Churchman's work lives on in the Monaro

 In the tracks of Bishop Broughton

By Robert Willson

8 February 1986 The Canberra Times

HE WAS lame and he often walked with a stick.

He was appointed to be the Bishop of Australia and for some years he was the sole Anglican bishop in this land.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the consecration of William Grant Broughton and the beginning of his episcopate.

In spite of his physical disabilities Broughton was an assiduous traveller in the Australian bush.

In the year 1845 he reported that he had travelled 3,000 miles (4,800 kilometres), mostly on horseback and often camping under the stars.

All over the Monaro and in many other places there are churches that he founded or dedicated.

The journals that he kept, describing his visits to some of the most remote parts of the colony of NSW, make vivid and fascinating reading.

It was appropriate that the first bishop in Australia should be born in the year that the First Fleet arrived.

Broughton was born in London and educated at Cambridge.

It was while a student at Cambridge that a fellow student played a practical joke that caused him to fall heavily down a staircase and made him lame for life. But it did not curb his energy.

While serving as a country priest in Hampshire, Broughton discovered that his next-door neighbour was the Duke of Wellington, who had his country home a mile away.

The "Great Duke", the victor of Waterloo, astounded Broughton by nominating him to be Archdeacon of New South Wales in 1828.

His early work in the colony marked him out for further promotion, and a few years later he was back in London pressing for greater support for the cause of religion in the convict colony.

On a cold winter's day in February, 1836, Broughton went to Lambeth Palace Chapel to be consecrated bishop.

We may wonder if he paused as he walked past the grave of another man famous, or infamous, in Australian history, who is buried there.

In the churchyard is the grave of William Bligh, the central figure of the mutiny on the Bounty and of the Rum Rebellion in the colony of NSW.

The year 1836 was a significant one for Australia. In that year the Government introduced State aid for the four main Christian denominations.

John Bede Polding had arrived as the first Roman Catholic Bishop a few months before. In January of 1836 the Sydney Press reported the visit of a brig named the Beagle.

It made no mention of a young naturalist on board who made a journey to Bathurst and whose name was Charles Darwin.

Bishop Broughton reached Sydney on June 2, 1836, and was enthroned in the lovely St James' Church, King Street, the Church on the Ten Dollar note, designed by the convict architect Francis Greenway.

The new bishop threw himself into the demands of his work, the supply and training of priests, the building of churches and a cathedral in Sydney, the founding of schools, as well as taking part in the wider public issues of immigration, transportation of convicts and land settlement.

What sort of a man was Broughton? 

The diaries, letters and memoirs of that period give us some pictures of him as others saw him.

Annabella Boswell was only six years old when Broughton visited her home in the bush west of Bathurst in the 1830s but she never forgot the open-air service attended by all who could come.

He spoke on the tenth chapter of Acts, Saint Peter's vision of the sheet let down from heaven, and she recorded that she could never hear those words without recalling that occasion.

A Scottish traveller, John Hood, recorded in 1842 that he went to St Phillip's Church in Sydney especially to hear the bishop. His appearance, in full canonicals, was impressive, and his sermon was evangelical and practical.

On the other hand, Alexander Brodie Spark, a leading Sydney merchant who had fallen into bankruptcy in that same year, heard the bishop preach on the subject of riches being the root of all evil. He comments in his journal that he found it inapplicable to himself.

Bishop Broughton made several extended tours through the Monaro.

He was in Goulburn in January of 1837 and he made plans for a school as well as rejecting the site allocated for a church and selecting the site of the present St Saviour's Cathedral.

He regretted that on that visit he was unable to journey to Yass or Queanbeyan, but he wrote of his plans for "a classical boarding school at Bungonia and much desired by the inhabitants". A century and a half later Bungonia is still waiting.

Between 1837 and 1851 Broughton made six long visits to the southern parts of NSW, including one to the Monaro and three to the Riverina.

In 1840 he was in the Tumut district, where he read Morning Prayer and "administered the Sacrament of Baptism and the Ordinance of Matrimony to such as were in attendance to partake of them".

From Yass the bishop rode to the Limestone Plains with Robert Campbell, of Duntroon, to choose the site for a church. 

Five years later he was able to consecrate - the Church of St John the Baptist.

When he visited Bungendore in 1847 he was most disappointed that the church had not been finished, though he himself had provided the doors and windows for it.

His journals give us indications of the difficulties of travel.

On his 1845 journey he arrived at "a solitary station called Meringa (Marengo), the house much lapidated and nearly deserted".

He was given a civil welcome but there was no bed in the house so he lay down for a few hours on a couch fully dressed. The only food was milk and damper.

The population of the neighbourhood was scattered shepherds and stockmen, and there seemed no hope of providing a regular ministry for them or education for any children.

On his journey towards "Maneroo" he camped one evening in the neighbourhood of the "Tindery" mountains and he describes their grand and striking against the clear sky at evening. 

At Michelago he found a sick man and prayed with him, using the service for the Visitation of the Sick from the Prayer Book. On his return he did not forget to call on him again.

The bishop reached "Coomer" on February 16, 1845, where he was joined by the Reverend E. G. Pryce, whose ministry in the mountains of the Monaro became a legend among early settlers and whose descendants still live in the area. 

At Cooma he preached and celebrated the Eucharist and laid the foundation stone of the original Christ Church.

He also paid a visit to "Jejeric", (Gegedzerick) near the present Berridale, where he stayed with Mr Brooks.

He made plans for a wooden church there but it was eventually built in stone and dedicated to St Mary the Virgin.

In November of 1847 the bishop was at Yass and officiated at the laying of the foundation stone of St Clement's Church.

He comments in a letter a few months later on the uncertainty of human life because, of the five men named as trustees of the church, two were dead within a short time.

We do not read of the bishop being bailed up by bushrangers on his travels. 

In 1843 he was in the Mudgee district and heard that an act of violence had been attempted by two armed men, still at large.

He accepted the proposal of an escort by the Chief Constable, mounted and armed, but they had no cause for alarm.

The Presbyterian clergyman, Dr. Lang, was not so fortunate and was bailed up on the Sydney mail coach about four miles from Goulburn by three armed men. But when he told them who he was they let him sit at the side of the road in the shade of his umbrella while they searched the coach.

During his years as bishop Broughton consecrated or dedicated almost a hundred churches on the Australian mainland.

He had encouraged many men to come to Australia to serve in the priesthood, especially men inspired by the Oxford Movement, the High Church revival which the bishop strongly supported.

There are many reminders of his life and work still to be seen.

There is a Broughton Street in Barton named after him and one can stand in the quietness of St John's and try to recall the scene the day he consecrated the church in1845.

In Sydney there are many reminders of his work in St Andrew's Cathedral, where one can see his academic robes preserved in a case and a replica of his tomb in Canterbury Cathedral.

In the historic St Stephen's Churchyard at Newtown one may find the grave of Sarah Broughton, the bishop's wife, who died suddenly in 1849. The Chinese elm at the foot of the grave was planted by the bishop.

In the early months of 1851 the news of the discovery of gold swept the Australian colonies. Within a few months a city of tents had sprung up at Sofala and along the banks of the Turon river to the north of Bathurst.

In spite of his health problems Broughton, then more than 60 years of age, determined to visit the diggings.

On the way through Bathurst he made plans for the establishment of a church among the miners, and the placing of a priest in charge.

On the appointed day he was met by a large crowd at Sofala at 6am, and after the service of Morning Prayer the bishop seized a pick and invited the crowd to "dig to the glory of God in ground undisturbed since Creation".

By lunch time the timber frame of a temporary church to seat more than 200 people had been erected and canvas and furniture arrived from Bathurst on carts. 

Within a week the church was complete and Bishop Broughton, dressed in Episcopal vestments and watched by a great crowd, climbed to the ridge of the building at the east end and nailed a cross in place.

After this dramatic act of Dedication he celebrated the Holy Communion and preached on the words: "And it was the third hour, and they crucified Him."

A few months later Broughton sailed for England to seek more support for the church in the colonies.

Yellow fever raged on the ship as he crossed the Atlantic.

He reached England just as the Duke of Wellington, his old patron, was buried. A few months later he himself was dead.

He lies in Canterbury Cathedral, the first bishop for centuries to be buried in that shrine of English Christianity, but his great missionary work in Australia lives on.