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Carvosso, Benjamin (1789–1854)

by Donald C. Colgrave

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

Benjamin Carvosso (1789-1854), Wesleyan minister, was born on 29 September 1789 at Gluvian, Cornwall, England, son of William Carvosso (1750-1834) who had been a fisherman and farmer before serving for sixty years as a class leader and local preacher in the Wesleyan Church. Benjamin was educated mainly by his parents and became fully converted to Christianity in 1811. He was admitted as a probationer by the Wesleyan Conference in 1814 and spent five years in parishes in Devon and Cornwall. He offered himself for overseas missionary work and was appointed to Windsor, New South Wales, the second Wesleyan minister set apart for the Australian colonies. On 5 October 1819 he married Deborah Banks. They left England on Christmas Day in the Saracen which, on the way to Sydney, called at Hobart Town on 25 April 1820. Here he obtained permission from the lieutenant-governor to hold an open-air meeting in the court-house yard, thus becoming the first Wesleyan minister to preach in the colony. He also preached at the prison, held two more meetings at the court-house and visited several Wesleyan families who formed a Methodist Society three months later. Upon his departure from Hobart he wrote to the British committee describing the need for a resident minister in the troubled colony. His letters also emphasized the need for Christian influence in colonial society, and were partly responsible for the emigration to Hobart of a number of Methodist tradesmen and mechanics, among them Robert Mather, Henry Hopkins and John Dunn.

Carvosso arrived in Sydney on 18 May 1820 and promptly took up his duties at Windsor. He soon had a dozen preaching places and Sunday schools from Parramatta to Richmond and his wife started a female class. Restless to do more, he joined Robert Howe, the government printer, and Rev. Ralph Mansfield, his missionary colleague, in founding the Australian Magazine, or Compendium of Religious, Literary and Miscellaneous Intelligence, the first publication of its kind in Australia. The first number appeared in May 1821, but next year publication ceased after the British committee prohibited the expenditure. Carvosso then sought permission from Governor Lachlan Macquarie to form an agricultural settlement for the Aboriginals, but was refused because one had just been opened by Rev. Robert Cartwright near Liverpool. After Macquarie left, Carvosso's relations with the Anglican clergy rapidly deteriorated, to the dismay of the British committee who chided him for personal extravagance, for rashly creating church debts, and finally 'for violating all discipline and trampling underfoot the Instructions of the Committee'. Each charge was answered with pained surprise and loyal care to keep his missionary colleagues free from blame, but he refused to compromise with the clergy's pernicious Calvinism, 'like that of last century with which the venerable Wesley had to contend'. His fretful independence mellowed as new missionaries arrived and he moved to Sydney. However, in September 1825 he was again 'censured for insubordination' because he moved to Hobart on his own account, but he won the day with a strong supporting letter from Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur.

In Hobart Carvosso achieved distinction for his untiring work in the pulpit, in class meetings, his work with seamen and in the prisons. During his ministry in Van Diemen's Land, Wesleyan chapels were built in both Hobart and Launceston, and church property considerably extended. He returned to England in March 1830 and continued as a minister in Cornwall and Devon. He died at Tuckingmill, Cornwall, on 2 October 1854, predeceased by his wife. They had five children.

He was editor of his father's publication, Great Efficacy of Faith in the Atonement of Christ: Exemplified in a Memoir of William Carvosso (London, 1836). He himself published Drunkenness, the Enemy of Britain . . . a Sermon Preached at a Recent Teetotal Festival (Barnstaple, 1841), and Attractive Piety: Being Memorials of William Banks Carvosso, Grandson of the Late Mr William Carvosso, by his Father (London, 1843). In 1851 he contributed Life's Uncertainty Improved to a collection of sermons by Wesleyan Methodist ministers published in London and Edinburgh in 1850-53.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 2, vols 5-6
  • G. Blencowe, The Faithful Pastor (Lond, 1857)
  • New Norfolk Methodist Church, Centenary Magazine (Hob, 1936)
  • Tasmanian, 16 May 1831
  • Bonwick transcripts, missionary (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Donald C. Colgrave, 'Carvosso, Benjamin (1789–1854)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/carvosso-benjamin-1883/text2213, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 21 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

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