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Field, Edward Percy (1855–1928)

by James A. Duffecy

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

Edward Percy Field (1855-1928), barrister and evangelist, was born on 7 October 1855 in the Mahableshwar Hills, Bombay Presidency, India, second son of General Sir John Field (d.1903), hero of the Abyssinian war of 1867-68, and his wife Aletta Hendrina, née Faure, daughter of a Dutch clergyman of Huguenot descent. Field had a good classical education at Clifton College, Bristol, and Repton School, Derbyshire, ending with a year at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. In August 1876 he left Gravesend, England, by the sailing ship Lady Allen for New Zealand where he worked for a time in the Public Works Department and afterwards as a teacher. On 8 June 1879 he arrived in Sydney, sailing before the mast in a small barque with dreadful food and quarters. After working briefly as a docker and as a free-lance journalist, he became an assistant master at Sydney Grammar School, under A. B. Weigall, who was a friend of General Field. On 25 January 1883 at St John's Anglican Church, Darlinghurst, Field married Edith Bell Cox, daughter of a Mudgee grazier and a descendant of Edward Cox and Archibald Bell; she bore him three sons and a daughter.

To obtain funds to study law, Field gave scientific lectures and wrote for newspapers. He published a rather critical report on Sydney Technical College in 1883; its president Judge (Sir) William Windeyer, published a gross libel of Field's motives and Field sued. The case aroused a great deal of interest in the press. Field won the action defending his own case but the chief justice, Sir James Martin intervened and annulled the decision. The Bulletin on 15 December published a large cartoon over the caption, 'Two to one against the Field!'.

Despite this difficult start Field was admitted to the Bar on 11 February 1884 and was soon successful; but he was stricken down with suspected cancer of the throat. This dramatic experience brought him to Christ. In 1890 he left Sydney with his family to consult a famous surgeon Sir Felix Semon, who told him 'But you have been operated on already!'. Field believed God had cured him. Returning to Sydney he preached in the open air, mainly at Martin Place, Moore Street and Coogee Beach; he visited the sick at Sydney Hospital regularly. A fellow barrister (Sir) George Reid warned him that his activities would interfere with his legal work but Field went ahead with greater zeal, attracting large crowds. Ministers and laymen of various denominations regularly assisted him and Archbishop Saumarez Smith once attended a meeting at Coogee Beach.

Field was an Anglican and a committee-member of the Church Society for the Diocese of Sydney. He preached in churches in various cities and towns and converted the sculler Ned Trickett. Doctor's orders concerning his health caused his return to England with his family in 1897; he was briefly with Mutual Life Association, then as its secretary he led the Evangelical Alliance in open-air preaching. His wife, who had long resented their loss of income and 'the curtailment of all theatre-going, dances, etc.', left him and returned to Australia in 1908; Field found her departure 'a spiritual blessing'. He also worked as a canvasser of advertisements with the Westminster Gazette and in 1912-23 with the Law Times. In 1912 he moved with his youngest son to a cottage at Dunton Green, Kent, where he had a 'museum' of geological specimens and a telescope in the garden for his astronomical observations.

Field died of heart disease at Dunton Green on 13 March 1928; his son Archibald, a captain in the Royal Engineers, was killed in action in France in 1916. Field's work in Australia lapsed for a short time but was revived by some of his associates as the 'New South Wales Evangelistic Prayer Band', which in 1922 became Open Air Campaigners, an international and interdenominational organization.

Select Bibliography

  • C. H. A. Field, Sir John Field K.C.B., Soldier and Evangelist (Lond, 1908)
  • W. R. Angus, Truceless Warfare (Melb, 1941)
  • J. A. Duffecy (ed), Another ‘Sherlock Holmes’ in England (New Jersey, USA, 1970)
  • Bulletin, 15 Dec 1883
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 5 Dec 1883
  • E. P. Field diaries and papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

James A. Duffecy, 'Field, Edward Percy (1855–1928)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/field-edward-percy-6167/text10593, published in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 29 July 2014.

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

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