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TRIGG, Henry (1791-1882)

Stuart M. Bonnington

TRIGG, HENRY (b. Gloucester, England, 30 June 1791; d. Perth, WA, 15 Feb 1882). Clerk of Public Works and founder of the Congregational Church in Perth.

Trigg was born into a generation in England that had been dramatically shaped by the eighteenth-century evangelical awakening. Among his earliest memories were those of his attendance at a Sunday school in Gloucester, organised by Robert Raikes, whose lay ministry seems to have been an influence on Trigg. The Christian faith flourished in Trigg from his early days. He was trained and worked as a carpenter. In 1813 he married Amelia Ralph, with whom he had ten children. In 1829 the newspapers of Britain were full of 'Swan River Mania'. Among those who sought a new life there, were the Triggs who moved to the new colony of Western Australia, in its first year of existence. Trigg quickly came to the attention of the pioneers who recognised his abilities as a builder, and Trigg began a career that would see him eventually responsible for the erection of many government buildings after his appointment as Clerk of Public Works in 1838. Trigg had arrived in Perth with £200 capital and he was granted nearly 3000 acres of land. From this he developed the financial basis from which he was able to support various Christian and charitable causes.

From their arrival in Perth the Trigg family worshiped with the 'Dissenters', but this association was ruptured in 1841 when John Smithies (q.v.), the Wesleyan Minister arrived. Trigg 'moderately Calvinistic in his views' (Cox, 1916, 9) began the work of the Independents in Perth, opening his home for prayer meetings. Trigg persevered and gradually a congregation gathered, a site obtained in William Street, Perth and on 6 Sept 1846 the Congregational Chapel opened. Within twelve months the building was enlarged to seat nearly 200 people. Trigg's willingness to support himself while leading the congregation ensured the survival, and growth of the 'Independents' in Perth.

'As a preacher ... Mr Trigg was very earnest, emotional and sympathetic, appealing both to the head and intellect, strong in faith, very decided in action. He had a poor opinion of unsanctified human nature, but unbounded confidence in the Love of the Father, and in Mercy and Grace through our Lord and Saviour ... He usually ... rose at about 4 a.m. to study and write. In winter the material for a fire would be got ready overnight, which he would light, and then engage in prayer and the study of the Bible ...' (Cox, 1916, 9) In 1852, after many representations to the Colonial Mission Society for help, the Rev James Leonard arrived in Perth to become pastor of the Independents. His years in Perth were marked by initial growth but then rapid decline: he left the congregation in 1855. Internal difficulties in 1854 had led to Trigg himself leaving the congregation to worship again with the Wesleyans and in 1858 the Congregational Church closed until the early 1860s when Trigg again set about reviving the cause. While events in Perth had taken this unfortunate turn, Trigg helped in the opening of Congregational works at Fremantle (1853) and Guildford (1855). In 1862 the Rev James Innes (q.v.) became pastor of the Perth congregation and in 1865 a new building was opened on St George's Tce, Perth. More difficulties, mainly linked with financial matters, ensued which led to Innes leaving in 1868. However Trinity Congregational Church (as it had begun to be called) weathered the storm. Trigg continued to serve as a deacon (as he had from the earliest years) until he was well into his eighties. In 1869, Trigg proposed the formation of a Congregational Union, which came into existence in November of that year.

Because of the Congregational aversion to any form of state aid to religion, Trigg's leadership, devotion, practical skills and financial assistance were essential to the early establishment of this strand of free church life in Western Australia. He was well known, too, for his devotion to the spiritual and moral well being of all with whom he came into contact. When he died at the age of 91 (as Perth's oldest citizen) he was eulogised thus: 'To those who are at all familiar with the history of the capital of this colony, and who feel interested in the social and religious welfare of the community, no name has been known better; and certainly none has been more honoured than that of Henry Trigg.' (Inquirer and Commercial News, 22 Feb 1882)

S H Cox, The Seventy Years History of the Trinity Congregational Church (Perth, 1916)

STUART M BONNINGTON

 

Electronic Version © Southern Cross College, 2004

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