HAMILTON, William (1807-1879)

Barry Bridges

HAMILTON, WILLIAM (b. Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland, 13 Mar 1807; d. Mortlake, Vic, 25 May 1879). Presbyterian minister.

William Hamilton was the only son of Andrew Hamilton, minister of the High Church, Kilmarnock. After completing the Arts (MA 1827) and Divinity courses at Glasgow University, where he was a prize winner, he was licensed by the Presbytery of Irvine in July 1830 and served as home missionary at Dundonald until 1835 when he became assistant to Patrick McFarlan, minister of West Parish, Greenock. He had an ambition to work in foreign missions but was deterred by his health and dissuasion of friends. In 1837 he responded to J D Lang's (q.v.) call for ministers for NSW, was appointed by the Church of Scotland's Colonial Committee, and ordained in May to 'the Australian Colonies'.

Sent by the Presbytery of NSW to Goulburn in Oct 1837 he was called soon afterwards and settled to work a large area, founding congregations at Braidwood, Yass, Duntroon and Queanbeyan in the face of much early hostility or indifference to religion. In 1843 he published Practical Discourses, intended for circulation in the Interior of New South Wales for the use of settlers without a minister. In the crisis 1844-46 over how the Synod of Australia should react to the disruption of the Church of Scotland he was leader of those wishing to assert the independence of the colonial church and adopt a neutral stance. When the majority finally voted to remain with the Church of Scotland he resigned to preserve his neutrality. He was reviled, particularly by William McIntyre (q.v.), leader of the Free Church party, as a man without principle, but was vindicated when eventually all Scotland's Presbyterian Churches and the great majority of their colonial adherents came to accept that independence and neutrality were essential for Presbyterian prosperity in the colonies.

To avoid splitting his congregation, which was divided on his stand, Hamilton demitted his charge, abandoned the costly improvements made to his manse at his own expense and travelled overland with his wife and small children to Port Phillip. In 1847 he became minister at Kilnoorat and from 1857 to 1873 was minister at Mortlake, where he founded a number of congregations in the area he served. He stood aloof from church courts until he was able to join the Presbyterian Church of Vic at its foundation in 1859 on the basis of neutrality towards Scottish Churches.

Hamilton was a deeply sensitive man with a propensity for agonising examinations of his soul. From his missionary days onwards he tithed his income for religious and charitable purposes. He built a number of churches entirely on freewill offerings, for he rejected other forms of fund raising as morally questionable.

B J Bridges, Ministers, Licentiates and Catechists of the Presbyterian Churches in New South Wales 1823-1865 (Melbourne, 1989), 55-56




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Content © Evangelical History Association of Australia and the author, 2004