Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Bickford (1816–1895)

by Renate Howe

This article was published:

James Bickford (1816-1895), by J. (John) Cochran, 1870s

James Bickford (1816-1895), by J. (John) Cochran, 1870s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an9406195

James Bickford (1816-1895), Wesleyan clergyman, was born on 6 May 1816 in Modbury, Devon, England, fifth child of John Bickford, tenant farmer, and his wife Anne, née Whiteway. He received an elementary education and then worked for a commercial house at near-by Kingsbridge in 1830. Although raised in the Church of England, Bickford joined the Wesleyan society at Kingsbridge and was appointed a local preacher in 1835. He decided to become a missionary, and after a short informal training by the Wesleyan Missionary Society was ordained on 29 October 1838 and sailed for the West Indies in November. On 6 May 1841 at Bridgetown, Barbados, he married Fanny Tapp, a newly-arrived missionary.

During his fourteen years in the West Indies Bickford was appointed to several Wesleyan stations and with the help of state grants strengthened the denominational school system. He sought a transfer from the missionary society which would enable him to join members of his family who had emigrated to South Australia, and in 1853 he went to Britain for nine months before sailing for Victoria. On arrival in 1854 he was sent as superintendent of the Brighton circuit, where his duties were combined with those of missionary secretary for the Victoria district and membership of the chapel building and education committees. In his next appointment to the gold-mining town of Ballarat he completed arrangements for a church building at Lydiard Street and encouraged the erection of chapels and schools in the circuit. As well as forming local temperance societies Bickford patronized Ballarat educational and philanthropic committees. After a year at Sandhurst (Bendigo) he moved to St Kilda in 1861, where he was elected secretary of the Australasian Wesleyan Conference and also secretary of a committee formed to establish a Wesleyan grammar school. As a member of the conference's education committee he welcomed the Common Schools Act of 1862 which continued to allow religious teaching in the National schools. In 1864 he was transferred to Chippendale, New South Wales, where he arranged the itinerary of Rev. William Taylor, an American evangelist, before his return to Victoria as superintendent of the Yarra Street, Geelong, circuit in 1866. He was elected president of the Australasian Conference in 1868. Increased involvement in public affairs followed his appointment to Wesley Church, Melbourne, in 1870 and he was associated with the Society for Promoting Morality and the Sabbath Defence Association. Despite his previous advocacy of a 'mixed system' of education he supported the Victorian Education Act of 1872 as the only solution to sectarianism.

In 1873 Bickford was transferred to Pirie Street, Adelaide, where he combined his circuit duties with the establishment of a denominational magazine. In 1875 he was honoured by appointment as president of both the General Conference and the South Australian Conference. The next three years Bickford spent in England where he promoted emigration to South Australia by lecturing and distributing pamphlets, including one written by himself: Australia—God's Gift to the English People (Plymouth, 1876). In London he also published Christian Work in Australasia (1878). Appointments to Burra and Port Adelaide followed his return and in 1883, the last year of his ministry, the South Australian Conference elected him president. After retirement he lived at Parkside, Adelaide, published a lecture on Irish Christianity (1889), and completed An Autobiography of Christian Labour (London, 1890). His wife died on 7 December 1885 at Parkside. Until his death on 20 June 1895 Bickford remained an advocate of the close connexion of liberal politics and evangelical religion, and he always followed political events with interest. A pastor and preacher of only average ability, most of his time was devoted to administration where he was distinguished by a tireless zeal and capacity for work.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Dyson, Australasian Methodist Ministerial General Index (Melb, 1896)
  • Observer (Adelaide), 22 June 1895
  • Southern Cross (Melbourne), 12 July 1895.

Citation details

Renate Howe, 'Bickford, James (1816–1895)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 24 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

James Bickford (1816-1895), by J. (John) Cochran, 1870s

James Bickford (1816-1895), by J. (John) Cochran, 1870s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an9406195

Life Summary [details]


6 May, 1816
Modbury, Devon, England


20 June, 1895 (aged 79)

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