Interesting Vicars of Penn

Rev. Oscar Muspratt, Part.1

Bucks Free Press: 26/8/1988.

The Rev, Oscar Muspratt has been a country churchman for the last 44 years.  His parish is the sleepy village of Penn. A quiet life one may think – seeing to the weddings, baptisms and funerals of his villagers. But behind this genteel façade stretches a life of excitement, heroism and adventure.  Mr Muspratt has climbed mountains, preached in the wilds of Australia, picked pineapples in Queensland and tended the dying at the siege of Malta in World war Two.  Indeed his war service is impeccable.  Mr Muspratt served, often in hazardous conditions, as a chaplain in the army. He was at Dunkirk, El Alamein, and joined the famous 51st Highland Division for the invasion of Sicily and later the D-Day landings in 1944.  After the war, he kept his taste for excitement and the unusual.  He buried the arch-traitor … Maclean … And he conducted the marriage of Capt. Robert Lawrence, the controversial author of the Falklands play Tumbledown. Over the next three weeks, Andrew Neish maps the intriguing life of this fascinating man.  Here is the first instalment tracking the adventurer’s life from Jersey to Australia and the turning point in his life where he devoted his life to God.

THE YOUNG Oscar Muspratt never knew a quiet and cosy childhood. He start­ed life as he meant to go on -with an irresistible taste for adventure.
At the age of only seven he helped his father run a fishing business from their home on the island of Jer­sey. His early years were unortho­dox and, at times, dangerous.  His father Frederic led the way in flouting conventions. He had once been a parson himself but fled to Jersey to escape the tedious restraints of church life. On the grey waters off Jersey, Oscar’s story truly begins ….

“My eldest sister Mona and I would go out on the 30-foot fishing boat that my father had built himself,” he recalls.  “It could be quite dangerous out there. There were conga eels six feet long that could take your hand off with just one snap.  “Sometimes it was so foggy on the water you could hardly see in front of you at all. “We could have been ship­wrecked a number of times especial­ly as the sea hid miles and miles of dangerous rocks.  “But that was the risk we naturally took every day.”

Oscar’s father had no qualms about teaching his young son the finer points of a rugged outdoor life – the hard way.  “My father never pampered us when we learnt new things. He would teach me to swim by dangling me over the side of the boat by a rope – and this was in very deep sea­water”.  These early adventures stood the young Oscar in good stead for his later life as a vicar and an army chaplain.

“I was always dealing with hard­ship as a child. It was during those years that I learnt to face danger. And the fearlessness I needed later on in life developed.” 
The independent life was valu­able in other ways. Oscar would have to lug a heavy basket around houses in the hope of selling the lob­sters his father had caught. “Again this knocking on people’s doors helped me develop this tough­ness and fearlessness I would need later on as a parson.    I would have to talk to all sorts of people I had never met from different backgrounds.  “Mind you – I did look rather sweet in those days, I actually had some hair then! It was a mass of curls and I had bright blue ‘eyes; “This probably helped me make my sales -to the ladies at any rate!”.

Oscar knew the hardships of being short of money and the dangers of a fisherman’s life. But there was laughter and schoolboy pranks as well.  His family were staying in St Helier by the local vicarage while his father and brother Eric were working in America.  “I was great friends with the vicar’s son Victor. We got up to all sorts of mischief,” he says.  “In winter we used to pour buckets of water on the pavement outside the church to make it slip­pery in the hope that people would faH over. But it never seemed to work!”

But the greatest hardship was to come. When Oscar was only eleven, his 19-year-old brother, Freddie, was killed in action in one of the First World War’s bloodiest battles, the Battle of the Somme.  “I was devastated. He was so young. It had a huge effect on me,” remembers Oscar.
But brighter things lay ahead. The family moved to Australia in 1920. A new life … and new chal­lenges.  Brother Eric took over an aunt’s pineapple plantation at Woombye in Queensland. Oscar and sister Mona helped out. The work was tough and ceaseless.  “We toiled morning noon and night, hoeing and weeding, and picking the fruit.  “The weather could be very ad­verse. Sometimes we could have a foot of rain in 24 hours and we would be holed up.”  In that wild mountainous region lurked many dangers – not least from deadly snakes.’ Mr Muspratt says: “There were snakes called Death Adders that used to hide in the long grass. But never seemed to be restricted by such dangers. We would run through the grass with our trouser cuffs rolled up.”

Oscar’s next project was to run a dairy farm near Melbourne with his sis­ter. They looked after 24 cows for 18 months.  Up to this time, Oscar’s education had been sparse and intermittent. But university lay ahead and he had to think of way to earn his fees.  Again the outdoor life beckoned. He harvested wheat in New South Wales and drove a 16-horse transport wagon to the station with ten tons of wheat at a time.  Oscar, found a job as a docker in Mel­bourne when he was 19. The work was tough and dangerous.   “Once I was working in the refriger­ation hold of a ship transporting mut­ton and a carcass came loose from its sling and fell 50 feet, landing right next to me.  If it had been any closer, that would’ve been the end of this story, “The men I worked with were tough But so friendly. I learned a lot about people and life on the docks of Melbourne.”

But Oscar was soon to learn a far more important lesson. He had been studying chemistry and ancient at Melbourne University.   At that time he had thought little of God. He had attended the services of a visiting vicar in the Outback but that was all.  But on a summer job wheat harvesting in New South Wales, he had an acci­dent that would change his life and finally bring him to God.”   He was driving a waggon-load of wheat to the station. The team of horses was startled and he was thrown under the wheels, badly injuring his left leg.  Oscar struggled back on and – despite the severe pain – made his own way to hospital.  He lay there for several weeks while the muscle which had been torn from the bone healed.

Mr Muspratt remembers: “To have agonising pain is an experience of a lifetime.
“Lying there bearing the pain made me realise the pain that Jesus must have felt on the cross. It made me think about my life.   “It was a matter of bearing that pain and sharing it with Him and somehow I felt closer to God.  “But nothing happens in isolation. The accident was only a one of several ‘. factors influencing me.  “After I left hospital I went to a church Christmas service and all the childhood memories of Christmas and associations with the Church came back.  “Also I had been attracted to’ the work of one or two of the preachers at university. Oscar switched to theology at university and went on to offer himself as a missionary in China.   “I wanted to preach but I still wanted adventure,” he remembers. “But the Chinese government closed the country to missionaries and I had to think of something else.”  With the door to China closed to him, Oscar was to use the rich learning experiences of earlier years to preach to the poorest and richest of Melbourne’s Christians.

This new phase in Oscar’s life was to mean, inevitably, new adventures.

Rev. Oscar Muspratt, Part. 2

Bucks Free Press, September 1st 1988.

Last week Free Press writer Andrew Neish mapped the early days of the fascinating Oscar Muspratt, Vicar of Penn. In the second part of this three part series, he looks at Mr Muspratt’s early church career in Australia, his war service in North Africa, Malta and Sicily. Needless to say, this man of action had adventures wherever he went.

OSCAR had come to God. It had taken him years in the wilderness -literally – to reach the point where he was serving his fellow man and God at the same time.  He began as a 23-year-old curate in Caulfield, a suburb of Mel­bourne, Australia. But the most memorable experi­ences were to come: a few years later when he took over Pant on Hill, a Bush parish covering 500 square miles. He remembers; “I had to buy a car and had on three lessons from three different parishioners. “Now I could get about and visit them. I used to speed about the mountains around plenty of hair­pin bends taking services.

Margaret Muspratt

“Sundays were very hard work especially when they increased the number of churches to eight. I used to travel round these mountains 2,000 feet high to see people.” Suddenly there was a respite from adventure in 1936. Oscar went back to England to do some theological re­search at Cambridge.  Here he met the woman he was to marry – Margaret Hooton. daughter of a country vicar. The courtship was brief: The couple were married in 1937.  He spent that year as a chaplain at Adelboden and Grindelwald in Switzer­land with his young wife.  Oscar was away from the struggles in the Outback but a new challenge ar­rived that he couldn’t resist.   It was called the Jungfrau – 2,000 feet of mountain, ice and danger. “It was in the parish I was serving, so I thought I might as well climb it,” he reflects modestly. “It was thrilling, “absolutely unforget­table. Sometimes we were climbing up sheer rock faces.”

But the Archbishop of Melbourne wouldn’t let Oscar off for long. He knew the best way the young churchman’s tal­ents could be used.  He sent the newlyweds out to Fitzroy, the worst slum area in Melbourne – full of deadbeats, drunkards, and no-hopers. “This was the real underworld. Even the police had to walk around in pairs. One told me that on a Saturday night we had more drunks in Fitzroy than the whole of Melbourne put together. Oscar was used to adventure – but what about his young Cambridge edu­cated wife? “Oh, she was all right. She might have come from the background of Cam­bridge to the seedy part of an Australian city but Margaret coped very well. “She dealt with the drunks who used to come to our door quite easily. She treated them like babies and they re­spected her.”

But Oscar’s work was not to fob off the poor. He saw the hardships. the suf­fering, the poverty.  “Every morning, noon and night poor men would arrive at our door ask­ing for help. There was nothing for them. They were migrant workers who had been fruit picking up in Queensland and fin­ished the season, without jobs in Mel­bourne. There was no work for them. They were desperate.  Without any address, they couldn’t get relief from the state. I arranged for them to get themselves fixed up with an address with the Salvation Army so they could get that relief. The government ended up paying the Army to give these men board and lodging. I have been back to Melbourne and found that the scheme is still in op­eration.”

The Muspratts moved to the moun­tain resorts in the Dandenong moun­tains 25 miles from Melbourne.  The weather could be intensely hot, the wood dry as a tinderbox, and vicious fast-moving bush fires were a frequent danger. Oscar was a member of the local bush fire-fighting squad. The Muspratts worked as a team. Margaret would ring the bells of St. Michael and All Angels Church to alert the firefighters.  Oscar would join the rest of the men in combatting the flames. “I helped fight one of the worst fires of the area’s history. We tackled it for a month. The smoke travelled all the way to New Zealand which was about 1800 miles away. We had to use firebreaks to prevent the fire from getting any fur­ther. Gum trees 300 feet high were like trees covered in petrol because they con­tained oil. If we had been caught up in something like that, then that would’ve been it.”

The war broke out. Oscar felt the call to action once more. He and Margaret returned home across U-boat infested waters. He was posted to Egypt as an army chap­lain attached to the Rifle Brigade (1st Battal­ion) and the 2nd Battalion of the Kings Royal Rifle Corps. Captain Muspratt’s job was to tend to the battle casualties from El Alamein who came flooding in to the 64th General Hospital at Alexandria.  “The doctors and nurses tended to the bodies of the men but didn’t have time to deal with their minds. That was my job. It was important to let the man pour out the story of how he was wounded.  It wasn’t until he had done this that he could come to terms with what had happened to him and start the process of getting bet­ter.”

Oscar with the chaplains of the 51st Highland Division

The war in the Mediterranean was heating up. Oscar volunteered to go to Malta where British forces were besieged day and night by constant air bombardment. Oscar was chaplain to the gunners defend­ing the shell-pocked island. He gave services to the troops – often under fire. Oscar and his charges were bombed every two hours. Air raids were a way of life. But he remembers: “We had so many guns that regulations said a crew could stop firing if they were having a service. So I used to take services under fire. It was the only way it could be done. We didn’t really have time to be fright­ened. There was always the thought that it could never happen to you.”

Amidst the terror there was humour. something Oscar treasures in his wartime memories. One day the colonel was making an inspec­tion of the men. He visited the Quarter master’s stores where Captain Muspratt was standing with a rather dim-witted soldier. The colonel asked the soldier if a fire extinguisher on the counter worked, he replied dutifully that it did and pressed the button to show him. The water sprayed the CO, completely soaking him. “Needless to say the inspection was cancelled while the colonel went away to change. Everyone heard about it and we all had a good laugh.  “It’s important in war to have people who can make others laugh. Humour helps people to go on. I think there should be a medal for humour beyond the call of duty!” With the siege over. Oscar was transferred with the 51st Highland Division to Sicily in 1943 where he tended to the dying at a field hospital.

But his active service soon ended. He re­turned to England and became Army chaplain for Bucks. He was based near Aylesbury. Oscar was reunited with Margaret and their young son David – Oscar hadn’t seen him for more than two years. “It was amazing to see them once again. I didn’t like to be away but that was some­thing we all had to do.”

On Christmas Eve, 1944, Oscar became the vicar of a small historic village near Wycombe. The Penn years had begun.

Rev. Oscar Muspratt, Part 3.

Bucks Free Press, September 8th 1988.

Over the past two weeks, Free Press writer Andrew Neish has followed the life of Oscar Muspratt, Vicar of Penn. We have seen Oscar as a young boy fighting the elements in Australia, and as an army chaplain braving the bombs of Hitler’s Luftwaffe in the siege of Malta.  Now Andrew talks to Oscar about his 44 years at Penn and his role on the international scene.

OSCAR’S life of ad­venture was over – in a sense. He was now a country parson, with a loving wife, a small child, and the cares of a small sleepy village to tend to.  No more mountains, no battles, no blood­shed, no more fighting a wild and hostile Out­back.  But as we have seen, ‘Oscar had been born to a life of challenges. At the age of 38, he-wasn’t going to change his lifestyle now.

There was rationing.  There was still the post-war hardship. There were the new parishion­ers to get to know. But these were problems familiar to Oscar.  “I had the challenge of a new parish, of meeting new people. But of course 1 was used to this,” he says. “I was merely building on what 1 had learnt before.”  . Oscar’s early Outback life prepared him for a special task in 1949. He was’ one of 300 clergy­men sent on a mission to London to spread the’ Word. His patch was Kingsbury, Neasden and Willesden.  He knocked on doors, not to sell lobsters this time, but to tell people about God.

There are poignant memories. “1 shall never forget meeting on my door-to-­door visits one of the most wonderful house­wives I have ever been privileged to know. She had become blind when she was about 18 or 19. Instead of giving up her life as hopeless, she had taught herself to cook, married: and had four children whom I met in her spotless home in a back street. She wasn’t satisfied with that achievement and took in four lodgers, all of whom were blind.”

This theme of endur­ance against all odds crops up again and again in talking to Oscar Muspratt. He quotes this story but doesn’t feel the need to elaborate. He just nods and smiles. This has been a way of life for him.  Penn has known Os­car as its vicar for 44 years. He has followed the bread and butter tasks of christenings, weddings, and funerals as any clergyman would.  But he insists: “Some ‘people might think I’ve just taken it easy here in the village, but that just isn’t true.”

Indeed, Oscar’s lust for adventure has jetted him from deepest Bucks obscurity to the world stage on more than one occasion.   At the height of the Cuban Crisis in 1962, when Kennedy and Kruschev were playing the dangerous game of brinkmanship over the infamous missiles, Os­car was in Washington.  He was invited to say the opening prayers at a session of the US Senate -the epicentre of Ameri­can politics.

“Things were very tense in the States at that time. The situation might have led to the outbreak of World War Three.  I think America realised the links with England, forged in the two previous wars, were still vital. In a sense I was representing my coun­try.  This was no time to be nervous. I couldn’t let England down. I read out William Penn’s fare­well address to Philadelphia and I was praying for the safety of America which could have been blasted by the nuclear warheads.”  Despite the gravity of the situation, Oscar’s memories show that sense of humour which is so much a part of his character.  “One of the rewards for doing the prayers was to be allowed to sit in the building all day and use the Senate’s own headed notepaper. I can tell you, I wrote as many letters as I could.”

Amidst all the adventure, the travel, the ex­citement, Oscar has never forgotten his beloved, parish of Penn – and Penn Church.  There has been an extension to the churchyard, a new organ, vestry, choir stalls and a screen commemorating the 200th anniversary of the US constitution.

But Oscar has never, faced his challenges, alone. Until her death in 1976, Margaret Muspratt bore the bur­den with her husband.   “She would always. listen to people and they would come to her with· their problems. They. could always trust her.  Someone might call. in the evening in the: middle of a meal and I’d have to talk to them for perhaps an hour.  Margaret would· never ask what it was about if it was a talk in confidence. She was always supportive.”

Now there is a new challenge. There are· proposals to merge the parish with Beaconsfield which would leave the church without its own vicar. “The supreme test at’ the moment is to keep Penn independent. Penn has always been known for its initiative, its history, its originality. I’m determined to keep it that.”

The burial of Donald Maclean in 1983 shows Oscar Muspratt as a man of principle, some­one who does what’s right and the conse­quences be damned.   Donald Maclean was along with his friends Guy Burgess and Kim Philby, the worst traitor this country has known.  His defection to the East outraged a nation and brought grief to his friends and family.  But Oscar knew that beneath the treachery there was a man who had simply lost his way – weak as all men can be in the eyes of God.  When Maclean died, Oscar knew that he would be asked to take a service for him, as he already had strong links with the Macleans. The family had a country home on Beacon Hill. Top war correspondent Chester Wilmot had to leave his accommodation in Tylers Green. Oscar ar­ranged for him to use the Macleans’ home as they were planning to let it.  Oscar had already buried Lady Maclean, Donald’s mother. Se­curity men had attended on the chance that the spy might return to pay his respects.  He remembers the tense run-up to the ser­vice. “Donald’s son Fer­gus came to me and said he was 48 hours ahead of the Press.  His uncle, Alan, Donald’s brother, felt it would be best to have the service in a few years when all the commotion had died down.  “But Fergus and I thought we had to act quickly. We didn’t want all the cameras there. So the whole thing was fixed within one day.” Was the decision to take the service difficult?  “Obviously I had to think about it. But then, whether a vicar is called upon to bury the Arch­bishop of Canterbury or the biggest villain unhung, he still commends them both to the hands of God.  There was one condition. The Press speculated that there would be a Hammer­-and-Sickle on the cas­ket. I couldn’t have allowed that. As it hap­pened there was none.” Oscar remembers the love that Maclean’s family still felt for him, in spite of the treachery.    In that respect; he chose a passage from Corinthians – a line of which reads: ‘Love keeps no score of wrongs, does not gloat over other men’s sins but delights in the truth: There is nothing love cannot face, there is no limit to its faith, its hope and its endurance.’

But the Maclean af­fair is only a moment in time in Oscar’s colourful life. He has many pro­jects closer to home but just as important. There is the link with Pennsyl­vania and William Penn.  His interest in Wil­liam Penn began when he first arrived at the village. He was given some books about- the great man. Holed up in the vicarage by a heavy snowfall, he began to read.  It was the birth of a passion that has burned ever since. He has work­ed for years to prove Penn’s links with the vil­lage.  On this note he has been the guest of the US State Department with Earl and Countess Howe, and was given the freedom of Pittsburgh in 1950.  In the same year, he made a speech to the State Legislature in Harrisburg – a privilege granted to only two out­siders a year. He also

On a less controver­sial note Oscar intends to write a history of the village and the church.  Another possibility is to write the life stories of many of the people he has buried over the years.  This has been a fan­tastic and full life so far – sparkling with achievement. But what is he most proud of?  “Difficult to say.  There is the church in Mount Dandenong’ which Keith Reid a fine architect designed – he was nominated by me.  The scheme I created for the unemployed in Melbourne, which must have given thousands of men a chance in life which they deserved.”  “But there are the simpler things in life. The human side. I’m pleased to think that I’ve added as personal and sincere touch as I can to the many burials and weddings I’ve taken. “The personal side of life has always been very important to me.”

Oscar Muspratt is now 82. Over the last three weeks, we have’ looked back on his life. But Oscar continually looks forward,  His work isn’t finish­ed yet. For this man of action, the challenges the tasks, the achievements will never cease.

A Tribute to Revd. Oscar Muspratt 1906 – 2000

Chaplains at War: Revd. Oscar Muspratt
The Rev. Oscar Muspratt’s Australian church
A visit to the Rev. Oscar Muspratt’s Australian church

The Revd. Oscar Muspratt, who died in March of this year (2000), was the Vicar of Holy Trinity Penn between 1944 and 1989. 45 years of service one would think was enough for anyone but Oscar did so much before he came to Penn.

Oscar Muspratt born in Rochford, Essex, in 1906.  Oscar moved, with his family, to Australia in 1920 and at the age of 14 worked as a bullock cart driver and supported his father on a small dairy farm as a labourer. Due to the kindness of a cousin of his father Oscar was able to study chemistry at Melbourne University and became captain of the University Rugby Team.

It was in 1926 that he had what he called “a spiritual experience” which led him to enter the Church Ministry; intending to become a missionary in China. The Chinese considered this an appropriate time to prohibit any more missionaries from entering their country, and so Oscar began his Curacy in Melbourne.

St Michael & All Angels Anglican Church
© 10-05-2017 – John Conn, Templestowe, Victoria

In 1936, Oscar obtained a fellowship at Cambridge, where he supplemented his grant by taking services in local churches. At one of these he met Margaret Hooton, the incumbent’s daughter and they were married in 1st June 1937 in Cambridge.  They then returned to Australia where he became Vicar of Dandenong Mountains, and his first task was to rebuild the parish church. Here he honed his conscripting skills as he cadged, cajoled and coerced his small congregation and former university friends to help design and build the beautiful St. Michael’s and All Angels Church in Kalorama. A church and congregation that remained deep in his affection for the rest of his life.

Oscar became a serving chaplain in the 2nd World War and was posted to Egypt during the battles of El Alemain, Malta during their blitz, the initial invasions of Sicily and Italy and the Normandy landings.

And so to Penn.  Oscar became the Army chaplain for Buckinghamshire where he met Richard, Viscount Curzon and subsequently the Earl Howe. As the future patron of Penn Church, which was then without a clergyman, he invited Oscar to become the Vicar of Penn Church.

He was demobilised in 1945, and began the restoration and development of Penn Church and its parish. A labour of love that occupied him for the next 45 years. He reintroduced the Church Choir, of which he was so proud, and the restoration of Penn Church’s tradition of bell ringing. The building of the Lady Chapel and construction and repositioning of the new organ. The re-roofing of the church, the extension of the cemetery and the restoration of the long window on the north wall.

His moments in Penn gave Oscar moments of great happiness. Special personal highlights were the development of links between Penn and Pennsylvania; receiving the Freedom of Pittsburgh; being the guest of the US Senate; the establishment of the Penn Pennsylvania Fellowship Trust and the Penn Mead home.

Oscar’s wife Margaret took ill and died in 1976.

When he retired in 1989 Oscar was in poor health and to the pleasure of all who knew him, in 1990 Oscar married Vera who had cared for him at his lowest times. Vera’s effect on Oscar was wonderful. He made a good recovery, throwing away his walking stick.

In 1995 Oscar and Vera bought their lovely bungalow in Brecon. There Oscar spent his time writing his recollections and his treatise on World Peace, while Vera created a beautiful garden in which Oscar took as much pride as if he had made it himself.

Over the past 2 years, Oscar’s health worsened. He had difficulty in walking, but his happiness in Brecon with Vera was great. He passed away on the morning of 8th March 2000, after an intestinal aneurysm.

So that was a little part of the man you may have known as Oscar. A suitable epitaph should be the words of Wordsworth. ‘That best portion of a good man’s life. His little nameless unremembered acts of kindness and love.

We are indebted to Derek Evans for most of the above.

Chaplains at War

From an article found on ‘Chaplains at War’Oscar Muspratt enlisted in the Army January 1941 upon his return from Australia. He was posted to the 1st battalion the Rifle Brigade (which he shared with the 2nd Battalion the KRRC) in the 1st Armoured division recovering from Dunkirk. During his 2 1/2 years war service in the Middle East he tended the wounded and dying from both the first and the second battles of El Alamein.

Volunteering to replace casualties at the height of the blitz on Malta, he became the gunners chaplain. This involved taking countless services with a handful of men manning the great number of anti-aircraft guns in their open gun-pits: these went on even during an actual air raid under standing orders, whilst all hell was let loose overhead.

During the invasion of Sicily, he was posted to the famous 51st Highland division and returned with them for the Normandy Invasion. As his wife was unfortunately faced with a major operation, he was made responsible instead for supervising the spiritual ministrations to the many scattered Army detachments throughout the county of Buckinghamshire. As a precaution, in case London had been hopelessly crippled by bombing, a great part of the key administration of Britain’s war effort was duplicated and scattered throughout eh county of Buckinghamshire. As chaplain he served a wide range of these often most secret and most vital establishments including Chequers and the troops who guarded Winston Churchill.

He was released from the Army service owing to his wife’s serious ill-health at that time and appointed to Penn by Earl Howe in response to the parishioners’ request for an ex-Service Chaplain.

His great grandfather James Muspratt was one of the founders of Britain’s heavy chemical industry in 1825.

From Crockford’s Clerical Directory:
Trained at Ridley College, Melbourne, Australia
Deaconed in 1929 and priested in 1931 in Melbourne, Australia

1929-1933 St Mary’s, Caulfield, Australia
1933-1936 Panton Hill, Australia
1936-1937 permitted to officiate Canterbury diocese
1938 priest in charge at St Mark’s, Fitzroy, Australia
1938-1941 Minister of Mt Dandenong, Australia
1941-1945 Chaplain to the Forces
1947 Honorary Chaplain to the Forces
1948-1989 Vicar of Penn, Oxford Diocese, UK
1990 retired and moved to Brecon.

The Rev. Oscar Muspratt’s Australian church

Kalorama Church 1940’s, © Images of Yesteryear

One of our former Vicar’s proudest achievements was that, in 1940, during the darkest days of the Second World War, he had inspired the building of a beautiful new church at Kalorama, 2,000 feet up in the hills of Mt Dandenong, surrounded by eucalyptus trees, with a distant view of Melbourne, 25 miles away to the north west.

Oscar Muspratt was 31 when he arrived at Mt Dandenong in 1938.  He had been ordained for nine years, working as a priest in a succession of parishes in the Melbourne area with a 2-year curacy in England where he met and married his first wife at Cambridge.  A wealthy parishioner, Ernest Jones, died soon after his arrival at Mt Dandenong and his widow agreed that the building of a new church at Kalorama would be a worthy memorial to him.

The chosen architect was Keith Reed, an old friend and former team-mate from the Melbourne University rugby team, of which Oscar had been captain.  The design for a 60-seat church was debated and there were supporters for both a log cabin style and for a clinker brick clad church, but the final choice was for local (Kilsyth) stone.  This stone was found only a few miles away and came in soft varied tones of cream, buff, brown and grey.  It was decided to follow the Early English style with a small tower and was to cost about £1,400 of which £1,000 was the gift from Mrs Jones.

Oscar Muspratt chose the name St Michael and all Angels for the church, inspired by the Battle of Britain which was being fought in the skies over England at that very time.  He had found a text in Revelation Ch 12, v7,  ‘there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels fought against the dragon…and the dragon prevailed not’.

The foundation stone was laid on 26 June 1940, the day France fell, when it seemed that the whole future of Christian civilisation was at stake.  ‘A giant struggle lies ahead of the world and our Empire in particular’ he wrote in his church newsletter.  The church was completed in five frenetic months and was consecrated by the Archbishop of Melbourne on 28 November 1940.

St Michael & All Angels Anglican Church
© 10-05-2017 – John Conn, Templestowe, Victoria

The final cost of building was £1,835, nearly double Mrs Jones’ original offer, but she agreed to meet the whole of it leaving only the furnishings to the congregation.  Oscar Muspratt was remembered as the prime mover behind the project.  ‘He pushed – no church would have been built otherwise’.  The architect had vivid memories of the Vicar ‘being on the ball all the time, up there every day’.

The Muspratts left Australia in January 1941, only two months after the consecration, bound for England and volunteer war service as an Army Chaplain.  Keith Reed also volunteered for the Forces.  Oscar Muspratt returned several times in later years, most recently with his second wife, Vera, in 1990, for the 50th anniversary of the church.

The church has been described as an architectural gem and people come from miles around to be married there. The two photographs reproduced here confirm that it is a most attractive church.

Perhaps we should consider some formal arrangement for linking our two churches?  A good few of us will travel to Australia from time to time and it is easily accessible from Melbourne.

I have taken all the detail for this article from a detailed history of the church called ‘A light in the Hills’, written by H.L.Speagle in 1990, as well as checking with Vera Muspratt’s own knowledge of the church.  A copy of the history can be found in the Parish Office.

Miles Green, 22 December 2000

A visit to the Rev. Oscar Muspratt’s Australian church

St Michael & All Angels Anglican Church
© 10-05-2017 – John Conn, Templestowe, Victoria

I wrote in our Newsletter two years ago (Feb/Mar 2001) about the small stone clad church at Kalorama, near Melbourne, for which the foundation stone was laid on 26 June 1940, the day France fell.  The building of this church was very much a product of the enormous enthusiasm and energy of the young Vicar, Oscar Muspratt, who was to be our Vicar from 1944-89.

This August, our family holiday was spent in Australia visiting my wife’s mother who lives at Ballarat, about 80 miles west of Melbourne.  We set off early one Sunday morning with our two younger children on a 2½ hour car journey through Melbourne’s suburbs, to Kalorama, about 25 miles east of the city.  It is about 2000ft up in the wooded (mainly eucalyptus) hills of Mt Dandenong, a lovely area popular with Melbourne residents and tourists.

The church is just to one side of the road with a long view of the open lowlands behind it.  It is clad with the local stone in soft, varied tones of cream, buff, brown and grey and looks very neat and established.  It seats 60 people (about one third the size of Penn) and is apparently immensely popular for weddings and funerals with people coming on occasions from as far away as New Zealand.

We were met by Henry Speagle, the author of a very well written and detailed history of the church (available in our Church Office), who had been kindly forewarned by Vera Muspratt, Oscar’s widow.  The service was entirely familiar based entirely on the Book of Common Prayer, even including a prayer for the Queen and her Ministers.  We were warmly welcomed as representatives of Oscar Muspratt’s other church.  The congregation was on the elderly side, although there is apparently an active youth group and familiar sports jackets and corduroy trousers were in evidence.  Tea and biscuits in the nearby hall and a tour of the church followed the service.

Jean and Henry Speagle invited us to lunch and we found much in common.  His generation of Australians was educated as if in an English school with no mention at all of Australian history.  He was very knowlegeable about Anglican personalities and had been particularly impressed by Rowan Williams who he had heard preaching.  The Melbourne diocesan newspaper was full of the appointment and its likely consequences for the Anglican Church.

It was a most interesting visit.  We received the friendliest of welcomes and I recommend Kalorama to future visitors to Melbourne.

Miles Green, 10th September 2002

Rev. Benjamin Robertshaw (1679-1744)

Two hitherto unpublished documents in the Buckinghamshire Archaeological Society’s library give both sides of an angry dispute between an earlier Vicar of Penn and the Bishop of Lincoln. They throw a revealing light on the fierce religious arguments of the day and show how closely intertwined were church and state and how strongly the bitter memories of the Civil War and the Revolution of 1688 continued to dominate political and religious controversies well into the eighteenth-century, with violence and civil war very close to the surface.

Benjamin Robertshaw was Vicar of Penn from 1716-28 and rector of Amersham from 1728-44.  His memoir, 15 closely written pages, is preserved in the Bucks Archaeological Society’s library in Aylesbury and I quoted from it when writing in the February newsletter about his friend and patron, Roger Penn, the last male heir of the Penn family. It is a well written review of the major events and people in his life, looking back when he was about 60 years old.

He was born, in 1679, near Burnley in Lancashire and was educated by his father who was a schoolmaster. He took a degree at Brasenose College, Oxford and, in 1702, arrived in Amersham to run the Free School there at the invitation of the Rector, Humphry Drake, an earlier graduate of Brasenose. He was ordained two years later and married Mary Salter of Amersham in 1709. He was very hard up and couldn’t find the money to take his degree and he had to hold three jobs at once, deacon at Amersham, curate at Chalfont St Giles as well as continuing to run the school, ‘that arduous business‘, he called it.

An extremely unflattering assessment of Robertshaw’s performance as Vicar of Penn is given in a long three page memorandum from Daniel Baker, a wealthy and well-connected Penn parishioner who lived in a large mansion overlooking the common by Widmer Pond. He was High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire when he wrote the memorandum to the Bishop of Lincoln around autumn 1721 (see extract below). Daniel Baker complained that Robertshaw lived in Amersham because of his school; let his vicarage in Penn to a carpenter and shoemaker; neglected his parishioners, never visiting them; hated dissenters, preaching against them and refusing to either register or bury any that had been baptised by Presbyterian ministers whose authority to preach or baptise he refused to recognise because they had not been ordained by a bishop. He was reported to have described dissenters in sermons as, ‘the most turbulent and seditious people in the world and added ‘schismaticers‘ (i.e., all those who had broken away from the Church of England) to the biblical description of those ‘dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolators, and whosover loveth and maketh a lie‘, who were excluded from heaven.

Robertshaw also reportedly refused to pray for King George and took the compulsory oath of fidelity to him only with great reluctance. Furthermore, Daniel Baker accused him of being an overt Jacobite and possibly a Catholic sympathiser who, in 1715, had preached publicly in favour of the Old Pretender. Daniel Baker had no time for Jacobites. In 1715 he had written to his brother-in-law, Lord Fermanagh, ‘You are too much a Protestant and Lover of the Country than to Embarque in any such wicked design, as to bring in the Pretender, which consequently must be to bring in Popery and Slavery with him …. therefore I am the more surprised at this time to find any English gentleman for him ... ‘

A wholly damning indictment apparently, but as we shall see in Part 2, the Rev. Robertshaw saw no shame in such accusations and made no attempt to deny them. In this he was supported by many of the most influential gentry and clergy of his day.

© Miles Green, June 2004