Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Pidgeon, Nathaniel (1803–1879)

by W. E. Pidgeon

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

Nathaniel Pidgeon (1803-1879), city missionary, was born on 16 August 1803 in Bellevue, County Wexford, Ireland, the only son of Richard Pidgeon, Church of England yeoman, of Ogle's Loyal Blues, and of Elizabeth Foley of Baladicken. James Bulger, an itinerant revivalist, won over the family to Methodism. After some years of casual worship Nathaniel was 'converted' and while active as a lay preacher met and married Eliza Proud, whose grandfather had assisted John Wesley in Ireland.

Pidgeon, his parents and thirteen other members of the family emigrated to Australia and arrived at Sydney in May 1841, excepting his father who died at sea. Pidgeon worked as a cabinet maker and lay preacher until 1850 when he decided to devote his whole time to evangelism and, in association with the Wesleyan Methodist Church, became the first city missionary in Sydney. About 1860 he felt the need for greater freedom of expression and separated from the Wesleyans. In 1861 he and his followers created an independent organization and successfully petitioned the government to register him as an Independent Methodist, with power to solemnize marriages. The new group built a brick chapel on a corner of Sussex and Liverpool Streets, but financial burdens soon proved too much for them. In 1868 five trustees of different denominations took over the responsibilities and maintained the chapel as an unsectarian place of worship for the poor of the city. Pidgeon continued his work with the chapel until accident and illness incapacitated him in 1875. He died at Milson's Point on 17 February 1879, leaving a widow, six sons and a daughter.

Pidgeon was a courageous and an apparently difficult character. Orthodoxy frowned upon his disregard for the form and gentility that made religion respectable. The very vehemence of his preaching offended the ears of the cultured ordained, although he often had 'the liberty', as he termed it. He prayed with, and exhorted against, the lowest elements of the city's degraded society. His generosity kept his family impoverished but often gained him unsolicited support for his work. A complex personality he was all things to all men: demagogue, bigot, scold and saint.

In 1859 Pidgeon published a Camp Meeting and Revival Hymn Book for the Use of Christians of all Denominations. In 1857 he wrote an autobiography, The Life, Experience and Journal of Nathaniel Pidgeon, City Missionary, which he expanded and republished in 1864.

Citation details

W. E. Pidgeon, 'Pidgeon, Nathaniel (1803–1879)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pidgeon-nathaniel-2550/text3473, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 29 June 2017.

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

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