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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Garrett, James (1793–1874)

by Julie Carington Smith

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

James Garrett (1793?-1874), Presbyterian minister, was the fourth son of Robert Garrett, a farmer of Inch, Wigtownshire, Scotland. He was educated at Glasgow University. Having been licensed by the United Associate Presbytery of Stranraer and ordained by that of Kilmarnock, he became minister of Muirkirk, Ayrshire, in 1824. He resigned in 1828 and studied medicine, intending to go to India as a missionary, but went to Hobart Town where he became tutor to one of Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur's nephews. In March 1829 Arthur was requested by Bothwell settlers to appoint Garrett as their resident minister. Arthur agreed and Garrett took up his new duties next May. The government paid £100 a year towards his salary and helped to build a church which was completed in March 1831.

His early ministry at Bothwell was marked by friendly co-operation with Rev. Dr Drought, the Church of England rector at Green Ponds. They jointly conducted the opening service of the new church and in 1832 Drought married Garrett to Jane McDowell, by whom he had one son and many daughters. Relations between the two congregations became strained in 1837 when it was proposed to vest the church property in the Church of England. The proposal was rejected after an official inquiry in September 1840, and the dual position continued. But Garrett resigned on 14 October 1840. He had taken an active part in the dispute and although the presbytery, into which he had been received in 1835, supported him, a few influential members of the Bothwell community disapproved his actions. Despite this his resignation was followed by a great demonstration of public feeling.

During his ministry Garrett served the community well. He began a school for young gentlemen soon after his arrival. He helped to form the Bothwell Literary Society and was its secretary until he left the district. This society, which boasted Tasmania's first country library, must be regarded as Garrett's greatest contribution to Bothwell. He often lectured to the society on scientific subjects. Although some residents complained that he trifled away his time 'shooting, hunting and stuffing birds', he had a valuable collection and he gave several pieces to the society's museum. In his collection was a Tasmanian emu killed in the district in 1832; these birds were extinct by 1860. His interest in wild life continued after he left Bothwell, and one of his hobbies in later years was to collect every kind of shark in Tasmanian waters.

After leaving Bothwell Garrett accepted a temporary post at Launceston as assistant to Rev. John Anderson. However, he preferred country life and, when asked to become minister of the church at Sidmouth, West Tamar, he accepted and was inducted in July 1846. He also paid visits to the Stanley congregation and he opened St James's Church, Stanley, in 1855. He served in the Tamar district for twenty-eight years and was moderator of the presbytery of Tasmania when he died on 2 September 1874.

Garrett's sympathies and interests were very liberal especially considering his profession and the century he lived in. He was always willing to aid the sick and distressed and he found his early medical studies of great service. He even helped convicts and bushrangers, and was held in high esteem by almost all who knew him, from bushrangers to the solemn members of the presbytery.

Select Bibliography

  • P. L. Brown (ed), Clyde Company Papers, vols 1-3 (Lond, 1941-58)
  • J. Heyer, The Presbyterian Pioneers of Van Diemen's Land (Launceston, 1935)
  • Hobart Town Courier, 30 Oct 1840
  • Colonial Times (Hobart), 11 Jan 1842
  • Mercury (Hobart), 7 Sept 1874.

Citation details

Julie Carington Smith, 'Garrett, James (1793–1874)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 21 October 2020.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

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

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