John Ramsden Wollaston

1791 – 1856

 

John Ramsden Wollaston, hailed as an Australian saint and hero of the Church of England, is the subject of Simon Kershaw’s article.

Almost 20 years ago, the Archdiocese of Western Australia proclaimed their first archdeacon, John Ramsden Wollaston, a local saint. The nineteenth century hero spent the greater part of his life as a village priest in England and had links with Cambridgeshire - both as a student and as a clergyman.

Born in 1791, Wollaston was educated at Charterhouse, where his father was a master and his mother was the daughter of the headmaster, William Ramsden. He read theology at Christ’s College, Cambridge, graduating in 1812. He was made deacon in 1814 and became a priest a year later.

He served as Curate of Wrotham in Kent, then Vicar of Elsenham in Essex, before becoming Permanent Curate of West Wickham in south-east Cambridgeshire in 1825.

He served there for 16 years, faithfully ministering to its people, but in 1841, at the age of 50, he decided to emigrate with his wife and seven children to Western Australia to settle there and provide for them.

Although the authorities had promised to pay him a stipend as a colonial chaplain, he was unable to receive his payment until a church building had been constructed. Despite the harsh weather conditions, he built a little church at Picton in fewer than 18 months. It was only the second church built in Western Australia, and is still preserved as a national monument.

His energy and efficiency became widely known, and he was asked to minister to the people of Albany. In 1848, he completed St John’s Church, which had been started before the church at Picton, so that he is associated with both of the oldest churches in Western Australia.

After these successes, he was appointed the first Archdeacon of Western Australia, and for seven years he visited the settled areas of the archdeaconry, travelling hundreds of miles on horseback in overpowering heat or pouring rain to make sure the Church was ministering to the people. He was much loved by lay people and earned a reputation for bringing the very different clergy of the colony together.

He died on 3 May 1856, shortly after his second main archidiaconal tour of around 1000 miles - it is believed his death was the result of exhaustion. In 1992 the Province of Western Australia added his name to their calendar of saints. Later, it was added to that of the Anglican Church throughout the whole of Australia, where he is remembered on 18 September - the anniversary of the first service held in the church he built at Picton.

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