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Brownrigg, Marcus Blake (1835–1890)

by Herbert H. Condon

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

Marcus Blake Brownrigg (1835-1890), Church of England minister, was born on 23 July 1835 at Mauritius, eldest of the six children of Captain Marcus Freeman Brownrigg, R.N. (b. Dublin, 1796), and Maria Caroline, née Blake, who were married at Cape Town in 1834; one of their sons, Captain Charles James, died off Zanzibar fighting slavers in 1882. When the family arrived at Sydney in 1856 they stayed at Government House before taking a house in the Domain. They moved to Port Stephens and Carrington and then settled at Booral. Later they went to Glencoe and Albury where Captain Brownrigg became a magistrate; he died at Launceston in 1882.

Marcus Blake was educated at Stroud and at Cambridge. He went to Sydney with his parents and on 1 March 1856 became one of the three foundation students at Moore Theological College under William Cowper. Brownrigg was made deacon on 19 December 1858 and served a curacy at St Jude's, Randwick. Bishop Frederic Barker ordained him priest at St Philip's, Sydney, on 21 September 1860. On 11 October 1862 at Albury Brownrigg married Georgiana Eliza, daughter of Commander Shapcote, R.N.; they were engaged before he left England.

Brownrigg worked first in the Lachlan district, averaging over five hundred miles (805 km) a month on horseback and by buggy. In 1863 he became rector at St Matthew's, Albury. In 1867 Bishop Charles Bromby, planning to develop the Church of England in Tasmania by 'encouraging adventurous, missionary-minded and colonially-trained young men', appointed him to St John's, Ross. Within a year he had demolished and rebuilt the church there. Despite ecclesiastical political moves to appoint Archdeacon Thomas Reibey, he was elected to the cure of St John's, Launceston, where Bromby thought 'an earnest evangelical preacher' was needed because 'the people are becoming scattered, the sick are unvisited, and all pastoral work is suspended'. Brownrigg was inducted as rector on 2 August 1868. With a fine physique and boundless energy, he travelled widely in northern Tasmania, often sacrificing sleep and rest in his ministry. He reorganized the interior of St John's on uncompromising evangelical principles, and opened the pews to all. He published several addresses, including one on Regeneration, and Public Services for the Young; a manuscript on the Genesis account of creation, beautifully written and illustrated by him, still exists. In 1869 he was elected president of the Mechanics' Institute and the Launceston Examiner began to report his outspoken addresses in support of the temperance movement. He also attacked atheism and advocated the Anglo-Israel theory. A forceful speaker with a fine brain, he had the courage of his convictions.

One of Brownrigg's chief interests was the Mission to the Half-Caste on the Islands of Bass Straits, which in fourteen years he visited thirteen times. Among his published records of these trips was The Cruise of the Freak (1872), illustrated by him on stone for lithograph; with the profits from his writings he bought books for the islanders. For the mission he also built the five-ton yawl-rigged Franklin with his own hands at his rectory, working on it most evenings for eleven months. To sail among the islands he built a canoe, and was always his own navigator. Among his other interests he studied astronomy and built a small observatory at his rectory where the government astronomer from Hobart often conferred with him. Brownrigg also studied homoeopathy so that he could treat his poorer parishioners. With talents inherited from his parents he was also an artist of some merit, painting sea, forest and bushland scenes and in 1878 an excellent view of Launceston. Brownrigg succeeded in making St John's, Launceston, probably the most vital church in northern Tasmania. In 1878 his work was officially recognized: Bromby made him a canon of St David's Cathedral, Hobart. He continued to advise on diocesan and parochial matters until 1887 when ill health forced his resignation. He preached his last sermon in St John's on 27 March.

On medical advice Brownrigg went to Queensland, where at Gladstone he had charge of St Saviour's Church for thirteen months. He then became curate at North Rockhampton but after eighteen months of particularly arduous work had to resign. In 1889 he was offered the incumbency of Grafton, New South Wales, but declined. For three months he relieved at his old parish of St Matthew's, Albury. He died on 31 July 1890 at Redfern from bronchial trouble contracted on his missionary trips in Bass Strait. He was buried in Rookwood cemetery.

At a memorial service in St John's, Launceston, the address was given by Rev. A. Wayn who had been a friend since school days in England. Brownrigg's daughter and five sons erected in St John's a pulpit canopy, carved by Gordon Cumming, as a memorial to their parents.

Select Bibliography

  • M. L. Loane, A Centenary History of Moore Theological College (Syd, 1955)
  • Church News (Hobart), 1868-90
  • H. H. Condon, Charles Henry Bromby, Second Bishop of Tasmania (M.A. thesis, University of Tasmania, 1964).

Citation details

Herbert H. Condon, 'Brownrigg, Marcus Blake (1835–1890)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/brownrigg-marcus-blake-3090/text4575, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 24 October 2018.

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

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