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Remembering Stuart Barton Babbage

Posted: 19/11/12

Rev Dr Canon Stuart Barton Babbage, Principal of Ridley College 1953-1963, passed away on November 16, 2012, aged 96 years.

Born in New Zealand in 1916, Babbage was converted as a teenager, and completed his BA and MA (University College of Auckland) by the time he was 20. He studied at the Bible Church Missionary and Theological College in London and completed a PhD at the University of London. Even recently, his doctorate on Puritanism was quoted in a work by the Cambridge University Press! After brief parish experience in England, Babbage served as an RAF chaplain. In 1947 Archbishop Howard Mowll invited him to Sydney, initially to serve as a Diocesan Missionary and then, at the precocious age of 30, as Dean of St Andrew’s Cathedral.

At the age of 37 Babbage was invited by the Ridley Council to succeed Bishop Donald Baker as Principal. Barton Babbage brought to Ridley a panache not usually seen or expected of Evangelicals. He also brought energy, entrepreneurial flair, and scholarship (he was the first Ridley principal to have a PhD), and was Ridley’s youngest principal. During his term as Principal, he rectified the poor financial condition and fabric of Ridley, by inviting the charismatic Reverend Lance Shilton, then vicar of the nearby St Jude’s Carlton, to promote a Ridley College Extension Appeal. Archbishop Booth, an old Ridleian, gave willing support, as did a number of prominent public figures. The appeal was successful and enabled renovation of old buildings and the building of new ones.

Only six months into his tenure at Ridley, Babbage was invited to be (part-time) Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne. With insouciant energy he applied himself to the role with the same facility as he had in Sydney. He commented publicly on various contemporary social, political and ethical issues. He invited a range of speakers to adorn the pulpit, services for professional bodies were held, and the Cathedral became central to the cultural life of Melbourne. As at Ridley, he launched an appeal to restore the fabric of the athedral. His time at St Paul’s was extraordinarily successful, and helped raise the profile of Ridley. In addition, he also chaired the organising committee for the visit of Billy Graham to Melbourne in 1959, one of Graham’s most fruitful crusades anywhere.

Following  a decade at Ridley (and as Dean of St Paul’s), Babbage spent the next phase of his career (1963-1973) as President of Conwell Theological School, then Vice President and Academic Dean of Gordon–Conwell Seminary in Boston, after being instrumental in amalgamation of the two colleges. He returned to Australia for a decade as Master of New College at the University of New South Wales (1973-1983) and also served as Registrar of the Australian College of Theology (1977-1992). In 1983 Stuart Barton Babbage was made Honorary Canon of St Andrew’s Cathedral. He was awarded the honour of Member of the Order of Australia in 1995. Recently Babbage published his own autobiography Memoirs of a Loose Canon in 2004.

We thank God for the life and ministry of Rev Dr Canon Stuart Barton Babbage, and for the legacy he has left in Melbourne of a philosophically and socially engaged evangelical faith. We will remember him as a person of strong convictions, with energy and prayerfulness for the cause of the Gospel and the outreach of the church. We extend our condolences to his children, Veronica, Malcolm, Christopher and Timothy and their families. Relatives and friends of Barton Babbage are invited to attend his funeral service and interment at St. Jude’s Anglican Church, 106 Avoca Street, Randwick, NSW on Friday (November 23, 2012) at 10 a.m. In lieu of flowers donations may be made to TEAR Australia or the St. Jude’s Restoration Appeal.

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