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Congreve, Henry John (Harry) (1829–1918)

by Barbara Wall

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Henry John (Harry) Congreve (1829-1918), adventurer, journalist and preacher, was born on 31 March 1829 in London, son of Henry Congreve, a chemist with some medical experience, and his wife Elizabeth Ann, née Jacob. Henry senior, whose lineage included the playwright William Congreve, lost money in speculations and the impoverished family was forced to emigrate. Young Harry, who had medical training, and his next brother William preceded their parents, two sisters and two brothers to South Australia, reaching Port Adelaide in January 1849.

Attracted by bush life and the possibility of adventure, Harry went to Port Lincoln where he worked among the Aborigines, became acquainted with their traditions, learned several of their dialects and acted as their doctor. Later he drove bullocks at Burra and loaded wool at Pekina but set off on foot for the Victorian diggings when gold was discovered in 1851. He prospected for twelve years near Inglewood, settling there in 1863 as a journalist and editor of the Inglewood Advertiser. On 14 December 1865 at Inglewood, with Congregational forms, he married 18-year-old Jane Marshall Kirkwood, a domestic servant from Glasgow, Scotland. They had ten children, four dying in infancy. Congreve became secretary of the Inglewood district hospital and school board, manager of the Jersey Reef Mining Co. and a land and insurance agent. He was a contributor to Thomas Howard's History of the Inglewood Reefs (Inglewood, 1883).

In 1880 Congreve and his family left for South Australia, where his sister Matilda Evans lived. Settled at Gawler as editor of the Standard and from 1885 of the Bunyip (after those two weeklies merged), he wrote serialised novels, articles and short stories for these papers and for the Observer, Adelaide. Active in many areas of Gawler society, particularly as a member of the Presbyterian Church, in 1882—although not ordained—he was asked to supply the pulpit at the church at Smithfield, and in 1885 at Golden Grove. He applied for ordination but failed to satisfy the Church's requirements. The heavy work-load and exigencies of travelling long distances to give services telling on his health, he resigned from the Bunyip in July 1890 and moved to Semaphore—where he was known as 'Rev. Congreve'. In 1894 he moved to Hackney and later to East Adelaide. He joined Chalmers Church, and was an elder in 1899-1916 and active as a preacher and church visitor.

Congreve died on 10 July 1918 at his home, Stretton, in East Adelaide, survived by his wife, a daughter and five sons, and was buried in Payneham cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £960. All his sons served either in the Boer War or World War I. Congreve's versatility, energy, public spirit and strong faith made him respected and admired wherever he lived. Photographs showed him beetle-browed, with a full, untidy beard. Some fifty of his stories of Aborigines, pioneering life and the diggings survive in the newspapers for which he wrote.

Select Bibliography

  • E. H. Coombe (compiler), History of Gawler 1837 to 1908 (Adel, 1910)
  • B. Wall, Our Own Matilda (Adel, 1994)
  • Presbyterian Banner, Aug 1918, p 5
  • B. Wall, ‘A Grand Old Pioneer: Henry John Congreve 1829-1918’, Journal of the Historical Society of South Australia, no 24, 1996, p 58
  • Bunyip (Gawler), 29 Oct 1886, p 3, 19 July 1918, p 2
  • Register (Adelaide), 31 Mar 1909, p 8
  • Observer (Adelaide), 20 July 1918, p 18.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Barbara Wall, 'Congreve, Henry John (Harry) (1829–1918)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/congreve-henry-john-harry-12853/text23207, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 25 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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