Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Mead, Silas (1834–1909)

by A. C. Hill

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

Silas Mead (1834-1909), by Adelaide Photographic Co., c1865

Silas Mead (1834-1909), by Adelaide Photographic Co., c1865

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 45149

Silas Mead (1834-1909), Baptist minister, was born on 16 August 1834 at Curry Mallet, Somerset, England, youngest son of Thomas Mead and his wife Honor, née Uttermare. Descended from generations of farmers, he was baptized at 15 and joined local Baptists in building a chapel where he served as a lay preacher. Eager to do more, he decided to secure an education and after work walked to Taunton to attend night school. He entered Stepney College (B.A., 1857) and studied philosophy, theology and law at the Dissenters' Regent's Park College (M.A., 1859; LL.B., 1860). At the University of London he worked on eastern languages for a doctorate of divinity, but London then had no power to grant such a degree; when the restriction was abolished in 1900 the university rejected such a long-deferred award.

Mead applied in vain for acceptance by the Baptist Missionary Society. However, a group of Baptists in Adelaide, after unsuccessful attempts to establish a central church, decided to secure a minister from England. G. F. Angas wrote to Regent's Park College asking the principal to nominate a suitable minister. The letter was sent to Mead and challenged him. On arrival at Port Adelaide in the Parisian on 13 July 1861 he preached at chapels in Adelaide and North Adelaide. Regular services began at White's Rooms and within a month a Baptist Church was constituted with twenty-six members. Inspired by Mead's enthusiastic leadership, the congregation decided to build a large church in Flinders Street; it was opened on 19 May 1863. When its cost of £7000 was cleared by 1864 he established at Furreedpore, India, the first constituted Australian Baptist Foreign Mission and later helped to found similar societies in other Australian colonies.

By 1871 Mead had 410 active members and the Flinders Street Church was often called the 'cathedral' of the South Australian Baptist Union, in which he became three times president and four times honorary secretary. Solidly Evangelical, he formed the Christian Endeavour Society of South Australia. He also published tracts on salvation and holiness, and his Scripture Immersion (1867) was also published in German. As a founder of Union College for training ministers of three denominations, he was a tutor in exegesis for fourteen years. In 1877-78 he visited England and in 1882 told the South Australian commission on the working of the Education Acts that he doubted the value of reading the Bible in British schools and advocated 'distinct separation of church and state'. Active in the wider community he became president of the Young Men's Christian Association in 1893. By 1896 he could claim that he had trained over thirty ministers and that the South Australian Baptist Union had 4270 active members and over 600 teachers for the 6500 children in its Sunday schools. He preached his last sermon at Flinders Street Church on 10 January 1897. He had married twice in South Australia: first, at Gumeracha on 25 May 1864 to Anne Staple by whom he had six children; and second, at Flinders Street on 22 October 1878 to Mary Leighton.

Mead returned to England where he became principal of Harley College, London. In 1901 he went to Western Australia and was co-pastor with his son-in-law, Rev. A. S. Wilson, of the Baptist Church in Museum Street, Perth. When Wilson moved to New Zealand, Mead lived with his daughter Gertrude, a medical practitioner. He died of pneumonia at Perth on 13 September 1909. He was survived by three daughters and a son, Cecil Silas, who after graduating at the University of Adelaide (B.A., 1887; M.B., B.S., 1891) served as a medical missionary in eastern Bengal for twenty-nine years, returned to Adelaide to teach anatomy in 1923-39 and died in June 1940.

Among Mead's many memorials is a little chapel in Rajbari, East Pakistan, built by Australians who followed his lead in establishing Baptist missions in India.

Select Bibliography

  • H. E. Hughes, Our First Hundred Years: The Baptist Church of South Australia (Adel, 1937)
  • Observer (Adelaide), 21 Dec 1861, 7 Sept 1895
  • Register (Adelaide), 14 Sept 1909, 5 Aug 1911
  • Flinders Street Baptist Church minutes.

Citation details

A. C. Hill, 'Mead, Silas (1834–1909)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mead-silas-4180/text6717, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 23 March 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2019

Silas Mead (1834-1909), by Adelaide Photographic Co., c1865

Silas Mead (1834-1909), by Adelaide Photographic Co., c1865

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 45149