History of West Australia/Charles Owen Leaver Riley


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IN every nook and corner of the civilised world Society leaps toward the infinite realm of freedom. Unconsciously and unerringly leavening and universal sentiments of brotherhood are permeating mankind. What fifty years ago was termed impossible, is now attained, and narrow dogma, or petty jealousy, is being superseded by an all-powerful catholic spirit. Every man has a soul, every man has a right to his opinion, and every man, either in moral suasion or bodily vigour, is a potent factor in the world. Remove him before his time, says Carlyle, and there would be a vacuum. Justice is no longer a class, it is for all, and soon, we hope, it will be applied with unwavering impartiality. There is a levelling down and a levelling up, and the peer is being infected with democratic sentiment almost as readily as the peasant.

The Churches, as tokens of change in moral conception, present an example of advancement which is typical of everything else in the world's economy. Liberality and freedom and noble ideals are key-notes of their work, while clergymen and laymen now recognise that Churches may be made of very practical advantage in ways other than in their special sphere. In short, their sphere is being widened, and is tending to an embrace of all things.

In Australia, a phase of democratic sentiment encourages ministers of religion to assist the people in quite new ways, and their duties are expanding in consequence. The advice of reverend gentlemen is now being asked in some centres on political, municipal, and commercial matters, besides the more altruistic ones. If all these phases are to be taken as indications, it would difficult to estimate how universal and noble and potent the Church may yet become. Stead, the enthusiast, prophesies an early branching, which would make the Church an inn and a theatre, a friendly and a debating society, a refuge where men may go at any and all times.

Potent has been the influence of the Church of England over the past destinies of Great Britain. England and the Anglican Church are apparently necessary parts of each other, and the one without the other would be robbed of much of its grandeur and beauty and pomp. The priests of this Church have been teaching the inhabitants of England since the first introduction of Christianity to the island. The Gurths and the Cedrics, and before them the Vikings and the Saxon thralls, felt in one form or other the effects of the Church. In the dark ages, when bloodshed and rapine were rampant, and life was but a precarious thing, religious men worked quietly to bring about a more peaceful and humane civilisation. While they taught they assisted by practical means. From the inception of English history the English Church has been a strong force, and its priests have had bestowed on them many of the privileges of the old Levites. It is to the Church that the nation has often looked, and these apostles of the Great Master of all have anointed the crowned heads who have reigned over the Motherland, and, with their religious sentiments, they have propagated those more temporal sentiments of patriotism—faithfulness to the powers below and beyond. In short, England and the Anglican Church have had similar relationship to that between the Jewish monarchs of old and their Church. Gray with worthy age, the centre of great pageants, combining with majestic solemnity temporal with spiritual things; often leading popular sentiment, she stands yet a great vivifying force, out of which the nation speaks. Her ministers to-day wield a power not only in spiritual things, but actively assist their flocks in temporal. Her bishops sit among the peers of the realm, and have a voice in the guidance of England's great destinies.

Church of England clergymen in Australia are prominent in all national movements, and they, probably more than anyone or anything else, bind the heart of Australia to the Empire, and make the colonies love to think they are still part of the Motherland, although living in the Southern Hemisphere. In Western Australia the Church of England, in unison with the other colonies, is not actually an established Church, but she is the strongest denomination in our midst. She holds this place by right of number of churches, ministers, and adherents, who are congregated in the most unexpected places, where the silent bush holds solemn sway. The first religious gathering the colony witnessed was held under her auspices, and during the whole history of Western Australia she has been a vital force.

Bishop Riley controls the Church in the colony, and the excellent career he had in England is being perpetuated here, and, we trust, will leave a lasting and useful mark on the pages of local history. Charles Owen Leaver Riley was born in Birmingham in 1855, and is the son of the one-time Vicar of Knutsford, Cheshire. The vicar desired his son to follow in his footsteps, and become a clergyman, and when the latter was old enough he happily elected to join the band of Levites. He was educated at Gonville and Caius College, and graduated in 1878, passing sixth optime in the mathematical tripos and as first scholar of the College. In the same year he was ordained a deacon in the Anglican Church, and continuing his studies, he in 1881 attained the M.A. degree. In 1879 his practical work in the Church began, when he was admitted into the priesthood, and was ordained by the Lord Bishop of Ripon. The young clergyman was given a curacy at Bierley, in Yorkshire, and there he worked energetically in the disseminating of his religious convictions and in helping his parishioners. But his stay at Bierley was very short, for in 1880 he removed to the Holy Trinity Church, Bradford. His sermons at this period betokened considerable earnestness, were marked by much study, fair powers of delivery, and simplicity of utterance. Two years passed in useful work, and in 1882 he accepted the position of senior curate at the parish church at Lancaster, where he remained until 1885, when he was appointed to the People's Parish of St. Paul's Preston. There his flock numbered upwards of 12,000 souls. During these periods he learnt much of the sombre side of life, of the griefs and vices and poverty which stalk abroad—of life as it is in crowded cities. Needless to say, his sympathies were widened and deepened, and he recognised that his mission was no pastime of an id1e hour, but something realistic and requiring constant ingenuity, tact, and energy. This may be said to explain that broadness of sympathies which Bishop Riley has repeatedly shown himself to be possessed of in this colony. While at Preston in 1886 he held the position of chaplain of the infirmary, and was given the post of surrogate, and also the chaplaincy of the 5th Lancaster Artillery Volunteers. The young clergyman's energy while negotiating all this work caused him to rise in the Church, and attracted the attention of the bishops. For a number of years he laboured unceasingly, and whether in visiting his people and helping them in a temporal way, or in the pulpit, where he was ever vigorous and intelligent and didactic, he was marked as a rising man. He showed much administrative ability in the control of his charge, and made himself popular among all classes.

It was natural, therefore, that the Rev. Mr. Riley should receive special recognition, and this was not long in coming. A committee of English Bishops, consisting of the Bishops of Manchester, Southwell, and Derham, met together to choose a new bishop for the Western Australian Diocese. After earnest deliberation they decided to offer the Rev. Riley the charge, which he accepted. On the 18th October, 1894, he was consecrated in Westminster Abbey by the Archbishop of Canterbury, assisted by other bishops.

Then leaving his native land, where he had laboured so successfully, and where he left thousands of sincere friends and wellwishers, he sailed for the Southern Hemisphere, and reached Perth early in February, 1895. On the 4th February he was enthroned, being the third to fill the Episcopal chair in Perth. Here he at once set to work with all the earnestness and zealousness of his nature to strengthen his Church. He has travelled from end to end of the colony, learning the requirements of the Anglican body, and has opened new churches on different goldfields and at other centres. The number of clergymen has increased, and adherents have multiplied. Nor should we hide the physical exertion which travelling under such circumstances demand. When one has to go hundreds, and sometimes a thousand, miles into sparsely-settled country by the most primitive conveyances, amid deserts and ugly unattractive stretches on every side, he is apt to become weary of well-doing; but Bishop Riley manfully did what he conceived to be his duty. The necessity for such arduous work lay in the rapid expansion of the colony and the congregating of population at new centres, whom the Bishop desired should have the advantages of a church and clergy. His labour in Western Australia has been herculean, and does not in any way resemble the duties performed by bishops in England. But Bishop Riley apparently does not care what hardships he meets so long as he is strengthening and benefiting his Church. He has shown himself to be possessed of the power of almost infinite work. He has administered, confirmed, consecrated (or licensed) twenty new churches during his sojourn here, and has taken many new adherents into his flock. He has identified himself with philanthropic, temperance, and ecclesiastical movements. Of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals he is an active member, and he is a staunch advocate of temperance, and publicly favours the introduction of the Gothenberg system, which he believes would purge the drink traffic of its most objectionable features and reduce drunkenness.

He is a member of the Adelaide University Committee for Western Australia, and is a master of the St. George's Lodge of Freemasons. Bishop Riley married, in 1876, Elizabeth, daughter of the late Dr. Merriman, of Knutsford, and niece of the late Bishop of Grahamstown, South Africa.

Although Bishop Riley has had a comparatively short residence in Western Australia, he has evinced such a sincere interest in the welfare of all classes that he is much loved. He is a fluent speaker, and his sermons are marked with simplicity and flashes of brilliancy. Yet he does not confine himself to oratory pure and simple, for his deliveries expound so many useful everyday lessons, so much that gives his listeners subject for thought and guidance, that they look up to him as a real "spiritual teacher." Courteous, benevolent, and earnest, Bishop Riley has innumerable friends over the colony, who respect and revere the head of the historical Church.