PLAYFORD, THOMAS (b. Bamby Dun, Yorkshire, England, 11 Aug 1795; d. Mitcham, SA, 18 Sept 1873). Soldier and pastor.
Son of a pious farmer, Thomas Playford was baptised and confirmed in the Church of England. As a rather solitary young man he pondered such questions as 'Why was I born?' and 'What is the meaning of this life?', then nearly died of 'a nervous consumption'. Having fathered a child by a local schoolteacher, he enlisted in the Life Guards in 1810, serving in Portugal and Spain 1812-13 and at Waterloo. In 1819 he married Mary Ann Corsane: she died of consumption in 1835 and their three children died in infancy.
Playford had no clearly defined religious views, but attended the Church of England on Sunday mornings and worshipped with Wesleyans or Dissenters in the evening. Then in the late 1820s he began studying the Bible, prayed for divine guidance, believed he saw visions and joined a Wesleyan Methodist society. In 1833 he also attended the newly-founded Catholic Apostolic Church to hear Edward Irving, whose preaching on the second advent was drawing large congregations. Playford was deeply influenced by premillennialism, with its emphasis on the imminent return of Christ. In 1834, on discharge from the army, he migrated with his family to Upper Canada to take up a government land grant. This venture was unsuccessful and he returned to London where he was employed in the preparation of a series of official regimental histories. There he came under the influence of the Rev Robert Aitken, who had been a Church of England clergyman and then a Methodist preacher. Rejected by the Wesleyans, Aitken formed the 'Christian Society' in 1835, but later returned to the ministry of the Church of England. In 1837 Playford joined Aitken's White's Row Chapel, Spitalfields, in London, where he soon became a class leader and elder. In Aitken's absence, he also began preaching though his premillennial views caused dissension. In 1837 he married Mary Ann Perry, by whom he had seven children. She died on 27 April 1872. Their eldest son was Thomas Playford, premier of South Australia in 1887-89 and 1890-92.
In 1844 Playford migrated with his family to SA where he had bought a town acre in Adelaide seven years earlier. He bought land at Mitcham, where he farmed and preached at a local chapel. He also became a class leader and local preacher for the Methodist New Connexion chapel in Hobson Place, Adelaide. In 1848 those who agreed with his teaching on the imminent second advent formed an independent congregation, describing themselves as 'believers in Christ with no other name but that of Christians'. They practised baptism by immersion and open membership and believed that the dead slept until the resurrection. From voluntary contributions they built their own chapel in Bentham Street in Adelaide with accommodation for four hundred. Playford acted as pastor, without ordination or stipend, for the rest of his life. In addition, he regularly preached at various places in the Adelaide area including Hindmarsh, where another 'Christian' congregation was founded in 1867. A secession from Bentham Street Christian Church over the question of going into debt (which Playford opposed) led to the formation in 1856 of Zion Chapel in Pultney Street, Adelaide, pastored by Jacob Abbott and William Finlayson. Meanwhile, Playford became a well-known religious figure in Adelaide. In 1849 he was a founding committee member of the Adelaide Benevolent and Strangers' Friend Society, and in the early years of his ministry he maintained close relations with the Baptists. He published several collections of 'discourses' and compiled a Christian Hymn Book, of which about one-quarter were his own compositions. In 1867, as Pastor Playford's health became more frail, Bentham Street Christian Church appointed Henry Hussey (q.v.) as his assistant.
T Playford, Memoirs, TS copy in possession of Mr T Playford, Norton Summit, SA; South Australian Register, 5 Nov 1873; S Cockburn, Playford: Benevolent Despot (Adelaide, 1991); H Hussey, More than Half a Century of Colonial Life and Christian Experience (Adelaide, 1897, reprinted 1978)
Electronic Version © Southern Cross College, 2004
Content © Evangelical History Association of Australia and the author, 2004