Douglas Price – Tragic Modernist

When, in 1916, the 42 year old Reverend Douglas Price was found dead in his house in Rosecliffe Street Highgate Hill, a short but fascinating life had come to an end.

He was born into a Quaker family in Birmingham in 1874, one of 2 sons and 5 daughters of Samuel Price and Caroline Southall. When he reached the age of 18, he felt compelled to become a member of the Anglican Church. He was unable to explain why, other than suggesting that the colour and music associated with the church made him feel that those involved had a fuller perception of the revelation of God.

Reverend Douglas prive 1904

Douglas Price 1904 (TROVE)

Four years later, he left his business to study at Durham University and subsequently was ordained in the Anglican Church. He arrived in Brisbane in 1903 to take up a role as lecturer in the Anglican Theological College. Before long, his unorthodox religious beliefs such as questioning the resurrection of Christ, led the archbishop, St Clair Donaldson, to ask him to resign.

St Clair Donaldson Archbishop Brisbane

St Clair George Alfred Donaldson – First Archbishop of Brisbane (State Library of Queensland)

Around that time, the parish of All Saints church asked Price to become their rector and the issue of his increasingly unorthodox beliefs was avoided for the time being. He had been associated with this church for several years.

All saints Church Brisbane 1885

All Saints Church ca. 1885 (State Library of Queensland)

All Saints on Wickham Terrace was the parish church of central Brisbane. Originally built in 1862, in 1869 it was largely rebuilt in the form that exists today, making it Brisbane’s oldest surviving Anglican church.

All Saints Church Brisbane

All Saints Church was built in 1869 and is Brisbane’s oldest Anglican church

The Reverend Douglas Price became well known for his sermons. He also continued to give the weekly public lectures he had commenced a few years earlier on subjects such as poetry, philosophy, literature and history, often dressed in University gown and hood.

Douglas price lecture 1905 brisbane

Brisbane Courier 28th September, 1905 (TROVE)

He published a quarterly journal called “The Cygnet” which further expounded his developing ideas. He’s reported to have spent a lot of time in schools and assisting the poor. As the parish had insufficient funds to afford to employ a curate to assist him, he was extremely busy.

There was ongoing conflict with Archbishop Donaldson who wanted to close All Saints as Brisbane’s new Anglican cathedral was planned to be built very close by. The Archbishop wanted to maximise the size of the congregation and increase income for the new cathedral.

All saints Church and St Johns Cathedral brisbane

All Saints with St John’s Cathedral in the background in 2018

The parish congregation firmly rejected the archbishop’s proposal. Shortly after this, he asked Price for copies of his sermons and subsequently asked him to resign. There was some suggestion that this was due to the issue of the disagreement over the future of All Saints Church. However Price’s beliefs had continued to drift further into what was called Modernism. In a word. he believed that Jesus was first amongst the sons of God but was not God the son.

Despite the issues with his theology, the people of the parish were strongly behind him and they petitioned the archbishop to withdrawal his request for Price’s resignation, without success. He was extremely popular due in part to what was described as a magnetic personality and an ability to speak publicly in an extremely convincing way.

Douglas Price 1911 forced resignation

Brisbane Courier, 5th January 1911 (TROVE)

His forced resignation was reported as far afield as London. Price left for Europe in 1911 after resigning, but later in the same year he returned to Brisbane at the request of his many followers. He established a Progressive Christianity or Modernist Group and held well attended services twice a week.

Douglas price progressive Christianity

Brisbane Courier, Monday 4th December 1911. (TROVE) 

The Modernist Society later held its services and lectures in rented rooms in Moore’s Chambers which stood opposite the GPO at 282 Queens Street where Post Office Square is now located.

Queen Street Brisbane showing the Courier Corner ca 1910

The Modernists met in the building just visible to the right of the Royal Hotel (State Library of Queensland)

In his remaining years, Price had a lot more free time than when he was an overworked rector and wrote three novels – The Earthly Purgatory in 1912, The Soul of Judas in 1913 and One of a Crowd in 1916. The books contain much of his philosophy and at times received mixed reception in the Australia of the early 20th century.

The earthly purgatory Douglas price novel

The cover of a Douglas Price novel (Colonial Australian Popular Fiction Archive)

The text of “The Earthly Purgatory” can be found here.

He also built a home in Rosecliffe Street , Highgate Hill. From a study of successive Post Office Directories, I believe that the house is most probably number 41.

Reverend Douglas Price House

Price’s house in Rosecliffe Street

In the Post Office Directory the house is named as “Brick’s Pal” which seems to be an error as elsewhere it’s referred to as “Puck’s Palace”.

As well as being an author, Price was also gifted musically and artistically and his house is described as having internal black and white decorations painted by him.

Douglas Price (from All Saints records held by State Library of Queensland)

In 1916, Douglas Price was found dead at home by a friend who had come to visit. He was a believer in eugenics and had decided not to marry and have children and he lived alone.

The death certificate issued after an autopsy states that he died from a severed brachial or upper arm artery, haemorrhage and syncope. One newspaper stated that there was no sign of foul play and that he had seemed to have died of natural causes. Another euphemistically reported that he had died in his sleep. However given that there was no police investigation, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that he committed suicide, probably by slicing through his underarm.

Price was said to have suffered for many years from an unstated painful medical condition and perhaps the pain had become too great.

A yearly Douglas Price Memorial Lecture was held for some years from 1920 and presented by distinguished academics.  In 1921, the lecture was presented by Elton Mayo, Professor of Psychology and Philosophy at the University of Queensland. Another blogger has discussed this in her post ‘Civilisation and the Inner Self’ .

A 1921 newspaper article regarding this lecture  by an acquaintance gives us a glimpse of his character.

Douglas Price’s love for the beautiful in life was his most vivid characteristic – beauty of mind, physical beauty, lovely words that blaze like jewels, music that frees the soul, art, nature, truth, kindness- all these things were to him just God.”

The article mentions that without a successor, the Modernist Movement in Brisbane had become ‘moribund, if not dead’.

One of his obituaries stated that had Douglas Price lived anywhere but Australia, he would have had a world wide reputation, but he is now all but forgotten.

His fallen tombstone can be found in the South Brisbane Cemetery

Douglas Price tombstone

Douglas Price’s Tombstone in the South Brisbane Cemetery – erected by the women of the Modernist Movement

5 thoughts on “Douglas Price – Tragic Modernist

  1. What a wonderful account of a very interesting man – and thankyou for ‘pinging’ on my blog entry at Freud in Oceania to develop this piece! I would love to see Price’s contribution ‘recovered’. I agree with you about the possibility that Price committed suicide and wonder, also whether his personal life was rather troubled. There are some interesting reviews of his books in the Australian press. One of them compared his novel, ‘This earthly purgatory’ with Wilde’s Portrait of Dorian Gray.. I will be following your blog too.
    Kind regards, Christine


    • Thanks so much Christine, I was going to send you a message about the death certificate information I uncovered now that I’ve published the post . I’ve asked a few doctor friends who tend to think that suicide is the most likely cause of death and that such things weren’t published in newspapers in those days. I’m afraid my little blog is nowhere near as academic as your impressive one. I do have another post about an unusual person though – Ebenezer Thorne.

      Liked by 1 person

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