The burlesque padre’s amazing journey

Famous as the Cattle Punchers Padre, the Chorus Girls Padre and a Cole Porter musical, there was nothing that this Anglican minister couldn’t do. I told a version of this story live on West Bremer Radio.

Absolutely nothing was ordinary about The Reverend Frederic Anstruther-Cardew.

He was born in 1866 in Lahore, Bengal, in modern day Pakistan, where his father was serving in the British army. He adventured as a cowboy and served in the Indian wars in North America before being ordained as a minister in England in 1891.

The Reverend Frederic Anstruther-Cardew

Australia beckoned, and for three years from 1894 Reverend Anstruther-Cardew was the vicar at Charleville in outback Queensland. His parish was the biggest in the world, covering 120,000 square miles.

Reverend Anstruther-Cardew then served as the vicar at All Saints Church in Brisbane for three years. One of the first marriages that he performed while posted there was actually at St. Paul’s Church in Ipswich. That was in 1897 for the daughter of the manager of the A.J.S. bank in Ipswich.

The next wedding was in 1898 at All Saints Church in Brisbane coincidentally for the bank manager’s replacement. It was between Travers Robert Goff and Margaret Agnes Morehead whose subsequent children became famous beyond all expectation.

The first offspring was P.L. Travers the author of Mary Poppins. The next was the nurse Biddy Moriarty. She was awarded the Florence Nightingale Medal having become beloved as the ‘Mother of the Australian Imperial Force’ during her work with the Red Cross.

But the reverend was famous in his own right.

He was the son of Colonel Sir Frederic Cardew who after serving in India, was the governor of Sierra Leone four times. His brother-in-law was Captain Kington who was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and Mentioned in Despatches four times in the Boer War. His father-in-law was Lieutenant-Colonel Kington who was a well-known cricketer who played for Gloucestershire.

Colonel Sir Frederic Cardew

Reverend Anstruther-Cardew during his time in Charleville ministered to the biggest cattle stations in the world. It was there that he became famous across the colony as the “Cattle Punchers Padre”.

But it was after Charleville, and after performing the wedding in Ipswich, that his fame really spread.

That’s when he left Australia and opened what became known as the “Chorus Girls Hostel” in Paris, France. There he fed and sheltered the British chorus girls who sort their fame and fortune in the burlesque shows of Paris.

The reverend was the confessor, matchmaker, and legal adviser to thousands of “Les Girls” and in doing so became famous across Europe as the “Chorus Girls Padre.”

So large was his fame and personality, that he was actually worked into the storyline of a show called the “Nymph Errant” which became a musical by Cole Porter.

Gertie Millar

In Paris in 1924, Reverend Anstruther-Cardew officiated in the marriage of one of his chorus girls Gertie Millar. She married the older Lord Dudley. That caused a bit of a stir because Gertie was quite well-known on stage and in the chorus halls, and Lord Dudley had previously been the Governor-General of Australia.

It was Lord Dudley who was notably annoyed at the lack of courtesy on his visit to Queensland in 1910 when he was forced to have breakfast in Ipswich.

Rev. Anstruther-Cardew at the wedding of Lord Dudley and Gertie Millar

In 1928, the British Ambassador presented Reverend Anstruther-Cardew in Paris with a cheque for £1 million from a large list of subscribers. First name on the list was that of the Prince of Wales, who was of course the future King Edward VIII and who himself had engaged in a series of worrisome liaisons with the chorus girls. Co-incidentally, the prince was close friends with Lord Dudley.

The British awarded Reverend Anstruther-Cardew an OBE.

The French – in one of those quirky historical facts that illustrate how highly the French value their showgirls – gave Reverend Anstruther-Cardew the Legion of Honour which is the highest French order of merit that you can get. 

There are plaques and museums around the world commemorating author P.L. Travers, but not for her humanitarian sister Biddy Moriarty. Their parents were married by Reverend Anstruther-Cardew, and he also misses out on commemoration despite his extraordinary life.

Perhaps it’s time that we put plaques in Charleville, Brisbane and Ipswich, marking the remarkable life of the Cattle Punchers and the Chorus Girls Padre.

It’s time that such great characters of history are recognised as they deserve. The French certainly understood that!


Photo credits:
Les trois soeurs de Gle – Pinterest from Unexpectedtales.
Frederic Anstruther Cardew – uploaded to WikiTree by Joe Farler 2020.
Colonel Sir Frederick Cardew – uploaded to Wikitree by Joe Farler 2020.
Gertie Millar c1906 – Wikipedia Commons.
Gertie Millar married Lord Dudley – Worlds News, Sydney, 21st June 1924, page 9.


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