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Fulton, Henry (1761–1840)

by K. J. Cable

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

Henry Fulton (1761-1840), clergyman, was born in England. On 1 March 1788 he enrolled as pensioner at Trinity College, Dublin (B.A., 1792). He was ordained to the ministry of the established Church of Ireland by Bishop Barnard of Killaloe. He married Ann (1766-1836), daughter of Rev. James Walker of Waterford and rector of St Cronan's, Roscrea, Killaloe, in whose parish he served for a short time. William Knox, Barnard's successor, admired Fulton's scholarship and ability and gave him preferment. In the Irish rebellion of 1798 Fulton was implicated. He was convicted at Tipperary in August 1799 of seditious practices and sentenced to transportation for life. Unlike seven of the seventy-three political prisoners who sailed in the Minerva for Sydney from Cork, Fulton had not 'surrendered for self-transportation', although Bishop Knox thought he had and told the archbishop of Canterbury in 1807 that '[Fulton's] Friends declared that his Confession was extorted by fear of a species of torture at that time too common'.

Governor John Hunter was somewhat perplexed how men like Fulton, 'bred up in a genteel life', should be employed, but the departure of Richard Johnson, the principal chaplain, enabled Fulton to resume his profession. On 8 November 1800 he was conditionally pardoned and sent as an assistant chaplain to the Hawkesbury and then in February 1801 to Norfolk Island. Governor Philip Gidley King 'would have given him a Free Pardon but that [he awaited] an answer from Ireland or England respecting an application in his favour'. Fulton did well at Norfolk Island, was granted a full pardon in 1805 and returned to the mainland in 1806. He did duty at Sydney and Parramatta for Samuel Marsden, who was absent on leave in England, and he served on the Civil Court and the Commission of the Peace. He asked Knox, now bishop of Derry, to help him to gain a Crown chaplaincy and a part of the principal chaplain's stipend. This latter request aroused Marsden's wrath but the Colonial Office gave the governor a general authority to further Fulton's interests.

These proceedings were nullified by the rebellion in January 1808 against William Bligh. Fulton admired Bligh's policy towards the Hawkesbury settlers and shared his dislike of the monopolists. He was in attendance at Government House for the greater part of the day of Bligh's arrest; he was then confined to his own house and interrogated, without success, by the rebels. On 30 January he was suspended from duty. He remained conspicuously loyal to Bligh, served as his private chaplain and declined to officiate publicly while the governor remained a prisoner. He was an emissary of Bligh when Colonel Joseph Foveaux arrived and took command. He denounced the rebel administration to Castlereagh—'they are building a Babel'—and, with William Gore, John Palmer and the Campbells, signed an address of loyalty to Bligh. He received moral support from the former missionaries then resident in the colony, who wrote to their society in his favour. Fulton's relations with Protestants of all kinds were invariably cordial.

Fulton was restored to his situation by Governor Lachlan Macquarie on 8 January 1810. He went to England with Bligh to testify at Lieutenant-Colonel George Johnston's court martial, where he denied that a revolution would have broken out if the military had remained quiet. On 31 May 1811 he secured a regular Crown chaplaincy. On his return to the colony in the Mary in May 1812 he was retained in Sydney until on 18 June 1814 he was made resident chaplain in charge of Castlereagh and Richmond. Later the area of his ministration was diminished by the formation of new parishes. As Castlereagh stagnated Penrith became more important in his work. He remained active until his death at Castlereagh on 17 November 1840. His wife Ann had died at Castlereagh on 4 August 1836. They had seven children, of whom two died in infancy.

Fulton identified himself closely with the Hawkesbury, whose inhabitants he had championed in Bligh's time. He served on the bench until 1827 and promoted philanthropic and religious societies. The special interests of the Anglican church did not worry him much, except when Roman Catholicism was concerned. In 1833 he engaged in a controversy with Catholic apologists, in which he published Strictures Upon a Letter Lately Written by Roger Therry Esq. to Edward Blount Esq., Reasons Why Protestants Think the Worship of the Church of Rome an Idolatrous Worship, and A Letter to the Rev. W. B. Ullathorne. Three years later he led the 'Protestant party' in his district in its opposition to Governor Sir Richard Bourke's educational policy.

Education was Fulton's chief interest. He had always been a good scholar; the inventory of his library shows a wide range of books, with an emphasis on mathematics. On 11 July 1814 he opened a seminary at his new parsonage, Castlereagh House, where he instructed young gentlemen in classics, modern languages and 'such Parts of the Mathematics, both in Theory and Practice, as may suit the Taste of the Scholar'. Among his pupils was Charles Tompson junior, whose Wild Notes, from the Lyre of a Native Minstrel (1826) was dedicated to him. The first, and longest, piece in the volume, 'Retrospect', praised Fulton as a teacher and pastor.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of New South Wales, vols 5-7
  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 5-7
  • Philip Gidley King letter book, 1797-1806 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Hassall papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Bigge Report, evidence (Bonwick transcripts, State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

K. J. Cable, 'Fulton, Henry (1761–1840)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fulton-henry-2074/text2593, published in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 20 September 2014.

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

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