Who was Bishop Radford?

The Right Rev Dr. Lewis Bostock Radford was an eminent scholar and visionary who advocated strongly for religious education and for Canberra as the central place for worship for Australian Anglicans.

Born in England, Radford was educated at St John’s College, Cambridge. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1890 and his Master of Arts in 1894, securing first-class honours as well as the Prince Consort History Prize and Medal. He continued his studies with a Bachelor of Divinity and then a Doctor of Divinity which he obtained in 1908. During this time, he had been ordained deacon in 1892 and a priest in 1893. He was an outstanding scholar, writing books on historical and theological subjects and publishing, among other things, his thesis on Cardinal Beaufort. Radford became known as “one of the most distinguished scholars ever to serve in the Australian Church”[1].

The burial of Major General (Maj Gen) Sir William Throsby Bridges, KCB, CMG. Australian War Memorial. P10797.002. CC BY-NC 3.0 AU

He came to Australia in 1909 as Warden of St. Paul’s College, University of Sydney. On 18 May 1915 he was elected to be the fourth Bishop of Goulburn, then a town of 10,000 people. He was consecrated Bishop in St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney on 24 August 1915 and enthroned in St. Saviour’s Cathedral, Goulburn on 31 August. His predecessor had died the night before, so his first official act was to officiate at the burial of Bishop Barlow. The next day he officiated at the burial of Major-General Sir W. T. Bridges, whose body had been brought back from Gallipoli and reburied on the slopes of Mount Pleasant, overlooking the Royal Military College Duntroon.

As new Bishop and army chaplain, Radford devoted much of his time to attending to the spiritual welfare of the young soldiers from his diocese at the army training camp in Goulburn. In his first few months he “racked up approximately 7000kms by train, bus, hire-car and horse, confirmed 980 candidates and didn’t take leave for 14 months”[2].

Radford was a strong advocate for religious education, both in Sunday Schools and day schools. He strongly believed in equal educational opportunities for all, instructing that a ladder be built in:

“every school in the city, town or bush right up to the university, but let every rung of the ladder be a sieve. No student of ability should be penalised by poverty, but no public resources should be wasted by subsidising mediocrity[3].

Article on Church Mail Bag School Shepparton Advertiser, 2 May 1941, p. 10.

He established, among other things, the Church Mail Bag School for isolated children. He was also instrumental in the foundation of Canberra Grammar School, establishing it in 1928 – 1929 by transferring Monaro Grammar School, Cooma and Canberra Girls’ Grammar, even asking General Synod for £700 to keep the Girl’s school when the Sisters of the Church ran into financial difficulties.

He was also interested in women’s work in the Church and at the 1916 Synod there was a proposal to appoint a committee “to form a women’s auxiliary for the promotion of the Church’s work among women and girls”. The Churchwomen’s Union was begun in 1916 and nurtured by his wife.

His other passion was Canberra. From the beginning of his 18-year episcopate, he gave much time, energy and thought to the problems arising from the growth and development of Canberra as the national capital. He saw not the vast empty paddocks, but a city of thousands of people of the future. He was an ardent and enthusiastic champion of the future of the National Capital as the political, social and religious centre of Australia.

Radford attended the opening of Parliament House in 1927 and was heavily involved in plans for the building of a cathedral at Canberra. He tried to gain support for a cathedral and national Anglican presence in Canberra. There were plans for a cathedral from the winning entrant of an architectural competition. It was designed by Harold Crone and was to be built of concrete, costing about £150,000. Although no Cathedral was built, he did manage to secure a site, dedicated on 8 May 1927 (two days before the opening of Parliament). The big wooden cross, erected in 1927, to mark the cathedral site, was burnt down by vandals in 1937[4].

Left: Opening of Parliament House, Canberra. State Library of NSW. 9216. CC BY-NC 3.0 AU. Right: Part of the crowd at the dedication ceremony for the site of St. Mark’s Anglican Cathedral on Rottenbury Hill. National Archives of Australia: A3560, 3080. CC BY-NC 3.0 AU

His vision and outspoken nature were polarising and he often appeared in newspaper column “The Public Eye” for his views on particular things such as immorality in Australia[5]. He even said that Australians “being a morally lazy crowd, leave everything to the Government or the other chap”[6]. His “bulldog tenacity” consequently meant that he had a “certain reluctance to see any other point but his own”[7] and he struggled to get others to share his vision.

The Cathedral for Canberra was shelved indefinitely in 1932 ending 10 years of struggle and frustration for Radford. By 1933, his health had deteriorated, and he returned to England. Farewelling his congregation, he said:

My farewell prayer for you all is that you may recover for yourselves and reveal to others the happiness of emancipation from the law which kills, and the true liberty of letting your souls be shaped by the Spirit, which alone makes life worth living and capable of being lived on the highest and best level. God bless you all[8].

He died in 1937 where he was given a military funeral at Lambeth parish church, London. It was attended by the Australian contingent to the coronation. His ashes were returned to Canberra and placed in the vault beneath St John’s Church, Reid. His wish was that his ashes would be interred beneath the future Anglican Cathedral.

Banner image: Speech day at Telopea Park School. Bishop Radford is on the right. National Archives of Australia: A3560, 2649. CC BY-NC 3.0 AU

[1] “A goodly heritage: a history of the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn: Lewis Bostock Radford, fourth Bishop of Goulburn, 1915-1922.” Southern Churchman, v.60, September 1962: 4.

[2] Steve Nation, “A Bishop through Joy & Pain.” Anglican News, Sept 2018, p. 3.

[3] W. C. Stegemann. “Who was Radford, for whom a new college is named?” The Canberra Times, 11 Feb 1984, p. 15.

[4] Ransome Wyatt, The History of the Diocese of Goulburn (Johnstone & Davie Printers, 1937), p. 252.

[5] “The Public Eye.” The Sun, 15 Oct 1915, p. 3.

[6] “The Public Eye.” The Daily Mail, 14 Sept 1924, p. 8.

[7] “The Late Dr. Radford.” The Canberra Times, 17 Sept 1937, p. 4.

[8] “Dr Radford.” The Canberra Times, 4 Sept 1933, p. 2.