Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Henry Thomas Burgess (1839–1923)

by Arnold D. Hunt

This article was published:

Henry Thomas Burgess (1839-1923), by Stump & Co.

Henry Thomas Burgess (1839-1923), by Stump & Co.

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 3789

Henry Thomas Burgess (1839-1923), Methodist minister, was born on 27 March 1839 at Sandbach, Cheshire, England, son of Thomas Burgess, ironmonger, and his wife Ellen, née Bostock. The family migrated to South Australia in 1848 and settled at Kooringa, where his father became an official at the Burra copper-mine. Burgess attended the local public school, and worked for two years in a store, then for three years as an assistant in stores at Adelaide and Mount Barker. In 1859, at the early age of 20, he was accepted as a probationary minister by the Wesleyan Methodist Church. He was appointed to Yankalilla, a rural circuit south of Adelaide, and began the mandatory six-year course of study which culminated in his ordination in 1865. Burgess was conservative in his theology and his emergence as an outstanding preacher was rapid. From 1870 he ministered to a succession of major circuits in South Australia, and remained in parish work till 1902. On 30 September 1863 in Adelaide he had married Ellen Pickford; they had sixteen children.

Burgess was president of the annual Wesleyan Conference in South Australia in 1880 and 1890, and was president-general of the General (federal) Conference in 1897-1901. In the latter capacity he represented the Church at the inaugural celebrations of the Commonwealth of Australia and the opening of the first Federal parliament. His primary ecclesiastical contribution was his advocacy of union of the four branches of the Methodist movement. The Bible Christian was particularly strong in the colony largely due to Cornish immigration. The attitude towards union was lukewarm among some of the better-educated and more prosperous Wesleyans. It was largely due to the leadership of Burgess and the respect that he evoked among all the heirs of Wesley that union was realized in South Australia in 1900. He was elected president of the first South Australian Conference of the Methodist Church that year, and played a leading part in the achievement of federal union four years later, especially in drafting the constitution for the first general conference.

Burgess also edited his Church's paper in South Australia, the Christian Weekly and Methodist Journal. He was vice-president and secretary of the Adelaide Children's Hospital in 1901-13, and secretary of the South Australian branch of the Royal Geographical Society in 1916-20.

To help support his 'large and afflicted family'—only eight children survived infancy--Burgess engaged in journalism. He was a leader-writer for the South Australian Register for several years, and contributed prize-winning essays to religious papers in the United States of America. He had a 'terse idiomatic style' and wrote several small religious works, the best known being Methodism and the Twentieth Century (Adelaide, 1901). A major literary achievement was his editorship of the two-volume Cyclopedia of South Australia (1907-09). This massive miscellany of information on aspects of South Australian life gave much space to biographical sketches of leading citizens and remains a useful research source. In 1908 Burgess had been awarded the honorary degree of LL.D. by Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, U.S.A.

Predeceased by his wife, he died on 19 November 1923 and was buried in West Terrace cemetery, Adelaide.

Select Bibliography

  • H. T. Burgess (ed), Cyclopedia of South Australia, vol 2 (Adel, 1909)
  • J. E. Carruthers, Lights in the Southern Sky (Syd, 1924)
  • Methodist Church of Australasia (South Australia), Conference Minutes, 1924
  • Christian Weekly and Methodist Journal, 1 June 1894
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), and Register (Adelaide), 20 Nov 1923
  • Australian Christian Commonwealth, 20 Nov 1923.

Citation details

Arnold D. Hunt, 'Burgess, Henry Thomas (1839–1923)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 22 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Henry Thomas Burgess (1839-1923), by Stump & Co.

Henry Thomas Burgess (1839-1923), by Stump & Co.

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 3789

Life Summary [details]


27 March, 1839
Sandbach, Cheshire, England


19 November, 1923 (aged 84)

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