​The Revd Canon Dr Stuart Barton Babbage

​A former Dean of Melbourne and Principal of Ridley College, the Revd Canon Dr Stuart Barton Babbage, has died, aged 96.

Dr Babbage, who served as Dean of Sydney for six years before moving to Melbourne, died in Sydney on Saturday 16 November.

His funeral is to be held on Friday 23 November at St Jude’s Randwick at 10am. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to TEAR Australia or the St Jude's Restoration Appeal.

Dr Babbage was the youngest of Melbourne’s 15 Deans, taking up his role at St Paul’s Cathedral and his concurrent appointment at Ridley in 1953 when he was 37. In September, he was visited by his successor as dean of Melbourne, the 39-year-old Revd Dr Andreas Loewe, in Sydney.

Born in New Zealand on 4 January 1916, the eldest of six children, he became a Christian as a teenager. Dr Babbage completed his early studies in Auckland, then went to King’s College London, where he completed a doctorate on Puritanism.

He was ordained Deacon in 1939 and Priest in 1940, in the Diocese of Chelmsford in England. He undertook several roles while in England, including as Senior Chaplain with the RAF from 1942-46, during which he met writer and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, who frequently preached for the Chaplain's Department of the RAF. At this time, too, Dr Babbage met the woman who was to become his wife, Flight Officer Elizabeth King. They were married on the 26 May 1943 and would have four children during during their 40-year marriage.

Archbishop Howard Mowll of Sydney invited him to Australia in 1947, initially to serve as a Diocesan Missionary before appointing him Dean of St Andrew’s Cathedral.

Dr Babbage moved to Melbourne in 1953 to become Principal of Ridley College and, within months, Dean of St Paul’s.

Ridley’s tribute on 19 November said: “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 (and later Dean of Sydney), to promote a Ridley College Extension Appeal. Archbishop (Joseph) 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 Cathedral. 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.”

From 1963, he spent a decade in the United States as President of Conwell Theological School in Philadelphia, then as Vice-President and Academic Dean of Gordon–Conwell Seminary in Boston, and was a key figure in the amalgamation of the two colleges.

Dr Babbage returned to Sydney in 1973 when he was appointed Master of New College at the University of New South Wales. From 1977 to 1992 he held the position of Registrar of the Australian College of Theology.

In 1983, the year his wife died, Dr Babbage was made Honorary Canon of St Andrew’s Cathedral. Twelve years later, he was made a Member of the Order of Australia and in 2004, at 88, celebrated the publication of his autobiography, Memoirs of a Loose Canon, published by Melbourne’s Acorn Press. The book was launched by former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and its foreword written by then High Court Justice Michael Kirby, whom Dr Babbage had presented for Confirmation.

Sydney’s Anglican Church League President, the Revd Gav Poole, wrote in a joint tribute to Dr Babbage and prominent Sydney evangelist John “Chappo” Chapman, who also died in recent days: “These men were very different in temperament, style and ministry concerns. Yet both were mightily used by God to build his church and encourage his people.”

Ridley’s tribute drew towards its conclusion thus: “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.”