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Gough, Hugh Rowlands (1905–1997)

by Humphrey McQueen

“why did GOUGH GO OFF like that?” asked the satirical OZ magazine in June 1966 after the Rt Rev. Hugh Rowland Gough had resigned as Anglican Archbishop of Sydney and Primate of Australia. The magazine, which Gough had denounced as “dirty”, considered motives for the “shock resignation” beyond the official statement of ill-health. It declared an alternative allegation scotched, “Not by facts but by our knowledge of the man himself.”

Readers of the Sydney press could have discerned that more was afoot than Gough’s need for a good lie-down. “Mystery as Gough Quits” headlined the Daily Mirror. “Westminster Abbey Wants to Know WHERE IS DR GOUGH?”, charged the Sun, which reported that church authorities in London had been trying to contact him since his arrival late in March.

The Archbishop had left Sydney on 20 February to attend a conference in Jerusalem. Reportedly suffering from overwork, he had sailed on the Oronsay. Rumours began about a letter of resignation dated the day of departure. On 26 March, the Diocesan commissary, Bishop Marcus Loane, received a letter of resignation to be put into effect two days later when the Synod’s Standing Committee met. At 9am on the 28th, Gough phoned Loane asking that the request be withheld.

Meanwhile, Gough had written to other clerics intimating his intention to withdraw. The story began to circulate despite Loane’s silence. On 12 April, Gough advised Loane that he would not be able to proceed to Jerusalem. By then, Mrs Gough had flown out to catch up with her wandering husband. Late in April, Loane received a cable and a letter expressing Gough’s hope of returning in June. On 19 May, a press interview in the United Kingdom with the former Dean of Sydney, Bishop Hudson, also raised expectations that Gough would resume his place.

Then, on 24 May, Loane received a second letter of resignation which he put to an extraordinary meeting of the Standing Committee on the same day. A medical certificate dated 21st accompanied Gough’s decision. Why had it been accepted with alacrity? Why did Loane not inform the acting Primate, Dr Woods of Melbourne? Suspicions were raised that, as an opponent of Gough’s, Loane had taken advantage of the situation for his personal and theological ends. The weekly Anglican added that the “usual manoeuvering for succession started last February”.

Intrigued by the conflicting messages, journalists smelt a conspiracy of ecclesiastical politics. They had been duped early in March when the State government spread a smoke trail of deceits to justify its acceptance of Jorn Utzon’s withdrawal from the Opera House project. 

A statement from Gough’s medical specialist in London affirmed that the decision to stand down was the result of his “very low blood pressure”. In truth, the problem was that, low down in Gough’s anatomy, the pressure of blood had often been too high. His Grace was under threat of being cited as correspondent in a divorce case.

Even a past as recent as 1966 can be another country. No-fault divorce was then nine years away. The Sunday papers still regaled readers with in flagrante delicto. Gough and his Church were fortunate that it was still possible to “keep it out of the papers”. That era of cant and humbug shrank as prime minister John Gorton made no bones about his liking the ladies and a drop too much to drink.

When Gough gave his first interview a fortnight after his resignation, he repeated his alarm about other people’s immorality, which he blamed on parents, whom he said should set an example to their children. The twice-divorced and adulterous proprietor the Sydney Morning Herald, Warwick Fairfax, compounded Gough’s hypocrisy by printing his denunciation of lustfulness on the front page while knowing the reason for the flight of his fellow Anglican.

Every journalist in Sydney and Fleet Street had heard the actual cause. Only OZ published it. With their trademark cheekiness, its editors – Richard Walsh and Richard Neville — declared it “unthinkable” that an exponent of Christian morality “could allow his attention to wander from his lawfully wedded wife”.

The real story has circulated in diminishing circles but the infidelity has never since been spelt out in print. The academic authors of a 1987 history of the Sydney archdiocese treated OZ’s allegations as scuttlebutt, though they did include the offending article in their footnotes without specifying its charge. Reviewing that volume for the Sydney Morning Herald, its religious affairs writer, Alan Gill, acknowledged that Gough’s “final months in office were marred by problems in a personal relationship, which became the subject of gossip and innuendo”. At the same time, Bulletin columnist, David McNicol, emphasized that “persistent and fairly malicious gossip” had been the prime cause of Gough’s move, before adding that “the archbishop was not the soul of discretion”. The scholarly Anglicanism in Australia of 2002 went no further than to quote the quip that Gough had “laced his orange juice with passion fruit”.

The version that Gough had been driven away by factional politics in the Sydney Archdiocese persisted because it conformed to what everyone knew about Church life there. Personal animosities were rife. One prominent layman described four of the clergy as respectively “treacherous, stupidly disloyal, mad and spineless”.

An appreciation of the erotic and ecclesiastical tangles that preceded Gough’s flight calls for biographical details and sacramental squabbles. The latter have assumed ever greater significance for understanding Sydney Anglicanism now that the faction that Gough criticized as “parochial” is triumphant under the brothers Jensen.

Hugh Rowland Gough was born on 19 September 1905 in a village in the Himalaya, where his parents were missionaries. As a student at Trinity College, Cambridge, he earned a rugby blue and became a leading Evangelical before being ordained a priest in 1929, the year he married. During the war, he served as a chaplain in the Middle East, was wounded, and awarded an Order of the British Empire. Photographs show the hearty Gough as tall, dark and handsome into his sixties, in the mould of Louis Mountbatten,.

In 1948, Gough moved to East London, as Bishop of Barking. His support for the 1954 Billy Graham Crusade in London confirmed that he was too Evangelical to gain preferment in England. However, he impressed the power-brokers of the Sydney Synod when he preached to a clergy school there in 1957. He was elected Archbishop, on a split vote among his rivals, in November 1958, to be enthroned with less than Papal splendour on 29 May 1959.

Trials that would try the patience of an angel erupted at once. An English photograph of Gough wearing a pectoral cross provoked one Sydney low churchman to denounce that symbol of the Resurrection as “idolatrous”. Anglo-Catholics responded to such iconoclasm by parodying the hymn: “Onward, Christian soldiers,/ Marching as to war,/ With the cross of Jesus/ Hid behind the door”. Gough assured his new flock that he would never, never wear a crucifix. Sydney was literally a poisoned chalice.

Bigotry was as intense inside the Anglican Communion as it was between Micks and Protestants. Although Gough could not be bullied, he came to dread Synod meetings which he managed by asking “Is your speech really necessary?”  In 1964, the Archbishop summoned his clergy to a special meeting to attack “a fence around the diocese which we must break down”.

According to Gough’s successor, Dr Marcus Loane, Gough’s coming to Sydney was “like a strong, fresh breeze. It woke up the whole Church with a bracing touch of healthy vigour”. Gough described himself as one of nature’s conservatives but he feared that “well-worn tracks can become ruts, and ruts can become graves.” In his seven-year incumbency, he presided over a start in Ecumenism, and the adoption of a new constitution, acceptance of state aid for church schools, the professional approach to church finances.

Essential as these changes were, each one alienated some entrenched interest. Even his supporters concede that his overbearing manner impeded the implementation of these reforms. Even without his peccadilloes, their antagonisms would have been enough to exhaust a less robust figure.

Gough was an Evangelical but a liberal one who established cordial relations with Cardinal Gilroy. In retirement, he accused some of his Sydney brethren of being Evangelical before they were Anglican. A few had turned Evensong into a Presbyterian service. Their Broad and High Church opponents characterized these low churchmen as “Presbyterians in surpluses”, or even as Anglo-Baptists.

Candles on the altar were “illegal”. One cleric’s view that candles were “neither terribly bad nor wonderfully good for men’s soul” was deemed heretical by the Low Church Party. Its adherents allowed no symbolism as an aid to devotion for the individual soul confronting the Almighty.

Against such Pietism, Gough proclaimed that “The Church that lives to itself will die by itself”. He encouraged missions among prisoners and for immigrants. He spoke from the back of trucks at factory gates. He got his friend and English Test cricketer, the Rev. David Shepherd, to stay on for three months after the 1962-63 Ashes series to attract young men to a muscular Christianity. This willingness to engage with everyday life had to overcome what Dr Ken Cable recalled as his “irritating habit of talking to someone face-to-face and calling them by their surname, which was all right in England but did not go down well here”.

Although Gough was surprised by the overlap of politics and religion under the Catholic-dominated State Labor governments, he voiced opinions on most public questions. He wanted the Queen to have a residence in Australia which she should visit every year, as she did Scotland. He championed Australian military involvement in Vietnam, which provoked a contrary statement from several bishops. After visiting the troops there late in 1965, he declared that the US would win as soon as the Viet Cong came out and fought. Despite this military-mindedness, Gough had refused to attend Anzac Day services when they fell on a Sunday in 1965, the 50th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing. [He did not go so far as to denounce the RSL as pagan, as did the Methodist leader Rev. Alan Walker.]

Fearful that once UNESCO had taught the poor to read, they would absorb Red propaganda, he supported efforts to put the gospel into their hands. Inspired by his parents’ example as missionaries, he drew attention to the 2000 dead collected on the streets of Calcutta every day. As a challenge to White Australia, he suggested that his successor could be an Indian. [The Sydney Symphony had welcomed the black American, Dean Dixon, as its chief conductor in 1964.]

The Archdiocese needed £4m. for repairs and to build 60 new churches and 30 halls. Gough brought the money-changes into the cathedral by appointing a commission of outsiders to raise the rate of return on Church properties and investments above its existing rate of 1.3 per cent. Their financial managers were as divided as the theologians with some Trusts selling bonds that other Trusts then bought up. In the nineteenth century, the Church had granted 99-year leases on ground rents. The result, according to the Commissiones was that, The Glebe near the University of Sydney “mostly consists of sub-standard cottages which have reverted to the Church in a dilapidated condition because the Diocese did not enforce the covenants to keep them repaired”. The leases that the Trustees bought back became a liability “because City authorities insisted on substantial repairs being effected”. The Commissioners lamented that the Archdiocese “has failed to take advantage of the post-war enhancement in values, its great property wealth in real property is largely undeveloped and, in fact is utterly uneconomic from the standpoint of its capacity to produce revenue”. The inheritance left the church open to the charge of being slum landlords.

[The financial reforms allowed for the gentrification of The Glebe. Bernard and Kate Smith did not publish The Architectural Character of the Glebe until 1973. The Whitlam government undertook massive rehabilitation shortly thereafter. Today’s Glebe is a creation of the post-1960s, a la Paddo.]

Rewriting the constitution for a united and independent Church had been achieved before Gough’s arrival. His task was to sustain the Sydney Synod’s tardy conversion. In the process, he made an enemy of the Anglican Church League, which had backed Marcus Loane for election. In 1960, he abused Loane and others for plotting against him. Gough also condemned the rigidity of the Principal of Moore Theological College, Broughton Knox, who went into internal exile.

This realignment of the Church towards its Australian situation expressed what historian Jim Davidson has identified as ‘de-dominionisation”. The use of “home” for the United Kingdom faded away. Doctors ceased to be members of a branch of the British Medical Association in 1961; even the Sydney Morning Herald appointed its first native-born editor in 1961. Even Menzies appointed an Australian as Governor-General in 1965. Menzies had to declare himself “British to the boot heels because he had presided over the development of an Australia which relied on the USA as its great and powerful friend and on Japan for its trade.

In addition, the Primacy would not be tied to Sydney. Phillip Strong of Brisbane succeeded Gough in 1966. The work load was too much for either of the larger Sees of Melbourne or Sydney. The proposal to fix the Primacy to Canberra, and build a cathedral there, was also another way of undermining the power of the Sydney Evangelicals, as had been the election of Perth’s Le Fanu to the Primacy in the 1950s.

Gough had to weather the storm over Menzies’s grants to Church schools for science laboratories, which were one response to the Soviet threat made visible in Sputnik of 1957. Many of his flock thought it more militantly Christian to deny the Papists public funds than to best the atheistic communists.

On other matters, Gough remained the complete Evangelical. Gambling, for instance, was beyond the pale, whether as church raffles or poker machines.

He held onto even stiffer attitudes towards sexual immorality, which he linked to Communism. In 1961, he accused the Philosophy Department at the University of Sydney, and its head John Anderson, of promoting “soul-destroying philosophies which are breaking down the restraints of conscience, decrying the institution of marriage, urging our students to pre-marital sexual experience, advocating free love and the right of self-expression”.

His Grace was nauseated by the permeation of sex into every corner of life and feared that the contemporary world had “gone the whole hog”, which would lead to a reaction as lopsided as Victorianism had been. In 1964, he pictured the young “wallowing in the mire of sexual immorality”, a case of the preacher railing against the sins to which he was himself most tempted. “Australians are materialists and pleasure lovers because they have so many natural sources of enjoyment”, as he found to his cost.

Gough denied being unsympathetic to homosexuals. On the contrary, he pitied them because they were diseased. The danger was that toleration would discourage a lad to struggle “manfully with himself and guide his affections along normal channels”.

The Archbishop had shocked Low Churchmen by declaring that he did not “mind a glass of wine”, and that the Bible seemed to approve of moderate drinking. Dinner parties at Bishopscourt were remembered as “light-hearted affairs” after Mrs Gough installed a cocktail bar near the entrance to the chapel.

Gough’s relations with the aggressive Evangelicals were not smoothed by his wife, the Hon. Madeline Elizabeth Gough, daughter of the twelfth Baron Kinnaird and a cousin of the Governor-General, Lord De L’Isle; she might have been more at ease in a Government House. She preferred England to Australia, and let everyone know it. A year after her return there, she made it clear to a journalist that she was missing her black pedigreed poodle, “Figaro”, at least as much any of her colonial acquaintances.

The doings of the Goughs during their seven years in Sydney contained the elements of Barchester Towers from a hundred years before, but with the beliefs and behaviour of Trollope’s characters distributed differently. Mrs Gough displayed Mrs Proudie’s overbearing but not her fierce Evangelicalism. The archbishop’s career, not that of his chaplain, the oleaginous Slope, is thwarted by a flirtation.

The Hon. Mrs Gough manifested her discontents on her official domicile, Bishopscourt, in Greenoaks avenue, Darling Point. The mansion had been built in the 1850s for the chilled meat king, Thomas Sutcliffe Mort, and its rooms were likened to a freezer. With the kitchen 100 metres from the lounge room and with a servant, Fernando, who could speak no English, the finest Gothic Revival house in the country was not a million miles from Fawlty Towers. Renovations costing £40,000 had been effected before the Goughs had moved in, before a further $150,000 was spent on a facelift.

Among Gough’s trials in Sydney none was as fiendish as A. F. (Francis) L. James, the editor of the Anglican, an independent church paper. James was a Balliol man who had served in Fighter Command when he was shot down to become a POW, only to escape. As a result of burns received in his crash, he wore dark glasses and a broad-brimmed black felt hat which added to his eccentricity. While Gough made do with a Bentley, James dispatched his copy as religious affairs editor for the Sydney Morning Herald from his Rolls Royce. For a few days in 1953, a segment of the carpet down which the Queen had just walked for her Coronation furnished James’s office inside the Herald building, before reaching its destination with the Archdiocese. Gough and James had clashed over church politics and matters of state. James later spent four years in a Chinese Communist prison as a British “spy”, from 1969 to 1973, reportedly wearing a monkey mask when arrested. That interlude provided Bob Ellis with the material for a musical.

This flamboyant fabulist polished his account of Gough’s departure. Research for this article indicated that some of James’s touches were as improbable as their propagator. His version deserves to be recorded for what it indicates about the unworldliness of those charged with caring for a straying flock. The Anglican hierarchs could not bring themselves to think about sexual misbehaviour by one of their own. Their first and last reaction was to cover up, which proved a disaster for preventing child abuse.

After dinner one night in the mid-1980s, Francis entertained the company with his tale of Gough. He opened in the middle of the action by inviting the table to eavesdrop at a Sydney reception in early April 1966 for the coadjutor archbishop of Melbourne, Dr Felix Arnott. “What are you doing about Gough?”, demanded a pillar of the colonial establishment. When Arnott looked more befuddled than ever, she sighed: “I see you don’t know. I shall get Francis to explain”.

Having whetted our appetite, James allowed himself a rolling flash-back. “Word of Gough’s romance had spread after the pair was seen holding hands at Royal Sydney Golf Club, where Gough played tennis each week. A curate at Campbelltown had chanced upon the Diocesan Bentley, with its distinguishing number plate of ‘HS 1’, parked late one night in a country road. Supposing that his Archbishop’s vehicle had broken down, he tapped on the window before being assured that no help was required. When another cleric put up at a pub beyond the city’s outskirts, mine host remarked that he seemed to be getting a lot of clerical trade. Some bishop and his wife were frequent quests. At first, the Synod was abuzz. But neither aggrieved spouse took action. It suited the husband to let his wife stray. Eventually, the tittle-tattle went stale.”

Reverting to the summons to inform Arnott about Gough’s doings, James affected reluctance. “You see, we were not on the best of the terms. I did not want to seem to be blackening him. Truth would out. Arnott needed another sherry. ‘What are we to do’, he implored. ‘Inform the acting primate’, I suggested.”

The acting primate was Dr Frank Woods of Melbourne who, on being told that he had to rush to Sydney, booked a sleeper on the overnight Southern Aurora. That method of travel presaged his reaction to the revelation of the affair. “He couldn’t stand up for a week”, James recalled. “So, we were still without a commander. Next in order of seniority was Perth. Something more expeditious than the transcontinental railway journey would be required if Geroge Appleton were to reach Sydney in time to avert a scandal to the faithful. I knew that no domestic flight would be prompt enough. But QANTAS had an international route to Johannesburg, via Perth. Of course, it was not permitted to take internal passengers. So we sought approval from on high. A parishioner of Appleton’s, Hasluck, was by then Minister for External Affairs. Without explaining why, we prevailed on Hasluck and QANTAS to put Appleton on the next flight to Sydney.”

“On being apprised of the impending crisis, Appleton saw that the first step was to approach Mrs Gough. How much did she know? What would she do? Would she initiate divorce proceedings of her own? Despite Appleton’s good sense, he did not quite know how to put those questions. He was relieved mightly when she cut in: ‘I know what you have come about’. ‘What are we to do, Mrs Gough?’ ‘Do?’, she intoned. ‘You shall keep it out of the papers. That’s what you must do.’ And they did.

“The married lady in question had left Sydney to meet up with her beloved in Madrid. It was a measure of the man’s intelligence,” Francis shook his head, “that His Grace had arranged his assignation in the capital of the only country in Europe where adultery was a criminal offence. Meanwhile, Mrs Gough flew to Italy to intercept her husband when the Oronsay docked at Genoa.”

“One can but imagine their respective reactions on their reunion. Both were of the type to face down criticism. Yet, she wanted to return to England. He feared being served with a writ should he return to Australia. To avoid the press, he is installed in a London private hospital where he is attended by the Queen’s Physician-in-Ordinary, who provides a medical certificate about exhaustion. When it arrived, I pointed out its want of credit. As an old journalist, I knew that my colleagues would never be fobbed off by so vague a condition for so momentous a matter. The bishops saw wisdom in this and asked me, as a Director of the Church of England Information Trust, to supply a corroborative detail to an otherwise unconvincing narrative, as Pooh-Bah has it in The Mikado. ‘Very low blood pressure’ seemed apposite. I doubt that many of the clergy got my joke.”

James’s performance had sounded so authoritative, that we listeners could do other than admire and admire its seamless web of corroborative detail. The exception was his wife. “You left out the most important element”, she intervened.

“What is that, my dear?”

“The lady truly loved him”.

A hush fell.

“In those days”, Mrs James continued, “a woman risked access to her children if she were the guilty party in a divorce. Mrs A-B had to return to Sydney where her circumstances were known, a subject of ridicule. After her divorce she had to keep herself by working as a shop assistant. Gough enjoyed a permanent holiday in Bath, kept by his wife.”

Mrs James’s interpolation is why this account has not named the lady, even though she died of cancer many years ago. If not entirely innocent, she was a victim. We can but hope that she never knew that Gough’s infidelities were not confined to her for he had at least one other dalliance while in Australia.

Eighteen months after Gough’s resignation, he declared himself “perfectly fit”. He had moved to the 14th century village of Fresh Ford, Somerset, in the Diocese of Bath and Wells, to serve as rector of St Peter’s. Its 1850 Rectory of four sitting rooms and five bedrooms with central heating had to be remodeled before Mrs Gough took possession. In 1971, the adjoining parish of Limpley Stoke passed to his care. The Goughs retired in 1972 to a converted forge at Over Wallop in Hampshire. Gough had a knack for finding residences with names which resonated with his fall from grace — Barking, Fresh Ford, Bath, Limpley Stoke and Over Wallop. He died in 1997, aged 92. The Sydney Morning Herald obituary noted that “some mystery” attached to his departure.

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Humphrey McQueen, 'Gough, Hugh Rowlands (1905–1997)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/gough-hugh-rowlands-32360/text41173, accessed 30 January 2023.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012