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Hussey, Henry (1825–1903)

by G. L. Fischer

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Henry Hussey (1825-1903), evangelist, millenarian, printer and historian, was born on 27 August 1825 at Kennington, England, the second son of George Edward Hussey (d.1842), who claimed Norman descent, and his wife Catherine, née Burt (d.1874). After many small businesses failed in England, his father took the family to South Australia in 1839 and his mother became their mainstay through modest shopkeeping ventures. Henry tried the sea before entering the printing trade in which, despite some early schooling in England, he believed his education began. By 1850 he had a business and in the gold rushes printed the South Australian Register and the Adelaide Observer. From printing Hussey progressed to publishing Evangelical and millenarian journals, and to bookselling at his Bible Hall and Tract Depot in Adelaide.

Seriously minded, Hussey had taught in Trinity Sunday school at 19, an event he saw as the start of his Christian life. Though baptized and confirmed in the Church of England and later a lay reader, he was concerned about the doctrine of baptism, finally rejecting the sprinkling of infants in favour of the immersion of true adult believers. In the United States in 1854 he met Alexander Campbell (1788-1866), founder of the Disciples of Christ and advocate of adult baptism, whose views Hussey accepted; he was baptized by Campbell at Bethany, Virginia. On his return to Adelaide Hussey left the Church of England and associated with a Church of Christ but differences over administration led him to resign and work independently. He attracted followers, notably in the McLaren Vale district and elsewhere south of Adelaide, and baptized them in local streams.

In 1867 Hussey became copastor at the Christian Church, an undenominational assembly at Bentham Street, with its founder, Thomas Playford. Playford died in 1873 and Hussey was pastor at Bentham Street until 1891. Millenial advocacy was important in the Christian Church and he claimed to have preached on it once a month; he also gave long service on an advent committee and lectured in other colonies. Some tensions in the assembly after Hussey retired led to his return in 1894 but discord continued.

Hussey's printing and publishing encouraged him to literary endeavours and in 1862 his entry in the Gawler Institute competition for a history of South Australia won the prize. To compile this work he had access to government archives and to the private papers of George Fife Angas. Through this introduction and possibly some mutual religious sympathies, Hussey became Angas's secretary in 1865. Angas later acquired Hussey's manuscript and with help from the Angas family it was edited in England by Edwin Hodder and published in 1893. Hussey supported Angas's opposition to Roman Catholicism and their propaganda included the distribution of 2000 copies of Foxe's Book of Martyrs and the organizing of a successful petition against precedence for prelates. This experience of public debate led Hussey to stand for Encounter Bay in the House of Assembly in 1874, but he incurred the displeasure of some of his religious followers and withdrew before the poll. After Angas died in 1879 Hussey was authorized to gather material for his biography which was also edited by Hodder and published in England in 1891. Hussey's autobiography refers to many diaries and private papers of Angas which do not seem to have survived.

Hussey's achievements in history and biography, though somewhat filtered, were more enduring than his adventism, though his evangelical career was long and enthusiastic. His youthful experiences at sea and his overseas travels indicate his physical courage. Certainly he had principle, declaring his theological position frankly and declining any pastoral stipend. Angas's employment of him testifies to his organizing ability and his great industry is evidenced by his books, publishing, preaching and philanthropic committee work. His strong puritanism and intolerance must have robbed him of some humanity, impelling him to sell his Shakespeare on becoming a Christian and his horse-tram shares because the company provided Sunday transport. Though said to be genial and obviously emotional in the Victorian manner of words, his laconic references to his family in his autobiography suggest preoccupation with theological debate. The respect of his followers testifies to his sincerity and, no less significantly, to the remarkable religious climate in South Australia in the nineteenth century. He died at Adelaide on 6 May 1903, predeceased on 25 June 1860 by his wife Mary Ann, née Reid, whom he had married on 19 December 1857, and by one son (d.1888). He was survived by his second wife Agnes, née Neill, whom he had married on 11 November 1861 and who died on 5 August 1920; she bore him a son and two daughters.

Hussey's publications include The Australian Colonies Together with Notes of a Voyage from Australia to Panama (London, 1855?), Nebuchadnezzar's Image: Being the Substance of a Lecture on Prophecy (Adelaide, 1878), More than Half a Century of Colonial Life and Christian Experience (Adelaide, 1897) and The Scripture History of The Christ and of the Antichrist (Adelaide, 1900). He also edited or contributed to the Christian Advocate and Southern Observer, the Church Intelligencer and Christian Gleaner, and the Australian Quarterly Journal of Prophecy.

Select Bibliography

  • Observer (Adelaide), 16 May 1903
  • notes, 165 (State Records of South Australia).

Citation details

G. L. Fischer, 'Hussey, Henry (1825–1903)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hussey-henry-3829/text6077, published in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 20 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

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