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John Edward Mercer

John Edward Mercer (1857–1922), fifth Anglican bishop of Tasmania, was born at Bradford, Yorkshire, the son of an Anglican minister. He excelled academically and sportingly at Rossall School and Lincoln College, Oxford. Graduating in 1879, he was ordained an Anglican priest the following year. During curacies in Durham and Manchester, followed by rectorships of the Manchester parishes of poverty-stricken Angel Meadow (1883–89) and industrial Gorton (1889–97), he emphasised social reform. Married to another child of the parsonage, Josephine Archdall, Mercer fought poverty, drunkenness and prostitution with open-air services, youth clubs, temperance associations and other amenities. He became an influential member of the Christian Social Union of the Anglican Church.

Mercer came to Tasmania as Anglican bishop in 1902. Dubbed 'the Socialist Bishop' and bitterly attacked by conservatives, he encouraged the infant Labor Party and trade unions by eloquent speeches. He provided missions for remote Bass Strait islands and mining camps. His opposition to the 'sweating' of Hobart seamstresses helped to obtain state wages boards in 1910. Mercer was also a good administrator, working for new churches and schools. He published regularly in Tasmania. Befitting a keen bushwalker, one of Mercer's many books was entitled Nature mysticism. Mercer retired to England from Tasmania in 1914. Now a widower, he remarried and continued his religious and social work as assistant bishop of Chester and Archdeacon of Macclesfield.

Further reading: ADB 10; R Davis, Bishop John Edward Mercer, Hobart, 1982; and 'Bishop Mercer in England and Tasmania', THRAPP 30/2, 1983.

Richard Davis