History: Bishops and Deans of Newcastle


The Very Beginnings

Lieutenant Shortland first discovered the district of Newcastle (originally named Coal River) in 1797. As its original name suggests, a large amount of coal was found in the area, which made it a very valuable piece of land. The area was more fully explored by Colonel Paterson in 1801.

Before any Chaplain was appointed to minister to the area, a small church built of slabs was erected in 1812. This building, however, was pulled down in 1816 and a more stable church was designed. The commandant of Newcastle, Captain Wallis assumed the job of minister of the area, and on 2nd August 1818 “Christ Church” was officially opened. The service was performed by Governor Macquarie, in the company of Reverend W Cowper. On that day alone, 10 marriages and 30 baptisms were performed. Soon after followed a parsonage (built of brick) and a burial ground, however there was still no chaplain to officially perform religious duties. To this point, Commandants and their Officers took the services.


The Appointment of a Chaplain

In 1821, Rev G A Middleton was appointed as Chaplain, and he remained in the area until 5th May 1827, when he resigned due to differences in opinion with the Archdeacon of the Sydney area at the time, Archdeacon Scott. The 2nd chaplain to be appointed was Rev F M Wilkinson, who has similar problems with Archdeacon Scott. Rev C P N Wilton followed as the third appointment as chaplain for the area.

In 1826 more additions were granted to the staff in the area, with the appointment of a catechist for the Upper Hunter River, Richard Sadleir. William Brooks followed in 1827 to perform a similar duty in the Newcastle region.

The Bishop of Sydney, Bishop Broughton, fought hard for the Newcastle and Hunter region to be developed as a separate diocese and offered to donate half his salary to see this performed. His demands were agreed to, although only part of his salary (500 pounds Sterling) was allowed to be forfeited. Although Bishop Boughton had originally planned to develop both the dioceses of Newcastle and Melbourne, Newcastle was the only one of the two that was allowed to proceed.

Another major development around this time was the organisation of Synod. Bishop Selwyn, from New Zealand was an important figure in successfully arranging a diocese in the colonies. Due to the laws of England, for a long time it was thought that holding such meeting would be illegal. There were many difficult debates between the different dioceses as to how much power and control the Bishops had, and the vast distances which had to be covered made it impractical for everyone to meet. With much work from Bishop Boughton, the first Synod was held in August, 1865 in Morpeth. The 2nd Synod took over the duties of the Newcastle Church Society, and the 3rd Synod was moved from Morpeth to Newcastle.


The First Bishop of Newcastle

The first Bishop to be appointed to the see of Newcastle was Reverend William Tyrrell, who was previously rector at Beaulieu, Hampshire. He was inducted as a Bishop in Westminster Abbey on St Peter’s Day 1847. The official letters regarding the new diocese was released on the 28th August and the new Bishop then sailed to Australia along with two ministers (who were to be given the areas of Singleton and Muswellbrook to work in). They all arrived in Sydney on 16th January 1848 and Bishop Tyrrell was installed in the pro-cathedral on the 30th January.

It was decided that Morpeth was to be the episcopal residence for the diocese, however the Bishop received quite a lot of help and support from the Sydney diocese. The most northern part of the diocese was Armidale, where a church was consecrated on 26th May 1850. In 1857 there was further subdivision of the diocese with the separation of Moreton Bay and the North and West areas of Brisbane. By 1859 the separate diocese of Brisbane was developed and in 1866 Armidale and Grafton was granted a diocese of their own.

More staff was added to the diocese throughout the next few years, with the first Archdeacon of Newcastle, Rev Canon Child being appointed by Bishop Tyrrell on 12th December 1878.

Bishop Tyrrell’s final hour came among friends and colleagues. There was no debate as to the success of his work over the last 30 years. He died on the Eve of the Annunciation, 24th March 1879.


Second Bishop

Archdeacon Child took over the administration of the diocese during the time after the death of Bishop Tyrrell. On September 3rd, 1879 he called a special meeting of the Synod for the allocation of the 2nd bishop of Newcastle. The position was given to Bishop Pearson, who was born in 1841 and a graduate of St John’s College, Cambridge. His success in his studies was impressive indeed, and when he arrived in Newcastle on the 25th August 1880 he was well accepted. The next day he was installed in the church of Christ Church.

Bishop Pearson worked very hard at his duties, and made significant advances in parochial development, gave much energy into the church, particularly preaching about moral and social life. He was charitable and patient and was worried about the growth of the population compared to the lack of resources.

In 1886, Bishop Moorhouse, of Melbourne, a close friend of Bishop Pearson’s returned to England. He offered Bishop Pearson the Vicarage of Blackburn if he would agree to return to England, and in October 1886 Bishop Pearson announced that he had accepted the offer and that he was to resign at the end of the year.

In December of that year, the Diocesan Council asked Bishop Pearson to reconsider his decision, however to no avail. As it happened, the Bishop became seriously ill not long after and soon was forced to decline the Blackburn position. Before leaving for England in the hope of recovery, Bishop Pearson appointed the Rev Canon Selwyn Commissary and Vicar General. England offered no immediate cure to the Bishop’s illness, and he was not well enough to resign his position in Australia for the next two and a half years. He eventually did resign on the 18th June 1883. Although the Diocese was now able to reinstate some order into its administration, the members of the Diocese were extremely sorry that he was forced to leave. When at last he regained his health in England, Bishop Pearson took control of the parish of Leek, however he died suddenly soon after, on 10th March 1895, at the age of 54.

During the illness of the Bishop, the Diocese was ably run administratively by Rev Canon Selwyn, and by the time that he handed the diocese over to the 3rd Bishop of Newcastle, he had increased the number of parishes by 4, and had formed one provisional district. He was able to oversee the construction of church buildings, Sunday school halls and parsonages during his 3 years of work.

With the arrival of the new Metropolitan, Dr S Smith, the 4th Bishop of Sydney, Selwyn was able to begin proceedings for the election of the 3rd Bishop of Newcastle.


Bishop Stanton and Bishop Stretch

George Henry Stanton, who was the 1st Bishop of Queensland was duly elected as the 3rd Bishop of Newcastle, and arrived by train on the 11th May, 1891. He was inducted by Canon Selwyn the next day and began work immediately.

Over the next year one important change that Bishop Stanton made was to present to Synod the proposition of allocating a Dean to the incumbent parish of Christ Church (the foundation stone of which was laid on 2nd June, 1892). On the 14th September, Canon Selwyn was chosen as the 1st Dean of Newcastle, and remained in that position until his death in June 1899. Canon Selwyn had been an integral part of the diocese for most of its existence and is thus noted in many ways today. He was fortunate in being able to attend the Jubilee of the Diocese, in 1897, which was celebrated in appropriate style.

In 1900 Bishop Stretch became the next Dean of Newcastle and he played a very important part in developing the building of the cathedral to a point where it could be dedicated.

Bishop Stanton’s life ended peacefully during December of 1905, having lead the Diocese throughout many important milestones between 1890 and 1905. He witnessed the Jubilee of the Diocese, the turn of the century and covered a time where the generation seemed to change. All this he managed with assurance and a secure mind.

In February 1906, Synod decided that there was no better person than the present Dean of the Cathedral, Bishop Stretch, to become the next Bishop of Newcastle. He was installed on June 25th 1906 and was the first Bishop of Newcastle to be Australian born. He held exceptional powers in the Synod and was known as a friendly and happy person. In 1915, after the death of his son in the war and then the death of his wife, the Bishop’s health began to decline. Realising that he was no longer capable of his position, he proposed to resign on 30th June 1919, however he died on Easter Eve, 19th April of the same year.


The Registrar of the Diocese

During the end of the 19th century, it was becoming increasingly harder for the Bishop alone to perform the administration of the Diocese, and so in 1897, steps were taken to develop an official registry. The first registrar was Rev R Walker, who was to prove an extremely efficient and knowledgeable man throughout the next 17 years.

In the early years of the 20th century, it was becoming impractical for the Bishop to reside in the Diocesan headquarters, in Morpeth. In 1912, the Diocesan Council relieved the Bishop of his responsibility of Bishopscourt (Morpeth) for 5 years, on the proviso that he could find suitable living quarters in Newcastle. A solution was found when a parishioner (Mrs Dashwood Bode) offered some land. The house on the land was replaced, and Bishop Stretch occupied it from October 1917. The Registry offices were moved to Watt Street, and at that time the registrar was Mr C Brown who remained in that position for an amazing 45 years!


The 5th, 6th and 7th Bishops of Newcastle

After Bishop Stretch’s death, Synod was called to elect the 5th Bishop of Newcastle. Another Australian born Bishop, Bishop Steven was enthroned on 15th July 1919. A graduate of Trinity College, Melbourne, he worked extensively with the coalfields and the industry. For health reasons, Bishop Steven retired in 1928.

Due to the fact that he had retired, Bishop Steven presided over a special season of Synod to elect his successor. George Merrick Long, the then Bishop of Bathurst was elected, and enthroned in May 1928. During his reign he addressed economic and moral problems, but when he sailed to England for the Lambeth Conference in 1930, he died very suddenly.

In September 1930, Synod attempted to elect the next bishop, but no candidate got a majority to be elected. Thus, a second session was held a week later where the Right Reverend Neville Talbot, of Pretoria was offered the job, however he declined the position and it wasn’t until two months later that Francis de Witt Batty, from Brisbane was offered the position. This time the position was accepted and the 7th Bishop of Newcastle began his work. He was enthroned in March 1931 and over the next 20 years led the church through many challenging social times such as the 2nd World War, and the end of the depression.

In 1958, Bishop Batty announced his retirement. His position was taken over by Bishop J Housden, whose enthronement took place in November of the same year.

Bishop Batty died when he was 82 years old, in 1961, after administering to the diocese for 27 years. His ashes were taken to the same place where the original Bishop of Newcastle, Bishop Tyrrell, lay.

Bishop Housden retired in 1972, which coincided with the 70th anniversary of the Dedication of the cathedral. The next Bishop of Newcastle was to be the Right Reverend Ian Shevill, who was at the time the Bishop of North Queensland.

During Bishop Shevill’s time at the diocese, much more work was done on the cathedral, with much money having to be raised. Sadly, Bishop Shevill suffered what was labelled a “small stroke”, and did not ever recover enough to continue his work. He announced his resignation in August 1977.

From 1978 to Present Day

Bishop Alfred Holland took over the Bishop’s position in 1978, and under his rule the completion of the work on the cathedral was done. Bishop Holland dedicated the cathedral in May, 1979.

In 1984, the 13th Dean of Newcastle, Graeme Lawrence arrived from the Riverina where he worked as the Archdeacon. He was installed on St Peter’s Day 1984. After Bishop Holland retired in 1992, Dean Lawrence took over the administrative duties until the next Bishop was appointed.

The Bishop’s position was offered to Roger Herft, who was working in New Zealand at the time. Originally from Sri Lanka, Bishop Herft was enthroned as the 11th Bishop of Newcastle in May 1993. He continued his work throughout the diocese, with particular emphasis on the work of the Samaritans and the Two Bishops Trust, until his election as the Archbishop of Perth in 2005.

Dr Brian Farran, formerly the Bishop of the Northern Region in the Diocese of Perth, was enthroned as the Bishop of Newcastle at Christ Church Cathedral on June 24th, 2005.

Dean Graeme Lawrence retired in December 2008 after twenty-five years significant ministry in the diocese and national church. Among his most notable legacies was his guidance in the rebuilding of the cathedral after the 1989 earthquake. He was deposed from holy orders in 2012 following a finding of the Professional Standards Board.

In March 2009 James Rigney was installed as the 14th Dean of Newcastle, returning to Australia after eighteen years in England, latterly as Chaplain and Fellow of Magdalene College Cambridge.

The 15th Dean of Newcastle, Stephen Williams, was installed in June 2013. Dean Stephen led the Cathedral Parish honorably during what was an exceedingly difficult time for the Diocese and Cathedral community and was much loved by the Cathedral Parish Community.

Bishop Gregory Thompson was enthroned as the 13th Bishop of Newcastle on 2 February 2014. He had previously been the Bishop of the Diocese of Northern Territory but had spent much of his childhood in the Upper Hunter.

In October 2017, Katherine Bowyer was installed as the 16th Dean of Newcastle, after having served as a Cathedral Canon and over the years Rector of the Parishes of Morpeth, Singleton, Rutherford, and Cardiff.

Bishop Peter Stuart was enthroned as the 14th Bishop of Newcastle on 2 February 2018. He had previously been the Assistant Bishop of the Diocese of Newcastle, and prior to that held ministry positions in the Dioceses of Adelaide and Tasmania.

The Bishops of Newcastle

William Tyrrell 1849 – 1879
Josiah Pearson 1880 – 1889
George Stanton 1890 – 1889
John Stretch 1906 – 1919
Reginald Stephen 1919 – 1928
George Long 1928 – 1930
Francis de Witt Batty 1931 – 1958
James Housden 1958 – 1972
Ian Shevill 1973 – 1977
Alfred Holland 1978 – 1992
Roger Herft 1993 – 2005
Brian Farran 2005 – 2012
Gregory Thompson 2014 – 2017
Peter Stuart 2018 – present

The Deans of Newcastle

Arthur Selwyn 1892 – 1899
John Stretch 1900 – 1909
Cyril Golding-Bird 1909 – 1914
Henry Archdall 1915 – 1919
Horace Crotty 1919 – 1928
William Johnson 1928 – 1936
Thomas Armour 1936 – 1943
Arthur Morris 1943 – 1948
Norman Blow 1949 – 1950
William Hardie 1950 – 1961
John Falkingham 1961 – 1975
Robert Beal 1975 – 1983
Graeme Lawrence 1984 – 2008
James Rigney 2009 – 2013
Stephen Williams 2013 – 2017
Katherine Bowyer 2017 – present


Murray, J. (1991) The Vision Splendid

Magazine Associates References, Hamilton

Elkin, A.P. (1955) The Diocese of Newcastle

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Rowland, E.C. (1948) A Century of the English Church in New South Wales

Macarthur Press, Sydney

Symonds, E. (1898) The Story of the Australian Church London

Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge