Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Campbell (1802–1886)

by H. McCallum

This article was published:

John Campbell, n.d.

John Campbell, n.d.

State Library of New South Wales

John Campbell (1802-1886), merchant, politician and churchman, was born on 25 July 1802 in Sydney, the eldest son of Robert Campbell, merchant of Wharf House, and Sophia, née Palmer. He was baptized by Rev. Samuel Marsden at St Philip's Church.

In 1805 his parents took him to England where he received his formal education before returning to Australia. By 1822 John and his next brother, Robert, were actively engaged in their father's wharf, storing and shipping business of Campbell & Co., with John gradually becoming responsible principally for matters directly concerned with the wharf, ships and cargo. Around 1830 he was virtually in charge of the business, and head of it officially in 1836. With the death of his brother, Robert, in 1859 John became sole owner of the business, which he sold in 1876, together with Dawes Point land and Wharf House, to the Australian Steam Navigation Co. for £100,000.

John Campbell's interest in public affairs centred chiefly in the parliament of the colony. He was appointed to the Legislative Council on 13 May 1856, but resigned in less than a month. In the same year he was elected to represent Sydney Hamlets in the first Legislative Assembly under responsible government. He represented the same electorate in the second parliament of 1858-59; in the third, 1859-60, he held the seat for the Glebe electorate. On 24 June 1861 he was appointed to the Legislative Council, and retained his seat until his death on 22 January 1886 at his home, Clunes, in Stanmore.

John Campbell never married. He was known as a lover of horses and a patron of art, yet he was more famous for his support of the colony's growing Church of England. He gave £10,000 to found the diocese of Riverina, contributed to the endowments of the bishopric of Goulburn and the see of Grafton and Armidale. He also enabled the bishopric of Fiji (Polynesia) to be founded. He was a parishioner of St Philip's, Sydney, to which he gave a peal of bells, and he supported many other parishes in Sydney and elsewhere. He built the chancel of St John's, Canberra, in memory of his father. St Saviour's Cathedral, Goulburn, contains several memorials to him.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. T. Newman, The Spirit of Wharf House (Syd, 1961)
  • R. T. Wyatt, The History of the Diocese of Goulburn (Syd, 1937).

Citation details

H. McCallum, 'Campbell, John (1802–1886)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 24 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

John Campbell, n.d.

John Campbell, n.d.

State Library of New South Wales

Life Summary [details]


25 July, 1802
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


22 January, 1886 (aged 83)
Stanmore, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

general debility

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