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Middleton, George Augustus (1791–1848)

by Niel Gunson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

George Augustus Middleton (1791-1848), Anglican clergyman, was born on 31 August 1791 in London, the son of Charles Middleton. He was educated at Westminster School and at St John's College, Cambridge, and was later awarded a Lambeth M.A. After the death of his wife Mary Ann, née Hull, he was ordained deacon and priest and in August 1819 commissioned as an assistant chaplain for New South Wales. With his son George Augustus he arrived in the Prince Regent at Sydney in January 1820. Almost immediately Middleton took charge of Parramatta and in December he was sent to Newcastle, where Christ Church had been built in 1817. He was the first chaplain appointed north of the Hawkesbury, although general spiritual oversight had been given by Rev. William Cowper. By December he claimed to have 'at length succeeded in introducing into the Town a degree of order to which under the present administration it had ever been a stranger' and also complained of the commandant's morals. In 1822 his application to return to England for 'some Private Family arrangements' was looked on favourably by Earl Bathurst but apparently he did not go.

Unhappy with conditions in the penal settlement Middleton became increasingly interested in the spiritual welfare of the free settlers in the Hunter valley. He regularly visited settlers on the Paterson and Williams Rivers, Patrick's Plains and as far as Segenhoe. This itinerant ministry led to the appointment of catechists to assist his work. Middleton also showed great interest in the Aboriginals. According to John Bingle, who accompanied him 'with the whole tribe of upwards of one hundred' on a trip to Lake Macquarie, Middleton was 'an especial favourite with the blacks'. Middleton gave full support to Rev. Lancelot Threlkeld, accompanying him on his preliminary visit to Lake Macquarie in 1825. Like other clergy Middleton augmented his original land grant, and his 2400 acres (971 ha) at Glenrose, Paterson's Plains, earned him John Dunmore Lang's censure in the comment, 'every priest his own butcher'. According to Commandant James Morisset, his time was too much 'occupied in dealing in Cattle with the Convict Settlers: and I am sorry to say that my respect for that Gentleman has been much diminished by the reports I hear of his frequently dining with, and at the same table of people of that description'.

By 1826 Middleton's outspoken views had made him dangerous enemies. When reproved by Archdeacon Thomas Scott for treating a convict's family with 'cruelty and oppression', he asked unsuccessfully for an official investigation, and circulated letters seeking the vindication of his own clerical and private character. Scott had already decided to send him to the penal settlement at Port Macquarie as chaplain, but in May 1827 Middleton resigned in disgust, looking on the transfer as 'banishment'. He moved to Moore Park, on the Paterson River near Hinton, where he continued an unofficial itinerant ministry. From 1828 to 1830 he regularly visited and baptized in the district between Morpeth, Maitland, Branxton and Paterson, and was said to have kept a school at Phoenix Park near Morpeth. He also accompanied his friend, John Blaxland junior, on an exploratory journey when they discovered the overland route to Newcastle. After Bishop William Grant Broughton's pastoral visitation to the Hunter valley in 1837, Middleton was licensed to serve in the parishes of Butterwick and Seaham, and in April 1838 he was authorized to solemnize marriages in his house at Hinton, there being no church building in the area. In 1839 the Hinton parish was further limited to the lower reaches of the Williams and Paterson Rivers. Middleton also did much of the parish work in the ecclesiastical centre of Morpeth until failing health confined him to Hinton. He died there on 15 May 1848.

At Liverpool on 12 February 1824 he had married, as his second wife, Sarah, daughter of Robert Rose of London. His widow died at Tressingfield in March 1863; of their children Charles Robert became a police magistrate.

According to Threlkeld, Middleton was 'not Evangelical'. On his arrival he was said to be 'a great Gambler', and Samuel Marsden thought him 'a stranger to religion, but well read'. Although his interest in missions and itinerant work linked him closely with the Evangelical tradition, he was apparently the exception, both in educational standards and doctrine, of the colonial chaplains in the colony when Scott arrived. In 1826 the press, possibly with mild sarcasm, described him as 'unassuming, retired, devout, and unbusinesslike'. A window in his memory is in Newcastle Cathedral.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 10, 13-15, 21, 23
  • J. Bingle, Past and Present Records of Newcastle (Newcastle, 1873)
  • A. P. Elkin, Morpeth and I (Syd, 1937)
  • A. P. Elkin, The Diocese of Newcastle (Syd, 1955)
  • A. P. Elkin, ‘Some Early Chaplains and Churches in the Hunter River Valley’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 23, part 2, 1937, pp 122-48
  • Sydney Gazette, 26 Aug 1826
  • manuscript catalogue under George Middleton (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Niel Gunson, 'Middleton, George Augustus (1791–1848)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/middleton-george-augustus-2450/text3271, published in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 30 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

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