Anglican clergymen in Britain's Australian colonies in their earliest years faced very particular challenges. Lacking relevant training, experience or pastoral theology, these pioneer religious professionals not only ministered to a convict population unique in the empire, but had also to engage with indigenous peoples and a free-settler population struggling with an often inhospitable environment. This was in the context of a settler empire that was being reshaped by mass migration, rapid expansion and a widespread decline in the political authority of religion and the confessional state, especially after the American Revolution.
Previous accounts have caricatured such clerics as lackeys of the imperial authorities: "moral policemen", "flogging parsons". Yet, while the clergy did make important contributions to colonial and imperial projects, this book offers a more wide-ranging picture. It reveals them at times vigorously asserting their independence in relation both to their religious duties and to humanitarian concern, and shows them playing an important part in the new colonies' social and economic development, making a vital contribution to the emergence of civil society and intellectual and cultural institutions and traditions within Australia. It is only possible to understand the distinctive role that the clergy played in the light of their social origins, intellectual formation and professional networks in an expanding British World, a subject explored systematically here for the first time.
Michael Gladwin is Lecturer in History at St Mark's National Theological Centre, Charles Sturt University, Canberra.