Archdeacon Francis Nixon in 1846 established the Launceston Church Grammar School, the Hutchins School in Hobart in August, and Christ’s College at Bishopsbourne Tasmania.
Francis Nixon, was appointed first bishop of Tasmania and three days later was consecrated in Westminster Abbey with four other bishops. With his wife and children, their governess and Archdeacon Fitzherbert Marriott, he sailed in the Duke of Roxburgh. At Cape Town, where no Anglican bishop was appointed until 1847, he confirmed some four hundred persons, consecrated a church and ordained a priest.
Arriving at Hobart Town in July 1843, he was received by civic and ecclesiastical leaders, took the oaths and was made a member of the Executive Council. His letters patent were read, creating Van Diemen’s Land a separate diocese, St David’s Church a cathedral and Hobart a city. A week later he was enthroned. His first official residence was in Upper Davey Street; after three years he moved to Boa Vista in Argyle Street (later part of the Friends’ School), and in 1850 he bought Runnymede at New Town, renaming it Bishopstowe.
Nixon soon sized up the needs of his diocese and within eighteen months sent Marriott to England for help; in particular he wanted men for more adequate spiritual ministrations; and money to build churches and schools. Most remarkable of all was his request for money to establish a college on English university lines for the higher education of colonial youth and for training them for holy orders. The archdeacon’s mission was highly successful in obtaining both men and money: in 1846 the Launceston Church Grammar School was opened in May, the Hutchins School in Hobart in August, and Christ’s College at Bishopsbourne in October.
In the controversy between churches and government over subsidized education the bishop joined with vigour. Earlier, religious instruction of an Anglican type had a prominent place in the public day schools. In May 1839, however, a newly appointed Board of Education changed to a quasi-secular system, which provided for daily Bible readings but forbade denominational teaching, although allowing clergy the right to teach children of their church at convenient hours. Anglicans protested without avail against the spending of public funds on a system of religious education which denied the majority church the right to instruct her children in their own faith. The bishop urged clergy and people to repudiate state aid on these conditions, and to establish church schools financed by their own efforts, and where that was not possible, to organize Sunday schools.
Nixon never spared himself in the pastoral oversight of his large diocese, which included King Island, the Furneaux group and even Norfolk Island. In 1849 his yacht was stolen and never recovered, but he still contrived to visit the Bass Strait islands and northern Tasmanian settlements. His Cruise of the Beacon, published in 1854 with his own illustrations, records one such visit. At his home, between travelling, he had interviews, voluminous correspondence, administrative duties, reading and the preparation of sermons and lectures. Even so, he found time for his family and for music, sketching and painting.
In 1847 he was described as ‘a remarkable man both in appearance and character, good-looking, coal-black hair … piercing black eyes, and full, rather thick lips; tenacious of his rights, extremely anxious to be correct with regard to costume and all other points of etiquette, devoted to the fine arts and a beautiful draughtsman’. But twenty years of pioneering took their toll. After illness in 1862 he went to England hoping to improve his health and to return next year.
He died on 7 April 1879, and was buried in the British cemetery at Stresa.
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Francis Russell Nixon the first Bishop of the Church of England, Tasmania
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