PERRY, Charles (1807-1891)

PERRY, Charles (1807-1891)
first anglican bishop of Melbourne
third son of John Perry, shipbuilder, by his second wife, Mary, daughter of George Green, was born at Hackney, Middlesex, on 17 February 1807. He was educated at Harrow, where he played in the school eleven, and was a contemporary of Bishop Charles Wordsworth and Cardinal Manning. After four years at Harrow, on account of some youthful folly, the headmaster asked Perry's mother to take him away and send him to private tutors. In 1824 he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. in 1828 as senior wrangler, first Smith's prizeman and 7th in the first class of the classical tripos. He was elected a fellow of Trinity College in 1829 and began reading for the bar, but his health broke down, and in 1832 he returned to Trinity College as assistant-tutor and later tutor. While at Cambridge he was ordained deacon in 1833 and priest in 1836, and having purchased the advowson of the living of Barnwell, vested the patronage in trustees and secured the erection of two churches. Of one of these, St Paul's, he became the first vicar in 1842, and five years later was appointed the first bishop of Melbourne. He sailed on the Stag on 6 October 1847 and arrived in Port Phillip Bay on 14 January 1848. He found that there was one over-burdened clergyman in Melbourne, another at Geelong, and another at Portland. He had brought three clergymen with him, and there were two catechists, thus making with the bishop a total of nine persons to minister to a district as large as Great Britain. Bishop Broughton (q.v.) of Sydney had given up £500 a year towards the stipend of the new bishop, but there were no diocesan funds, and the whole organization of the diocese had to be worked out and built up. The government offered the bishop two acres of land for a site for his house a little more than a mile from the post office, or alternatively five acres farther out, and set aside £2000 for the building of a house. Perry decided it would be better to be within easy walking distance of the city. His house, however, was not completed until 1853.
In July 1851 Victoria was constituted a separate colony, and a few weeks later the discovery of gold led to an enormous influx of population. Perry had succeeded in obtaining about £10,000 for the organization of his diocese from societies and friends in England, but there was little prospect of receiving any substantial amount in the future. Several new churches and schools had been built, and the number of clergy had more than trebled. It was, however, difficult to obtain additional clergy, and the cost of building for a time was exceedingly high. Perry visited the goldfields and in the meanwhile made what arrangements he could. Another problem was the framing of a constitution for the Church of England in Victoria. In this he had the valuable assistance of (Sir) William Foster Stawell (q.v.). A bill was prepared and brought before the legislative council and eventually passed. But there had been some determined opposition to it, and it was known that a petition had been sent to England praying that the royal assent should not be given. Perry was therefore sent to London in 1855 to be able to answer any objections that might be made, and though difficulties were encountered, the assent was eventually given, and Perry returned to Melbourne in April 1856. Another question dealt with by Perry in England was the choice of a headmaster for the Melbourne Church of England Grammar School. Dr J. Bromby (q.v.) was eventually appointed. On 30 July 1856 the foundation-stone of the school building was laid, and less than a year later the building for the Geelong Church of England Grammar School was also begun. In 1863 Perry again visited England principally to arrange for clergy to come to his diocese, but it was strongly felt that it would be necessary to provide better for the training of their own clergy in Victoria. On 10 January 1870 Perry laid the foundationstone of Trinity College at Melbourne university, but it was not until Alexander Leeper (q.v.) was appointed warden in 1876 that the college made a fair start. Since then several Australian bishops and many clergy have been among its old students. It was decided in 1872 that the diocese should be divided and a bishop appointed at Ballarat, and in February 1874 Perry went to England to find a suitable man for the position. The Rev. Samuel Thornton was selected and consecrated in May 1875 and Perry abandoned his intention of returning to Melbourne and resigned early in 1876. In 1878 he was made a canon of Llandaff, and in the same year a prelate of the order of St Michael and St George. In his last years he did much committee work in connexion with missionary societies and was one of the founders of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, and Ridley Hall, Cambridge. He died on 2 December 1891 and was buried at Harlow, Essex. He married in 1841 Fanny, daughter of Samuel Cooper, who survived him. He had no children. He published in 1856 Five Sermons preached before the University of Cambridge in November 1855, and in 1864, Foundation Truths: Four Sermons. Various addresses and sermons were also published separately .
Perry was a fine scholar and a good administrator who showed much wisdom in the conduct and building up of his diocese. When he left it, the number of his clergy had grown to 90. He was an extreme Evangelical and his fear that his church might be Romanized became overimportant with him. But he had the courage of his convictions, great conscientiousness, courtesy and kindliness. He made no claim to being a theologian, but was "content to believe in the bible". His portrait by Henry Weigall is at the national gallery, Melbourne.
G. Goodman, The Church in Victoria during the Episcopate of the Right Reverend Charles Perry; The Times. 1 December 1891; H. Willoughby, The Critic in Church; Ed. by R. Perry, Contributions to an Amateur Magazine; Admissions to Trinity College, Cambridge, vol. IV.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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