Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Cameron (1827–1905)

by R. M. Arndell

This article was published:

James Cameron (1827-1905), Presbyterian clergyman, educationist and historian, was born on 17 June 1827 at Melgin, near Ballater, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, the eldest son of Colin Cameron, farmer and kirk elder, and his wife Anne, née Taylor. He was educated in the parish school and the Grammar School of Old Aberdeen. Winning a bursary by competition in 1842 he entered King's College, University of Aberdeen (M.A., 1846). Two years at the Free Church College in Aberdeen preceded the completion of his theological curriculum on a scholarship at Edinburgh. He then spent three years studying theology in Berlin, Germany, before being ordained in Aberdeen and appointed to New South Wales.

Cameron arrived at Sydney in November 1853, and on 22 February 1854 was inducted into the parish of Carcoar which, he said, had 'a centre and no circumference'. On 28 February 1856 he was translated to Richmond-Penrith where he ministered to an admiring congregation for fifty years. An Evangelical preacher, wise and kindly, he served his generation well. He deplored the divisions in the Presbyterian Church, notably between his own Free Church, the Synod of Eastern Australia, and the Synod of New South Wales led by Dr John Dunmore Lang; although relations between Lang and himself were not always cordial, he diligently sought a basis of union which, helped by his wise counsel, was consummated on 8 September 1865. He had the honour of being elected moderator of the New South Wales General Assembly in 1875 and 1901. With his long service and wide experience in the courts of the Church, his wise and balanced judgment, and his gracious and cultured personality, he was also a leader in accomplishing the union of the Presbyterian Churches of the States of the Commonwealth, realized at an assembly of which he was chairman in the Sydney Town Hall on 24 July 1901.

Always interested in education, primary, secondary and tertiary, he supported the establishment of a Presbyterian College to be affiliated to the University of Sydney, became secretary of the provisional council on 29 November 1870, and presided at the service which marked the opening of St Andrew's College on 22 July 1876. He was also a member of the first provisional council and guarantor for the establishment of a Ladies' College at Ashfield in 1885, and in 1891 was one of the guarantors and trustee for the purchase of the Hordern mansion at Croydon, site of the Presbyterian Ladies' College. When Andrew Brown sought to establish Cooerwull Academy at Bowenfels as a primary school, he turned for advice to Cameron, who secured a suitable principal and as chairman of the school's committee of management piloted it successfully through its formative years.

Cameron took a keen interest in church architecture and for the use of congregations compiled a guide which was published in 1907. He also wrote My Two Servants or Incidents in the Earlier Years of My Ministry in Australia (Edinburgh, 1867) and Adelaide de la Thoreza. A Chequered Career (Sydney, 1878). His literary skill and knowledge made him an obvious choice by the assembly to be editor-in-chief of the Centenary History of the Presbyterian Church in New South Wales (Sydney, 1905). This task he undertook with enthusiasm, recording the early dissensions in the Church with discretion. The presbytery granted him leave to visit his ageing mother, and in 1866-68 he took his family to Scotland, where one daughter was born. In 1890 the New South Wales Assembly commissioned him to represent his Church in England and America. On 7 March 1885 the University of Aberdeen conferred on him an honorary doctorate in divinity.

On 26 February 1857 at Richmond Cameron had married Eliza (b. 26 February 1832), daughter of George Bowman and Eliza Sophia Pearce of Richmond; they had one son, Colin, and eight daughters. His wife predeceased him on 27 January 1886. Cameron died from pneumonia on 8 October 1905 at Richmond, a week after returning from the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Victoria. His estate was sworn for probate at more than £32,000. As befitted a man of his learning and gracious character, he always occupied a prominent and trusted place in the courts of his Church.

Select Bibliography

  • C. A. White, The Challenge of the Years: A History of the Presbyterian Church … in New South Wales (Syd, 1951)
  • Messenger (Presbyterian, NSW), 13 Oct 1905
  • records (Presbyterian Library, Assembly Hall, Sydney)
  • registers and memorials (Presbyterian Church, Richmond).

Citation details

R. M. Arndell, 'Cameron, James (1827–1905)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 23 July 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

Life Summary [details]


17 June, 1827
Ballater, Aberdeenshire, Scotland


8 October, 1905 (aged 78)
Richmond, New South Wales, Australia

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