Alfred William Garrett was born in 1844 in Hobart Town, Tasmania He started at Hutchins School, as pupil number 281 in 1853, and after a brilliant scholastic career, won a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford.

A. W. Garrett, W. A. Comyn Macfarlane, and G. M. Hopkins, 27 July 1866. [Click on thumbail for larger image]

At the time he was expected to take Anglican Orders, but in 1866 while at Oxford he came under the influence of the Oxford Movement and he, and a number of others at Balliol, were so enamoured by John Henry Newman’s oratory skills they chose to become Catholics. Garrett and his friend, English poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, took a holiday together in Horsham, Sussex England, and talked and read their way into changing their faith system. [see photo] Alfred was first to be received into the church by Archbishop Manning in October 1866, and was godfather to Hopkins just weeks later.

They had long and deep discussions about their faith journey and both knew that their decisions would have strong repercussions both at the university and on their home fronts. And indeed it did! Alfred was discouraged from returning to Tasmania and gained an appointment to the Indian Education Department and was for a time Principal of Dacca College in Calcutta and then Inspector of Schools in Bengal.

Hopkins had his own battles. He joined the Jesuits and went on to become one of England’s most proclaimed poets. During Alfred’s time in India, Hopkins wrote to him. Many of Hopkins’ letters were destroyed, but this extract from one sent to Alfred and reproduced from a newspaper article, shows how much he loved “all things Indian”. As the folowing three passages reveal, the Hopkinesque phraseology is evident in his ordinary writing as well as his poetry.

If you tell me you know Sanscrit I go April-green with envy; if you say the Mahabaruta is your toast crumb ordinary breakfast book, I am jaundiced all marigold under the eyes.

But the point is, do you like India, and in particular the banks of the Brahmapootra? [refreshing, willowy majestic name! the next best thing to bathing in it]. Answer, and do not burk this.

Be long, be lengthy, be voluminous, be tedious. I want to know everything you may not find it a trouble to write.

Alfred returned to Tasmania in poor health and on a Government pension. He married Anne Butterworth in 1896 when he was 53 years and she 23. They produced seven children, the youngest Margaret born when her father was 76 years. [Not bad for an ailing old man] He also played a significant role in Tasmanian education.

I am interested in this story as my father, Philip Virgilius Garrett, was the third born son. Alfred Garrett was my grandfather

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Last modified ddate 24 March 201