyard. His widow made a gift to the Society of the Sacred Advent towards the establishment of an orphanage, the Tufnell Home, in Brisbane. There is a portrait of him at Bishopsbourne.

Select Bibliography

  • E. B. Tufnell, The Family of Tufnell (Guildford, 1924)
  • Moreton Bay Courier, 6 Sept, 4 Oct, 3 Nov 1860
  • Queensland Daily Guardian, 28 Apr 1863, 11, 21 Oct, 9 Nov 1864
  • Brisbane Courier, 23 July, 20 Aug 1864, 17, 24 May, 8 July 1865, 16 Feb, 14, 16 May, 20 Aug, 4 Sept 1867, 22 July 1874
  • Week (Brisbane), 15, 22, 29 Sept, 6, 13, 20, 27 Oct 1877
  • K. Rayner, The History of the Church of England in Queensland (Ph.D. thesis, University of Queensland, 1962)
  • Diocese of Brisbane, Diocesan Conference proceedings 1867, Synod proceedings 1868-73, Council minutes 1868-74 (Diocesan Registry, Brisbane)
  • letters, ‘D’ MSS (SPG Archives, Westminster).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

K. Rayner, 'Tufnell, Edward Wyndham (1814–1896)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 16 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

Life Summary [details]


3 October, 1814
Bath, Somerset, England


3 December, 1896 (aged 82)
Chichester, Sussex, England

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