This excerpt from Twenty Priests for Twenty Years is a chapter by Stephen Savage, a parishioner at St Mary’s and a member of St Hilda’s Church at Cross Green, exploring the history of the 36th Vicar of Whitkirk.


Photograph of Gerald Sharp
Gerald Sharp (1865—1933)

Trinity College, Cambridge, had appointed the vicars of St Mary, Whitkirk, on the eastern edge of Leeds, since 1546. In 1898 the advowson, the right to appoint the vicar, was bought by Mrs Emily Meynell-Ingram of Temple Newsam House, which is in the parish. She was a devoted Anglo-Catholic, the sister of Lord Halifax, and dissatisfied with the churchmanship at her parish church. She already knew, and was very supportive, of Harry Sharp, the firmly Anglo-Catholic vicar of St Hilda, Cross Green, Leeds. He and his curates were invited to dinner at Temple Newsam occasionally and she may have consulted him about a suitable candidate for Whitkirk. Very soon Harry’s brother Gerald was appointed to the parish of St Mary. The two brothers regularly preached in each other’s churches.

Gerald was born on 27 October 1865, at Childer Thornton, Cheshire, son of Thomas Sharp, a merchant, and his wife Mary Anne. Educated at Manchester Grammar School, St John’s College, Cambridge (B.A. 1886, M.A. 1910, D.D. 1914) and Lincoln Theological College (1888-89), Gerald Sharp was made a deacon in 1889 and ordained to the priesthood in 1890. He was a curate at Taunton, Somerset (1889-93), and Holy Innocents, Hammersmith (1893-98). There his vicar was the Revd H.C. Eden, who was a Commissary, or representative, of the Bishop of New Guinea, which might be a significant link. His brother was Rodney Eden, Bishop of Dover, suffragan to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Edward White Benson.

Sharp arrived at Whitkirk in August 1898. The population of the large, then rural, parish was 2,400 and he planned to visit every house. He was friendly and out-going, devoted, caring and utterly dedicated to the job. The Offices were said daily. The number of celebrations of the Holy Communion gradually increased, some being choral. All feast and fast days were observed. There was advance in the life of the parish in every aspect and Mrs Meynell-Ingram must have been well-pleased. Soon plans were prepared, by leading architect G.F. Bodley, for an extended and improved east end. Mrs Meynell-Ingram remained a generous benefactor until her death in 1904. There were mission services, all manner of clubs and societies, lectures, courses of instruction, and flourishing Sunday Schools.

There was regular support for the Church overseas, with visiting preachers home from the Mission Field and representatives of missionary societies. Significantly, the Bishop of New Guinea, Montague John Stone-Wigg (curate of Holy Innocents, Hammersmith 1886–89) was due to visit in October 1902 but was too poorly to attend and so sent a representative, the Revd W. Carr Smith, Rector of St James, Sydney. The curate of Whitkirk, Thomas De Laune Faunce, went to Kimberley, South Africa in 1905. He was replaced by the Revd Cyril P. Shaw, who left for mission work in the Bahamas in 1907, and the following year Sharp went there for a visit. Shaw later became a prominent Anglo-Catholic parish priest in London and was the Chairman of “the 21” who defied Bishop Winnington-Ingram’s directions in relation to Benediction.

The impression is that he was seriously contemplating taking up a similar type of ministry. Mr Sharp, (as he was usually addressed) sailed on the Oceanic from Southampton to New York on 7 October 1908, landing on 14 October after experiencing some severe storms. He described New York as a “go-ahead place”, with “skyscrapers” and saw buildings of 42 and even 57 storeys. It took five days to reach Nassau and two more to Cat Island: “I hear that the inhabitants of the island, who hardly ever see a white face except that of Mr Shaw, are highly excited about the arrival of two “whites” coming from so far away to see them”. He left New York for the return on 2 December, on the Adriatic, landing at Southampton seven days later. He had much to tell. Then, as now, there was never a dull moment in Whitkirk: in September 1906 H.R.H. Princess Louise had attended morning service in St Mary’s. The Bishop of Nassau, Wilfrid Hornby, preached at Whitkirk in August 1908 to “an enormous congregation”.

In February 1910 there was both upset and great pride when it was announced that Gerald Sharp was leaving Whitkirk to become Bishop of New Guinea. “The appointment was placed in the hands of the Archbishop of Canterbury [Randall Davidson] by all the bishops of Australia, and his choice has lighted upon me”, he wrote. His last Sunday at Whitkirk was 27 February 1910. He sailed to Brisbane, Australia, on 4 March from Tilbury on the Omrah, for the consecration on 25 April. He was due in Sydney on 14 April, to meet his predecessor, Bishop John Stone-Wigg, whom he knew already. Bishop Stone-Wigg had resigned two years previously because of ill-health. Mr Sharp had hoped that his consecration would be in London on 6 March but “The Australian bishops want the consecration to be in Australia”, and so no-one from Whitkirk was able to attend. They subscribed £22 for his Episcopal ring and £11.11.0 for his Episcopal seal; also £11.12.0 for “Barrack Room Furniture”, and a purse containing £14.10.0. On the day of Sharp’s consecration, St Mark’s Day, there were two celebrations of Holy Communion at St Mary’s, with “prayer that God’s blessing may rest upon him who is called to widen God’s kingdom in New Guinea”. There were 65 communicants. Throughout the day there was continuous intercession.

In May 1910 Bishop Sharp landed at Dogura, Bartle Bay, British New Guinea, being met on the beach by “a large crowd of natives…most reverent and their devotion is very real”. They sang Now thank we all our God in their language, which he now had to quickly learn as all services were in the vernacular. At first he had no furniture and slept on the bamboo floor of a native hut. The roof and walls were of palm leaves. Next day he borrowed a table and “we had a celebration” for “I carry altar vessels and linen and so the little hut was quite transformed”. Soon afterwards he confirmed 50 candidates at Mukawa; they had been prepared and tested for four years.

In June Bishop Sharp was at Okein: “Ten or twelve men from the neighbouring village, hearing “something was up” put on “full dress” consisting of a great many feathers in their hair, tails of an animal called kuskus (like a squirrel) hanging from their bracelets, wonderful necklaces and ear-rings, and spears and clubs decorated with feathers of cockatoos, and came and sat on the veranda to have a good look at me and my white friend. I tried to tell them, through an interpreter, why I had come and to make a beginning of teaching them a little about God. It would most likely be the first they had ever heard, and they have only seen about three white men ever before. Then they escorted me in triumph to their village, brandishing their spears and clubs. They were most friendly, and when we got to the village the children all ran away into the bush being frightened, but all the others shouted out something which meant “Glad to see you”. I went to every house and shook hands with all. There was one old man magnificently attired in feathers of cockatoos and birds of paradise, with his face artistically painted in scarlet and black lines, sitting in a very dignified position in front of a hut, somewhat aloof. I went up to him, and raising my hat shook hands with great pomp and circumstance amid shouts of joy from the surrounding crowd. He appeared very glad to see me, and later on condescended so far as to stalk with much dignity to the entrance of the village to see me off. I expect the old villain has eaten many a pound of human flesh in his time. I asked them to send their children to be taught by our native teacher. They said there weren’t any children! This was because they did not like to confess they were all frightened and had run away. Well, it is all a beginning and when I go again, if I am able to talk to them, I know they will listen to anything I have to say”.

The Feast of St James, 25 July, was observed in England as the Annual Festival of the New Guinea Mission. At Whitkirk there were intercessions and a Eucharist, the collection being sent to Bishop Sharp. From the August 1911 edition of the Church Magazine we learn: “Bishop Sharp is going to call his new steam launch Whitkirk, after his old parish and because the fund which provides the launch was collected here”. £441 was sent. The boat was essential for the bishop to be able to get around his scattered diocese. Later he asked the parish to try to provide £5 per year, towards its maintenance.

In August 1910 Bishop Gerald wrote from Samarai, British New Guinea, to the Church Times appealing for more workers. His confirmation candidates, he said, walked two miles every day to receive instruction and had done so now for two years. “The other day I held the first confirmation ever held at a place which 12 years ago was absolutely savage and fierce. A great crowd of men rushed into the sea and seized hold of my dinghy and hauled it up onto the beach, and then bodily carried it some way overland, with me in it, till they deposited it at the entrance to the mission quarters, shouting and cheering simply because I am Bishop of the Church they are beginning to understand and love. I have only 7 priests, four laymen, 10 ladies and about 40 native and Melanesian teachers”. He continued “…I must say that in my opinion the unhealthiness of the climate has been very greatly exaggerated in the minds of people at home. I was told I was coming to a “death trap” and to the “white man’s grave”. It is not so in the very least. Ordinary carefulness and the use of quinine keep most of us perfectly well. Australia does much for us but not all. A few more men from England would work wonders, and I know they would be happy – we all are. I suppose it is because we feel how valuable we are”.

On 30 December 1910 Bishop Sharp wrote from Dogura to the people of Whitkirk: “The heat here is only just bearable. I never stir out of doors without a white umbrella lined with green. The thermometer is standing at 100 in the shade. My books, etc., have arrived. The piece of “barrack room furniture” given me by Whitkirk Parish is most useful. I had a Confirmation here last Sunday; and another day I went by boat eight miles away to confirm two women, one a cripple, the other a leper. We have a few lepers here, not many. We had a very enjoyable Christmas. Next day I started at 6.00 a.m. by boat for a place a few miles away, reaching there at 6.45 a.m. First I dedicated a pretty new church, then baptised two people and churched two women, then home again, all before breakfast. But I am wonderfully well, for, after that heavy morning I was not at all done up, and yet it was the hottest day we have had.

Yesterday I was at a village I have not seen before, and where I held a service under a palm tree. The people have wonderful memories, and can say many hymns and psalms without any books. I appealed to them to build themselves a church simply for the love of God, and not for any payment, and this they are going to do. On January 6 I start for Ambasi, a place 300 miles away, taking a priest with me, and I fear you can’t have a letter from me again for six weeks, possibly twelve, as we are going beyond the reach of the mail. The mails are a joy to me. I get 60 or 70 letters each time, besides papers. I am going to build a simple but good little hospital to accommodate ten patients, and have engaged a private nurse, who is coming from Melbourne, to take charge of it. It will be ready by August. We sadly need a place of the kind to bring cases of severe sickness to. On my expeditions I usually take one priest and am accompanied by a number of native boys carrying our tents and food; and I always take a gun with me so that I can shoot a parrot or two for supper”.

Bishop Sharp wrote from Taupota, P.N.G., on 28 March 1911 but this did not appear in the Whitkirk Church Magazine until August: “On Sunday night last, when I was staying at a place called Awaiama for four days, with Messrs Shaw and Fittell(1), we had an awful hurricane. New Guinea is said to be outside the hurricane area. There was a bad “blow of wind” three and a half years ago and another in 1898, both of which did damage; but this appears to have been a real hurricane, or else a tornado or cyclone, and none of the “oldest inhabitants” among the natives remember anything approaching it”. This is a fragment of a longer letter.

In April 1911 Gerald Sharp’s successor as vicar of Whitkirk, the Revd Brett Guyer, wrote in the Church Magazine: “I have had a letter from the Bishop of New Guinea asking whether the children of our Sunday School will undertake to support one child or two in his school. The cost will be £5 per child per annum. At present the amount raised in Sunday School by the missionary boxes will barely keep one, but the parents could speak to their children about keeping their pennies for Sunday School. We ought to be able to maintain one child for Bishop Sharp”. A priest from New Guinea, the Revd A.K. Chignell, was at St Mary’s to preach on Low Sunday. At the morning service he spoke about the work out there, to the children in the afternoon and at Halton in the evening. “He goes back to his work next week laden with messages for his bishop. It was a great pleasure to the people of Whitkirk to hear about their late vicar, and his arduous and interesting work”, wrote Father Guyer. In February 1912 Bishop Sharp again wrote to the people of Whitkirk “…I returned to Dogura for the beginning of our Anniversary week. About 110 teachers, lay-readers, and delegates attended it from all parts. Frequent services have been held and addresses given, the opening sermon was preached by Mr Shaw(2), a Quiet Day was conducted by Mr Gill, a Conference was held, and everything was in the Wedauan language, except the morning addresses, which I gave to the South Sea Island teachers, who all understand, and speak, English. On the Saturday evening I had the happiness of licensing four more Papuan lay-readers, for a period of three years. At the celebration of Holy Communion yesterday (Sunday) morning the church was filled to overflowing, many having to stand or kneel on the verandas, and the steps leading down therefrom. Indeed, every night during the week the congregation was too large to be contained within the walls of the church and the veranda had to relieve the overflow. Last night after the closing service, the people began to disperse to their own homes by schooner and whale-boats, and this morning Dogura is once more in its normal condition. The week has been a very happy one, and a great encouragement, I think, to all who come to take part in its festivities”.

In April 1912 Bishop Sharp was unwell, with a “critical illness” and “at great risk” had to sail to Sydney for a “severe operation”. After convalescing he recovered and looked forward to getting back to work, which he did.

In January 1914 he travelled to London for a knee-operation. When fully mobile once again, in March, he travelled to Whitkirk via York. On Sunday 15March he preached in York Minster and addressed a meeting in St William’s College. At Whitkirk he was able to speak about his work, receive donations and meet old friends. On 22 March at “the Sunday Choral Eucharist he was vested in cope and mitre, attended by the Revd E.T. Sankey (chaplain to the Hon. Edward Wood, who had inherited Temple Newsam House from his late aunt, Mrs Meynell-Ingram) as his chaplain. He was received at the church door by a guard of honour of the Boy Scouts, and escorted to his seat by the Churchwardens and the Vicar. He preached at the eleven o’clock and again at the Evensong when the church was crowded to its utmost capacity. At both services he gave an address of a purely missionary nature, dwelling on the happiness and on the difficulties of the work…He said he was quite happy in his beloved New Guinea, and the work was a great pleasure to him and deeply interesting; in fact, he would be pleased to go back, and if he was offered the position of the Archbishop of Canterbury, which was very unlikely, he would rather go back to New Guinea”.

In November 1921 Gerald Sharp left New Guinea to become the second Archbishop of Brisbane, succeeding St Clair Donaldson, who had become Bishop of Salisbury, England. Archbishop Sharp died in office on 30 August 1933. His successor was William Wand(3). A strong influence behind this appointment was Bishop St Clair Donaldson, who because of his experience was consulted by Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Gordon Lang.

Sharp’s entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography by George P. Shaw, reviewing his work generally, states: “Although he [Sharp] endorsed the hope of his predecessor [in New Guinea] Bishop Stone-Wigg of developing a “National Church manned by a Native Ministry, and self-supporting”, he undermined any prospect of diocesan self-sufficiency by abandoning mission plantations because they involved the alienation of native lands. Sharp curbed missionary eccentricity by introducing Rules and Methods of the Diocese of New Guinea and extended native education and medical missions. He challenged the exploitative practices of white-settler commercial penetration and land alienation, and generally supported (Sir) Hubert Murray’s administration [Colonial Administrator]. With no original instinct for missionary work, Sharp relied for advice on Rev. Henry Newton, [his successor in New Guinea] to whom he left a mission “where trading is forbidden and where all lived in a state of pinching poverty”.” This is, at least in part, a harsh judgement, as he certainly cared about the people he believed himself called to serve.

George P. Shaw(4) considered Sharp: “Primarily a pastor with a deep spirituality and an Anglo-Catholic love of ritual, Sharp was shaped by Tractarian piety, especially Keble’s Christian Year, rather than by intellectual debate. He elevated character above intellect and thereby consolidated the formation of a non-theological Australian clergy. Believing the uniformity of public worship in the Book of Common Prayer prevented diversity from degenerating into divisiveness, he deplored alternative forms of worship in the revised Prayer Book of 1928. “There must be in essentials unity, in non-essentials diversity, in all things charity”. Sharp closely associated Christianity with morality and propriety. He criticized gambling but refused to join any anti-gambling organization; he deplored drunkenness but opposed the 1923 referendum on prohibition; he disapproved of organized Sunday sport but refused to support the Sabbatarian cause. He condemned beauty competitions as “absolutely abhorrent to every considering Christian man and woman”. He deplored Australian priests’ avoidance of service in the Bush Brotherhoods which he believed to be “the most attractive and valuable work in the diocese”. Sharp’s strength was his sanctified ordinariness, to which it was difficult to take exception. Apart from his advocacy of Australian church autonomy and a sustained, but forlorn, effort to rouse interest in the reunion of Christendom, Sharp’s success was in doing well what was ordinarily expected of a diocesan bishop. A member of the Senate of the University of Queensland (1923), which had conferred on him an honorary M.A. (1922), Sharp was president of the Royal Geographical Society of Queensland and the Brisbane branch of the League of Nations Union. During the Depression he surrendered one-quarter of his salary. On 30 August 1933 he died in office in Brisbane of renal failure. A bachelor and a relatively poor man, he was buried in Toowong Cemetery. His Roman Catholic counterpart, Archbishop (Sir) James Duhig, considered Sharp “the most lovable man I knew”. Gerald Sharp is one of those interesting characters about whom a full biography, drawing upon original source material, should be written. Useful material is located in three different countries, however, making such a project rather difficult.


Savage, Stephen. “Gerald Sharp: Parish Priest and Missionary Bishop.” In Twenty Priests for Twenty Years, edited by Michael Yelton. Anglo-Catholic History Society, 2020. ISBN 978-1-9163276-0-3.

References

1 This particular Shaw I have not positively identified. Canon Norman Smith Fittell was born in New South Wales in 1884, and ordained in 1920. He was the author of several books.
2 Possibly G.E. Shaw, curate of St James’, Melbourne.
3 Later to be Bishop of Bath and Wells and then of London.
4 In Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 11.