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Ferguson, John (1852–1925)

by Alan Dougan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

John Ferguson (1852-1925), Presbyterian minister, was born on 27 December 1852 at Shiels, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, third son of William Ferguson, farmer, and his wife Elizabeth, née Mitchell. In 1862, with his parents, he migrated to Otago, New Zealand. On leaving school at 14, he became a pupil-teacher, and also acted as laboratory assistant in the chemistry department at the University of Otago.

Realizing his desire to enter the ministry, the congregation of Knox Church, Dunedin, gave Ferguson a bursary to complete the full course at New College, Edinburgh. Licensed as a probationer by the Free Church presbytery of Deer at Stuartfield, Old Deer, Aberdeenshire, he returned to Otago and was ordained to the ministry on 20 May 1880 and sent to work among the miners at Tuapeka in the Central Otago goldfields. On 4 February 1881 at Dunedin he married Isabella Adie, from Old Deer. Soon he became colleague and successor to Rev A. Stobo at Invercargill, where he remained for fourteen years in full charge. In August 1894 Ferguson was inducted to St Stephen's, Phillip Street, Sydney, the largest Presbyterian congregation in Australia. His ministry in Sydney was very successful.

Ferguson took a full part in Australian religious and public life. He was moderator-general in 1909 and his inaugural address, published as The Economic Value of the Gospel, raised a storm in Melbourne and praise from trade union leaders. Billy Hughes said, 'The new moderator preaches a gospel all sufficient, all powerful. He grapples with the problems of poverty … he insists on justice being done, though the heavens fall. I advise every citizen to read every word of it'.

Ferguson was a tall, dark-haired man, with a drooping moustache and a commanding presence. An attractive preacher, with a genial and informal friendliness, he seldom forgot a face or a name and few entered St Stephen's without a warm personal greeting. He was admired and respected by all the Churches. His ecumenical interests led him to seek an audience with the Pope on a visit to Rome in 1914, an action that evoked much hostile criticism in Sydney.

As senior Presbyterian chaplain in New South Wales, he preached on many special occasions such as the arrival of H.M.A.S. Australia and the memorial services at the end of the South African War and World War I. He was first chairman of the board of the Australian Inland Mission, chairman of the council of the Presbyterian Ladies' colleges at Croydon and Pymble, a member of the councils of Scots College and St Andrew's College, University of Sydney, and vice-president of the Highland Society of New South Wales.

In October 1924 Ferguson collapsed in the pulpit of St Stephen's and died at his house, Atherton, Bayswater Road, on 1 March 1925; he was buried in South Head cemetery. He was survived by his wife, three sons including (Sir) John, judge of the New South Wales Industrial Commission and bibliographer, and Eustace and by two daughters. There is a memorial hall and tablet in St Stephen's, Macquarie Street, Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • Aberdeen Weekly Journal, 1 May 1925
  • Scottish Australasian, 1925, p 439
  • Daily Telegraph (Melbourne), 2 Mar 1925, Sydney Morning Herald, 2, 3 Mar 1925
  • Australian Christian World (Sydney), 6 Mar 1925
  • Ferguson papers (Ferguson Memorial Library, Sydney)
  • Minutes of NSW General Assembly of Presbyterian Church, 1925 (Presbyterian Library, Assembly Hall, Sydney).

Citation details

Alan Dougan, 'Ferguson, John (1852–1925)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ferguson-john-6159/text10579, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 23 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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