Rev. Maitland Woods

The Rev. William Maitland Woods (1864-1927).
 – Anglican clergyman and army chaplain

Part 1 .  The early years: 1864-1915 From Oxford scholar to Rector of St Mary’s (London – Oxford – Townsville – Thursday Island – Cairns – Kangaroo Point

The story of William Maitland Woods begins with his birth in Mayfair, London on 4 January 1864. The son of Alfred Woods, draper and his wife Jane he was educated at the City of London School and St Mary’s Hall, Oxford.

Portrait of the Rev. William Maitland Woods (State Library of Queensland).

He graduated with a B.A. in 1889 and was made deacon. In the same year his family emigrated to Queensland where he took up a position as curate of St James’s Pro-Cathedral in Townsville. The following year he was appointed curate-in-charge of Thursday Island and was ordained a priest on 11 April 1892.

In his role as the first rector of Thursday Island he was widely respected for his strong missionary zeal and pastoral commitment. On 3 January 1893 he married Ina Alice M. Games in the island’s registry office. They had one son, Francis Maitland Woods.


Interior of Quetta Memorial Church, Thursday Island, 1895. (State Library of Queensland).

During his time on Thursday Island he oversaw the building of the Quetta Memorial Church, built as a memorial to the 134 people who perished on 28 February 1890 in the shipwreck of the RMS Quetta.

In 1897 he moved to Cairns and then served in parishes in Dalby (1899-1903), and became rector of St Mary’s Anglican Church, Kangaroo Point from 1903 – 1913.

Presentation to Rev. Maitland Woods in 1906.

He was highly regarded and admired by his parishioners not only for the caring way he carried out his ministerial duties but for his other qualities: he was intelligent, witty, and loved music. At his welcome to St Mary’s on 14 May 1903 he surprised everyone when he played two violin solos.Both he and his wife were well liked and established a great rapport with parishioners who were extremely sad when he was transferred to Ariah Park, New South Wales where he was rector from 1913-1915. He then joined the WWI effort as army chaplain and served with the AIF from 1915 – 1919. His final placement was as rector of St Clement’s Episcopal Church in Honolulu where he died on 6 February 1927 (more details in Part 2)

A mark of the high regard the parishioners of St Mary’s had for Rev. Maitland Woods was their decision to erect a belfry and bell tower in his honour.

The Bell tower and belfry at St Mary’s in memory of the Rev. Maitland Woods. (Photo: C.Gerard)It  was unveiled on Sunday 7 April 1929.

News report of the unveiling of the memorial. (Brisbane Courier 8 April 1929)

(Sources: Australian Dictionary of Biography/ SLQ/ Trove).

Marble plaque with inscription at the bell tower. (Photo: C.Gerard)
Part 2.  1915-1927 World War I and after: Cairo – Gallipoli – Fiji – Honolulu

While he was highly regarded as rector on Thursday Island and various parishes in Australia, it is for his distinguished service as army chaplain during WWI for which the Rev. Maitland Woods is mainly remembered.

Since 1893, a year after his arrival as rector in Thursday Island, he had served as chaplain in the Queensland Land Forces which were part of the Colonial militia which operated in each state until they were amalgamated after Federation on 1 March 1901.

Rev. Maitland Woods AIF enrolment record 9 August 1915. (Australian War Memorial)

He continued to serve as chaplain in the Australian Military Forces after Federation until he transferred to the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) on 9 August 1915. On the same day he embarked on the troopship HMAT (His Majesty’s Australian Transports) Runic A54 in Sydney as Chaplain, 4th Class bound for Gallipoli and the Middle East. His son Francis Maitland Woods also served in the Middle East at the time.

Reverend William Maitland Woods and Sergeant Francis Maitland Woods in Cairo, 1917. (SLQ)

On arrival at Gallipoli two months later he was attached to the 2nd Brigade for a short time, then the 7th Light Horse Regiment, his son’s unit. After his appointment to Senior Chaplain on 31 July 1916 he joined the staff of Major General Chauvel’s Anzac Mounted Division.


Group Portrait of staff of the ANZAC Mounted Division Receiving Station, Palestine, ca. 1917.
Left To Right: Back Row: Captain (Capt) Edmund S. Joske; Capt Dawson; Capt Richard C. Bassett; Lieutenant (Lt) Grant; Lt Bourke; Capt Carvosso Roy Wiburd; Lt Isdale.
Front Row: Chaplain Maitland-Woods; Capt Theodore W. Van Epen; Major John Robert Beith; Lieutenant-Colonel John Colvin Storey; Capt James A. Heath.

He lived his mission and did not seek any special favours, camping out for months in the desert with the troops and enduring the same conditions of heat and dust. He was highly regarded by the men, known and respected for his positive attitude, compassion, energy and commitment to the pastoral cause.

During this time he started a correspondence with his friend Chaplain David John Garland who was then chaplain to the soldiers in army training camps in and around Brisbane. As a passionate member of the Anzac Day Commemoration Committee, Garland would eventually become known as the architect of ANZAC DAY as we know it.

The correspondence between the two priests, known as the Maitland Papers, is held by the Queensland State Library. The 62 letters and three postcards give a frank and personal insight into their work as ‘padres’ and their concerns as fathers whose sons were on active service. Woods gave realistic accounts of life in the trenches and spoke glowingly about the bravery and professional way the soldiers faced these challenges.

Canon David John Garland and Rev. Maitland Woods in Cairo

The letters stopped when Garland was appointed representative of the Church of England to inquire into the ‘moral and social’ needs of the men in Egypt. He served in the Middle East from 1918-19 administering the ‘Church of England Fund for Soldiers at the Front.’

His keen interest in archaeology gave Woods a different perspective on life in these harsh environments. He encouraged the men to look out for objects of interest, pleased when they found various coins and small relics.

Section of the Shellal Mosaic now held at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Part of the mosaic floor of an old Byzantine church built around 561 A.D in the time of Justinian I. Discovered by the 2nd Light Horse Brigade at Shellal, on the Wady Ghuzze in Palestine on 23 April 1917. Its excavation and removal to Cairo for transportation to Australia was overseen by the Reverend William Maitland Woods

There was exuberance and great excitement on 17 April 1917 during the second battle of Gaza when they made their most important discovery.

Reverend Maitland Woods standing in a section of the ruins of Shellal in Palestine in 1917. (Australian War Memorial)

They had come across the Shellal Mosaic, a beautiful church-floor mosaic later dated to the Byzantine period of A.D. 561-62. Woods managed to claim the mosaic for Australia and was put in charge of the excavations and its eventual shipment to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, Australia, on 26 December 1918.

Section of the Shellal Mosaic now held at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

In 1919 he was appointed OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire). He returned to Australia on 18 February 1919 and his A.I.F. appointment was terminated on 16 June 1919.

Informal portrait of Padre Woods with part of the Shallal Mosaic. (Australian War Memorial)

Chaplain Maitland Woods holding up the inscription from the Shellal Mosaic. A literal translation of the inscription reads: ‘This temple with rich mosaics did decorate our most holy bishop…and the most pious George, priest and sacristan, in the year 622 according to the era of Gaza, in the 10 years of the indiction’. The mosaic once formed part of the floor of an old Byzantine basilica or church which was supposedly built when the Children of Israel journeyed through Egypt about 561AD and was discovered near El Arish by the 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade during the second battle of Gaza on 23 April 1917. The mosaic was carefully removed by Australian and New Zealand volunteers under the guidance of Padre Woods and is now on display in the Australian War Memorial. From the collection of 299 Wallace Owen McEwan, 6th Australian Light Horse Regiment.

His next destination was Fiji where he joined his wife who had been nursing there during the war and then moved to Honolulu. After a year as Headmaster of Iolani College he was appointed rector of St Clement’s Episcopal Church in 1923. Once again he was a caring priest loved by his parishioners. He died in Queens’s Hospital, Honolulu, of a cerebral tumour on 6 February 1927 and was cremated. He was survived by his wife, son and daughter.

Extract of a circular letter sent out by the Maitland Woods Memorial Committee giving reasons for the decision to erect a memorial in honour of the Rev. Maitland Woods. It was published in the Daily Standard (Brisbane) on 18 June 1927.