Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Joseph Campbell (1856–1933)

by D. F. Branagan

This article was published:

Joseph Campbell (1856-1933), clergyman and scientist, was born on 13 September 1856 at St Marys, New South Wales, second son of London-born parents William Branch Campbell, storekeeper, and his wife Elizabeth Anne, née Jackson. The family lived at Lane Cove, near Sydney, and Joseph was educated at a private school and by a tutor. After several years as a schoolteacher on a family property near Prospect, he matriculated in 1877. He studied mathematics, natural science and divinity at the University of Sydney (B.A., 1880; M.A., 1882), gaining the Belmore scholarship for geology and agricultural chemistry. On 7 January 1882 at St Michael's Church, Surry Hills, Campbell married Eliza Marian Holt. Of independent means, she was the daughter of the late William Holt and a medallist in French at the junior and senior public examinations. During the leave of John Smith in 1882-83, Campbell was acting-professor of experimental physics.

From a Presbyterian background, Campbell was made a Church of England deacon in December 1880 and ordained priest on 21 June 1882. A fine preacher, he served in Sydney (1881-83), at rural Glen Innes (1883-86) and, in Sydney again, at Randwick (1889-90) and Coogee (1890-97). His wife's financial support enabled Campbell to undertake scientific and technical activities independent of his clerical stipend, and his church employment was interspersed with periods of leave when he travelled and experimented with the treatment of ores.

Beginning in 1876 Campbell wrote a number of booklets covering geography, practical photography, religion and science. First published in 1885, his Simple Tests for Minerals, or Everyman His Own Analyst ran to four editions and numerous reprints until 1936; 'Campbell's Prospector's Box', to carry out the tests, accompanied it. Appointed a commissioner for the Colonial and Indian Exhibition, London (1886), he and his family spent three years in Britain, where he preached. He was elected a fellow of the Geological Society of London, the Linnean Society of London and the Royal Institute of Chemistry. Back in Sydney, in 1893 he founded and became principal of St Nicolas's College, Randwick, for 'the proper training of mining experts', and published another successful booklet, Gold, and How to Get it (1894). Following a visit to England and North America, in 1897 the family moved to New Zealand, where Campbell held a general licence in the diocese of Auckland, while he managed a company attempting to treat refractory gold ores on Hauraki Peninsula. The work ceased in 1900 and, returning to church duties, he became vicar at St Paul's, Papanui.

Leaving New Zealand in 1903, Campbell was archdeacon and rector at Cairns, Queensland, from 1904 until 1909. In addition, he gave courses in mineralogy and mineral exploration and began active research on tropical agriculture. His wife had died in England in 1901. On 9 October 1909 at St Michael's Church, Sydney, giving his occupation as cotton planter, he married Ellen Kate Male, an 18-year-old typist from Cooktown, Queensland. Resigning his ministry, he travelled overseas to form a company to develop large-scale cotton farming, returning to Cairns in 1912. The war interfered with his cotton plans, however, and he turned to sugar cane, to paper production from pandanus and to the manufacture of native dyes, and opened a small laboratory and museum of science. In 1919, during a shipping strike and influenza epidemic, he converted his paper pulp machine to crush maize, producing much-needed flour for the district.

Campbell came back to Sydney in the 1920s and set up an advisory scientific bureau. A man of restless energy, he was perhaps by this time behaving somewhat eccentrically. From 1926, through his friend Bishop L. B. Radford , Campbell had a series of relieving positions in churches in southern New South Wales. He died on 17 October 1933 at Barmedman and was buried in the local cemetery with Anglican rites. His wife, their three children, and the two daughters from his first marriage survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Jones, Trinity Phoenix (Cairns, Qld, 1976)
  • D. F. Branagan, ‘Then Look Not Coldly on Science. Joseph Campbell, M.A. Journeyman Cleric’, Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales, vol 131, parts 1-2, 1998, p 19
  • Australian Mining Standard, 15 July 1897, p 2031, 26 Nov 1903, p 724
  • list of references to Campbell in the Cairns Post (Cairns Library, Queensland).

Citation details

D. F. Branagan, 'Campbell, Joseph (1856–1933)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 24 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


13 September, 1856
St Marys, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


17 October, 1933 (aged 77)
Barmedman, New South Wales, Australia

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