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Bath, Henry (1839–1916)

by Renate Howe

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

Henry Bath (1839-1916), Wesleyan clergyman, was born on 25 September 1839 at Truro, Cornwall, England, the third child of Tristram Bath, agricultural labourer and potter, and his wife Susanna, née Jennings. The family migrated with free passages to South Australia in 1840. Henry was employed as a carpenter in Adelaide when at 17 he became a Wesleyan local preacher. In 1859 he was accepted as a probationer for the ministry by the Australasian Wesleyan Conference and appointed to the Port Adelaide circuit in the South Australian district. In the next ten years he was superintendent of circuits at Yankalilla, Strathalbyn, Mintaro and Kapunda.

In 1870 Bath transferred to the Castlemaine circuit in the Victorian district, later moving to circuits at Richmond and Sandhurst (Bendigo). His ability as circuit administrator and preacher soon found favour with city congregations. A successful ministry at Lydiard Street, Ballarat, was followed by appointment to Yarra Street, Geelong, where he was elected chairman of the Geelong and Ballarat district in 1882. In 1884 he went to Wesley Church, Melbourne, and was elected president of the Victoria and Tasmania Conference. While superintendent of the Melbourne South circuit, Bath was given leave to visit Europe. After a year at Williamstown he moved to take charge of the fashionable congregation at Auburn. These appointments to large and important circuits involved Bath in public affairs. He was an outspoken supporter of the Bible in State Schools League, formed in 1882, and a member of the Lord's Day Observance Society. Bath often acted as the denomination's spokesman on temperance affairs and matters of 'public morality'. In his year as conference president he opposed a plan for union with other Methodist churches, an opposition he maintained until union was achieved in 1901. Bath feared union would not benefit the Wesleyans but result in an increased debt, a lowering of the denomination's social standing and control of the ministry by the laity. This belief in the excellence of Wesleyan practice made him mistrustful of the Central Mission established at Wesley Church in 1894. Bath feared that its methods and organization were too radical. He did, however, favour denominational co-operation and founded a local Council of Churches at Bendigo in 1894 to organize for temperance and Sabbath observance in the community. His next appointment was to Launceston, Tasmania, and he returned to Victoria as superintendent of the Clifton Hill circuit in 1898. After second terms at Richmond and Ballarat he retired in 1906 and moved to Auburn, where he died on 4 June 1916.

Bath's appointments to the large city congregations were a result of his administrative ability and his reputation as the 'prince of preachers'. Although lacking formal and theological education his ambition was a constant spur to self-instruction and he was a wide though uncritical reader. In contrast to the earnest, logical sermons of the previous generation of clergymen, Bath's were dramatic, sentimental and filled with illustration and metaphor; in theology they were described as 'orthodox without being narrow'.

Bath was married twice: first to Jane Edmonds, who had migrated with her family from Cornwall to South Australia in 1854; second to Isabella Morrison. Of the nine children of his first marriage, two entered the Methodist ministry in Victoria.

Select Bibliography

  • E. F. Osborn, ‘Henry Bath — Methodist preacher’, Heritage (Victorian Methodist Historical Society), 13 (1962)
  • Southern Cross (Melbourne), 23 Feb 1884
  • Spectator (Melbourne), 30 June 1916.

Citation details

Renate Howe, 'Bath, Henry (1839–1916)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bath-henry-2952/text4287, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 21 July 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

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