Early church champion

The Good Bishop: the Story of Mathew Hale 1811-1895 by Michael Gourlay (Boolarong Press, Salisbury, Brisbane)

European settlement in Australia was not without its negative elements. There are sad stories to tell. But there are great and good stories, too, and one of those is the story of Mathew Hale.

Hale has the honour of being the first Church of England Archdeacon of Adelaide, the first Bishop of Perth and the second Bishop of Brisbane. He has an impressive record of work with Aboriginal Australians and was a significant player in the development of education in Western Australia. 

A resolution concerning Mathew Hale was adopted in the synod of the Diocese of Brisbane in 2011, the 200th anniversary of his birth. As well as recording the above-mentioned achievements it noted his “firm commitment to the scriptural and reformed Anglican Church, his willingness to work with people of other viewpoints in the Anglican Church, as well as with other Christian churches… a man of prayer … a leader by example”. 

Mathew Hale was born in Gloucestershire in 1811 and studied at Cambridge in the 1830s. While there two associations shaped his life: one was the untimely death of a young female friend, the other his contact with Simeon’s Church. He became a serious believer and a servant of the gospel.

After completing his degree Hale approached a missionary organisation with a view to ministry in the West Indies but that did not proceed. Instead he served in parish ministry – suffering the sad loss of his wife in 1845 after five years of marriage, plus one of their three daughters.

Two years later he accompanied the first Bishop of Adelaide, Augustus Short, to Australia as the settlement’s first Archdeacon. He proved a conscientious promoter of the life of South Australia’s churches and an advocate for the wellbeing and education of Aboriginal people. The institution he promoted at Poonindie drew favourable comments from the Bishop, who also noted that the Poonindie Aboriginal people played cricket with better humour and grace than the settlers! In1857 Hale was consecrated and appointed as the first Bishop of Perth.

The book’s author, Dr Michael Gourlay, gives an informative account of this able man’s involvement in the development of education in the colony, in the planting and development of churches and in the Australian Church as it developed a national life. 

Dr Gourlay provides interesting insights into the early workings of the Church in Australia and into the character of Hale with his appointment as Brisbane’s second bishop. There were moving expressions of gratitude for his work in Perth and an obvious confidence displayed by other bishops in their appointment of him to this new role.

The section of the book dealing with his Queensland ministry is a revealing treatment of the highs and lows of the episcopal task of developing an expanding ministry in that state. However, as previously, Hale served the community, the Diocese of Brisbane and the wider Australian Church with the same energy and commitment to Christ that had marked his earlier work. He also had valued contacts with two early Bishops of Sydney, Frederic Barker and Alfred Barry.

Hale retired in 1885 and returned to England, where he died 10 years later. The tombstone marking his burial place shows the focus of his life, reading “Our door to enter into eternal life is gladly to die with Christ that we may rise again from death and dwell with Him in everlasting life”.
Dr Gourlay has given us a very approachable and informative account of a man of God worthy of honour among us as a devoted servant of Christ in the life of our Church in Australia. His book includes numerous helpful photographs and illustrations, including one of a statue of Hale outside the cloisters of St George’s in Perth. There are a series of appendices that also provide detailed information on Hale’s connections and influence.

R.H. (Harry) Goodhew was Archbishop of Sydney from 1993-2001.

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