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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Wise, Percy William Charlton (1870–1950)

by Lionel E. W. Renfrey

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Percy William Charlton Wise (1870-1950), by unknown photographer, 1938

Percy William Charlton Wise (1870-1950), by unknown photographer, 1938

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 48746

Percy William Charlton Wise (1870-1950), Anglican priest, was born on 15 January 1870 at Stoke Damerel, Devonshire, England, son of David Woodifield Wise, assistant paymaster, R.N., and his wife Harriet Blanche, née Sheppard. Percy was educated at Clewer House School, near Windsor, and at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge (B.A., 1893; M.A., 1902) where he came under the influence of J. R. Harmer, later bishop of Adelaide. After leaving the Clergy Training School, Cambridge, Wise was made deacon in 1893 and ordained priest in 1894. He then took up a curacy at Oundle, Northamptonshire. On 16 July 1895 he married Caroline Louisa Lyon (d.1900) at St Michael's parish church, Ilsington, Devonshire; they were to remain childless. That year he accepted a curacy at Christ Church, North Adelaide.

In 1897 he became rector of Crafers where his energy led to the completion of the Church of the Epiphany two years later. Having visited England, Wise returned to Adelaide late in 1900 to take the pastoral charge of Goodwood, a parish in a poor state, with a small church and very few worshippers. Instituted rector on 14 December, he flung himself into the work and completed St James's Church, West Adelaide, in 1902, when it became a separate charge. In September 1903 the new Church of St George was consecrated: it was designed by his brother-in-law, the English architect T. H. Lyon, and much of the cost was met by Mrs Priscilla Bickford, a wealthy admirer of Wise. His preaching and practice won many to worship at St George's and he soon became the acknowledged leader of the Anglo-Catholic movement in South Australia. In 1902 he had been appointed special preacher at St Peter's Cathedral, Adelaide, where he was an honorary canon from 1904.

With Harmer's departure in 1905, Wise's course became troubled. The new bishop of Adelaide, Dr A. N. Thomas, was concerned by some of Wise's controversial observances, including the offering of the requiem Mass on All Souls Day; in 1911 St George's was put under discipline. In 1918 Wise issued his St George's Mass Book for Lay Folk; Thomas believed it contained 'grave errors of teaching and of practice'. When Wise refused to withdraw it, Thomas issued a public admonition in 1919 which led to Wise being charged in the ecclesiastical courts with 'breach of ritual'. Wise defended himself ably and, though the charges were not formally withdrawn, the case was dropped. Yet the stigma of disloyalty remained. During the 1920s, while remaining critical of episcopal policies, Wise withdrew from involvement in diocesan affairs, devoted himself to his work as a parish priest and gained a high reputation among Anglo-Catholics as a spiritual adviser. Between 1907 and 1937 he published a collection of addresses and several pamphlets.

With a lively sense of humour and a command of repartee, Wise had great charm of manner. His writing, like his preaching, was graceful, persuasive and memorable. He loved sport, especially golf and cricket. Following severe illness, he resigned his parish on 1 October 1940, one day after the resignation of Bishop Thomas. Wise died on 13 August 1950 at Highgate, Adelaide, and was cremated; his ashes were taken to England and buried in Ilsington churchyard beside those of his wife.

Select Bibliography

  • L. E. W. Renfrey, Father Wise, Rector of St George's, Goodwood (Adel, 1951)
  • H. J. Harrison and J. M. Truran, St George's, Goodwood, 1880-1980 (Adel, 1980)
  • D. Hilliard, Godliness and Good Order (Adel, 1986)
  • L. E. W. Renfrey, Arthur Nutter Thomas (Adel, 1988)
  • St George's Messenger, 1902-40.

Citation details

Lionel E. W. Renfrey, 'Wise, Percy William Charlton (1870–1950)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 23 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Percy William Charlton Wise (1870-1950), by unknown photographer, 1938

Percy William Charlton Wise (1870-1950), by unknown photographer, 1938

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 48746