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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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King, Robert Lethbridge (1823–1897)

by K. J. Cable

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

Robert Lethbridge King (1823-1897), Church of England clergyman, was born in February 1823 at sea en route to England, fourth son of Phillip Parker King and his wife Harriet, daughter of Christopher Lethbridge. He returned to live at the family home, Dunheved, near Penrith, in 1829. In 1841, after some education at The King's School, Parramatta, he entered St John's College, Cambridge (B.A., 1846).

After a brief spell at Truro Grammar School, King returned to Sydney and was made deacon on 19 September 1847 and ordained priest on 17 December 1848 by Bishop William Grant Broughton. He served his curacy under Archdeacon William Cowper at St Phillip's, Church Hill, and on 30 December 1851 married Honoria Australia, daughter of James Raymond at Denham Court, near Liverpool. In July 1855 King was appointed incumbent of St John's, Parramatta. There he completed the rebuilding of the church and reorganized the parish and Sunday schools. As a member of a land-owning family, he remained interested in agriculture and reported proudly to a select committee of the Legislative Assembly of his 'excellent experiment' in orange cultivation. Diocesan affairs soon claimed his attention. He was active in the movement which led to the inauguration of synodical government and was a secretary to the conferences of 1865 and 1866. He had been made an episcopal chaplain in 1858 and became a canon of the cathedral in 1867.

On 1 January 1868 King took office as principal of Moore Theological College in succession to Rev. William Hodgson. His nomination by Bishop Frederic Barker was popular. King not only had scholarly and scientific attainments; he was a representative of an Australian pioneer family and would now train Australian clergymen. During King's period, seventy-seven men, more than in any of the next three decades, were ordained from Moore College for seven dioceses. Bishop Charles Perry of Melbourne continued to send students even after the foundation of Trinity College and resisted criticisms that King's notion of a proper educational standard was too low. King's inability to improve the curriculum established by Hodgson was a reflection on colonial education and the failure to attract university graduates. He sought to overcome the difficulties by a vigorous training in pastoral care and public worship and by the creation of a vital community spirit. He built up fatherly relations with his students and, as one of them, F. B. Boyce, later wrote, influenced them greatly 'through the depth and fervour of his spiritual lift'. Until the belated appointment of a vice-principal in 1877, King worked alone but by then his health had so deteriorated that he resigned.

In June 1878 King returned to a parish ministry. At Moore College he had retained some parochial responsibility as titular incumbent of Holsworthy and from 1871 rural dean of Liverpool. He also took Gladesville and in 1880 moved to the city parish of Holy Trinity. He acquired high diocesan office as archdeacon of Cumberland in 1881, an onerous position because of the frequent episcopal absences and interregnums in the 1880s. He was also rural dean of Balmain in 1881-93 and a fellow of St Paul's College, although he had resigned his canonry in 1877 and his bishop's chaplaincy in 1882. King retained his interest in Moore College, helped his successor with curriculum reforms and even returned as acting-principal in 1884-85. He resigned his parish in 1893 and his archdeaconry in 1895. He retained an active interest as secretary of the Church of England Mission to Seamen until he died at Stanmore on 24 July 1897. He was buried in the Anglican section of Waverley cemetery, leaving an estate of some £5000 to his wife. He had three daughters and six sons, of whom one had predeceased him and three became Church of England clergymen. When his wife died on 13 May 1902 the estate was divided equally among the surviving children.

Select Bibliography

  • F. B. Boyce, Fourscore Years and Seven (Syd, 1934)
  • M. L. Loane, A Centenary History of Moore Theological College (Syd, 1955)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1865, 2, 599, 1866, 5, 755
  • Churchman (Sydney), 29 July 1897
  • Town and Country Journal, 31 July 1897.

Citation details

K. J. Cable, 'King, Robert Lethbridge (1823–1897)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 29 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Life Summary [details]


February 1823
at sea


24 July 1897
Petersham, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death


Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence