Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Bailey (1806–1879)

by T. B. McCall

This article was published:

William Bailey (1806-1879), Church of England clergyman, was born on 3 October 1806 at Belfast, Ireland, the son of Robert Bailey and his wife Mary, née Patrick. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin (B.A., 1829; LL.D., 1841), where he became a resident tutor. He was ordained in 1831, and in 1832 married Mary Elizabeth (b.1792), daughter of Edward Walker and Margaretta, née Jones, of Over Hall, Gestingthorpe, Essex. He became private chaplain of his wife's family and in 1839-43 he was rector of St Peter's, a chapel of ease in the parish of St Margaret's, Queen's Square, Westminster.

In February 1843 Bailey was convicted of uttering a forged promissory note for £2875 in favour of his sister, was sentenced to transportation for life and in August arrived in Van Diemen's Land in the Gilmore. He served first in a gang at Impression Bay, where his capture of an absconder earned for him removal to service in Hobart Town, but not the absolute pardon he appealed for. In July 1844 Mary Bailey followed her husband to the colony with their son. She also brought a letter of introduction to Lieutenant-Governor Sir John Eardley-Wilmot, to whom a distant relative, Lord Kenvon, had presented her case. Various religious and poetic works had been published under her name in England, and some of them were listed in her advertisement in April 1846 for private pupils at her home in Fitzroy Place, Hobart. From 1845 to 1850 she contributed verse regularly to the Colonial Times and in it she also had printed, as an admirer of the classics, her translation of eight odes of Anacreon.

On receiving a ticket-of-leave in 1847, Bailey also advertised tuition in classics, mathematics and languages, and next year the family moved to Davey Street where they opened separate schools for boys and girls. In 1847 Bailey also became editor of the Hobarton Guardian, the proprietor of which published strong Roman Catholic views, and advocated the continuance of transportation on economic and social grounds. Allegedly slanderous articles led to open quarrels with the proprietor in the paper's columns; nevertheless Bailey remained editor, and his wife contributed poetry and prose articles. In June 1854 the Guardian was incorporated in the Mercury, and a year later Bailey received a pardon conditional on his residence in the colonies.

In Hobart Bailey had joined the Roman Catholic Church and received 'Francis Xavier' as his religious name. In 1858, when he moved with his family to Sydney, he carried a letter of introduction to Archbishop John Bede Polding, who gave him charge of St Mary's Seminary. When it was broken up in 1862 Bailey taught in several private girls' schools and opened his own school at his home in South Head Road. In the Sydney Morning Herald, 7 May 1864, he advertised that 'divine services, according to the liturgy and doctrines of the Church of England' would be conducted in his classroom each Sunday, and that baptisms and marriages would be performed without charge, all expenses being defrayed by voluntary contributions. Two days later the diocesan registrar, under orders from the bishop of Sydney, advertised that 'Bailey was not connected with the Church of England in the colony'. On 19 May the full details of Bailey's crime in London were exposed in the Sydney Morning Herald, probably by John West with whom Bailey had crossed swords in Tasmania. Bailey was promptly dismissed from the girls' schools and his own pupils were withdrawn. On 11 August 1864 his action against the Herald for libel, with damages of £5000, was heard in the Supreme Court, and the jury awarded him £100.

While Bailey slowly regained pupils, his living depended on his 'free' church. His congregation was neither large nor respectable, but it won him a licence for solemnizing marriages. These grew in number to some 400 a year and, although he appeared to run a marriage shop, some of his customers were of reasonable standing in the community. In 1871 he was sentenced to six months imprisonment for improperly marrying a minor. On his release the registrar-general refused to renew his licence and Bailey applied for a mandamus. It was rejected by the Supreme Court, for he could not prove that he was 'a minister of religion ordinarily officiating as such'.

Bailey's wife died after a long illness on 28 August 1873 aged 81 years. She was buried in the Anglican section of the Sydney necropolis. Eight weeks later Bailey married in Sydney according to the rites of the Presbyterian Church, Harriet, who was born in Adelaide, daughter of Matthew Connolly, master mariner. William Bailey died, 'a clerk in holy orders', at his home in Palmer Street on 1 August 1879 and was buried at St Jude's Anglican cemetery, Randwick. Ten weeks after his death, his widow Harriet married James Cutter, a builder, of Manly.

After 1869 in Tasmania and later in Sydney Dr William Bailey was sometimes thought to be masquerading as Rev. George Bayley. This identification was wrong: true to his own statements, George Bayley (B.A. Oxon, 1843; M.A., 1844) migrated to New Zealand in 1851 with testimonials from the archbishop of Canterbury, settled at New Plymouth, and had acted as a minister at Omaka for four years when losses in the Maori war induced him to go to Sydney in 1860. He lived at Hunter's Hill for seven years and first became known to the bishop of Sydney in 1868 when he unsuccessfully applied for a licence to marry. About 1886 he returned to New Zealand and died at New Plymouth, leaving descendants.

Select Bibliography

  • E. M. Miller, Pressmen and Governors (Syd, 1952)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 9, 13, 14 Jan 1869
  • newsclippings, vol 116 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • correspondence file under Bailey (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

T. B. McCall, 'Bailey, William (1806–1879)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 26 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


3 October, 1806
Belfast, Antrim, Ireland


1 August, 1879 (aged 72)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Passenger Ship
Social Issues
Convict Record

Crime: forgery
Sentence: life
Court: unknown
Trial Date: February 1843