Anglican and Roman Catholic tensions in Sydney and Melbourne in the 1840s

180 years ago, on March 25th 1843 Bishop Broughton, the [high-church Tractarian] Bishop of Australia, based in Sydney, officially and publicly asserted that the episcopal actions of the recently appointed Roman Catholic Bishop of Sydney, Bede Polding, were invalid!

Dr. Broughton made his public protest in St. James’s church, Sydney, on March 25th, ” being the festival of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” Standing on the north side of the altar, surrounded by several of his clergy, the bishop read this spiritual protest —

” In the name of God: Amen. We, William Grant, by Divine permission, Bishop and Ordinary Pastor of Australia, do protest publicly and explicitly, on behalf of ourselves and successors of the same Church and diocese, and also on behalf of William, by Divine providence Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of all England and metropolitan, and his successors, that the Bishop of Borne [Rome] has not any right or authority, according to the laws of God and the canonical order of the Church, to institute any episcopal or archiepiscopal see or sees within the diocese of Australia and the province of Canterbury aforesaid; and we do hereby publicly, explicitly, and deliberately protest against, dissent from, and contradict any and every act of episcopal or metropolitan authority done, or to be done, at any time, or by any person whatever, by virtue of any right or title derived from any assumed jurisdiction, power, superiority, pre-eminence, or authority of the said Bishop of Rome, enabling him to institute any episcopal see or sees within the diocese and province hereinbefore named.”

Whitington comments that Broughton asserted that any episcopal acts were invalid, especially ordinations, ‘as they were solemnized by a bishop in a state of schism they were, according to every ecclesiastical principle, utterly null and void’. [Whitington 194-5]. He also asserted that any action of the Pope in instituting dioceses in Australia would also be schismatic.

Broughton did this because it was the first time since the Reformation that the Pope had established a metropolitan diocese with the title of a city within the realm of England, ‘there can neither be two Metropolitans of one Province, nor two Bishops in the same Diocese’. [Shaw, 64]. He was attempting to defend the Catholic integrity of the Church of England in Australia.

Broughton made this declaration because of his Catholic principles, though he was also attempting to promote the Anglican ascendency over Roman Catholics and other Protestant denominations in matters of state aid for clergy, and for church buildings, and in education.

He instructed all clergy in Australia to read his declaration to their congregations: John Wollaston did so thankfully in Western Australia. [Bolton, 132-5].

Bishop Broughton also publicly preached against the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church in his visit to Melbourne in 1843. We learn from the journal of Georgiana McCrae that in St James’ Cathedral Melbourne, the Bishop preached against praying to the saints, and the transubstantiation of the bread and wine in Holy Communion: and that ‘Mr McCrae listened to Bishop Broughton’s diatribe against the doctrines of Dr P. B. Geoghegan’. [McCrae, 113, 115]. Geoghegan was the leader of the Roman Catholics in Melbourne.

Previously, in 1839, Bishop Broughton had said,

In these times of rampant Papistry it becomes the duty of every sincere Protestant to be up and doing before the days come and the years draw nigh when the myridons [sic] of the Vatican will ride rough-shod over the length and breadth of the land, as in the days of bloody Queen Mary. [Grainger, 87].

It is in this context that we should understand the actions of the [low-church Evangelical] Bishop Perry in Melbourne.

On his arrival in 1848, he declined to meet with Dr Geoghegan. [He was not at home when Dr Geoghegan called, so did not ‘shut the door in his face’, as Georgiana McCrae recorded, McCrae, 57]. Rather, he wrote him a letter, saying that in view of their doctrinal differences, any meeting ‘could only be an occasion of pain rather than pleasure’. [Robin, 46].

However later Bishop Perry publicly supported the staunchly Roman Catholic and redoubtable leader Caroline Chisholm in her work of supporting women who arrived in the colony, helping to provide safety in travel and employment. He agreed to chair her committee, founded in 1852. So he publicly supported her work, and also publicly associated with Dr Geoghegan who also served on the committee. [Kiddle, 139].

By way of contrast, when Mrs Chisholm had approached Bishop Broughton for support for her work in Sydney, he declined to have any public association with because she was a Roman Catholic, but did give her £5, and allowed his wife to work with her. [Shaw, 209].

I am full of admiration for the lives and ministries of Bishop Broughton and Bishop Perry, pioneers of the Anglican Church in Australia. We should understand their actions in their historical context, so different from our own. We might not approve of all their actions, but we can still thank God for them, for they too were loved and saved by God in Christ. We should praise God for good progress in ecumenical relationships since 1843! We should also continue to speak the truth and speak it in love [Ephesians 4:15].


Bolton, Geoffrey, Heather Vose and Allan Watson, The Wollaston Journals Volume 2, 1842-1844, Nedlands, University of Western Australia Press, 1992.

Grainger, Elena, The Remarkable Reverend Clarke: The life and times of the father of Australian geology, Melbourne, OUP, 1982.

Kiddle, Margaret, Caroline Chisholm, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 1969.

Robin, A. de Q, Charles Perry, Bishop of Melbourne, Nedlands, University of Western Australia Press, 1967.

Shaw, G. P., Patriarch and Patriot, William Grant Broughton 1788-1853: Colonial Statesman and Ecclesiastic, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 1978.

McCrae, Hugh, ed., Georgiana’s Journal, CollinsAngus&Robertson, Pymble, 1992.

Whitington, F.T., William Grant Broughton, Bishop of Australia: With Some Account of the Earliest Australian Clergy, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1936.

The Rev Canon Dr Peter Adam, OAM, Vicar Emeritus of St Jude’s Carlton, Canon Emeritus of St Paul’s Cathedral, and former Principal of Ridley College.