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James Clow (1790–1861)

by F. Maxwell Bradshaw

This article was published:

James Clow (1790-1861), Presbyterian minister, was born on 26 May 1790 at Chartershall, near Stirling, Scotland, the second son of James Clow, farmer and miller, and the only child of his marriage to Helen, née Gray. He was educated at Blackford School, and from 1808 to 1813 at St Andrews and Edinburgh Universities, being licensed to preach by the presbytery of Kirkcaldy on 21 July 1813.

As a result of representations by the General Assembly of 1813, the East India Co. decided to add three Church of Scotland ministers to its ecclesiastical establishment in India, and Clow was appointed to Bombay where he arrived in November 1815. On 13 April 1819 at Bombay he married Margaret, born in 1795 at Glasgow, the daughter of Captain M. W. Morison and Mary, née McIver, both from Lewis families. The Clows had two sons and six daughters, of whom Helen married Rev. Rev. James Forbes and Margaret, W. Hamilton of Goulburn and Kilnoorat. In November 1833 Clow resigned because of ill health, and returned to Scotland, where he lived in retirement. He was granted a pension of £365.

In 1837 Clow decided to emigrate, left Leith with his wife and family in the North Briton in May and arrived at Hobart Town in September. He had originally considered settling in South Australia, but, hearing of Port Phillip, visited that district in October. By reason of a service held at Dr Alexander Thomson's station on the Barwon he became the first Presbyterian minister to conduct public worship in what is now Victoria. In December he brought his wife and children to Melbourne. Although his primary intention seems to have been to supplement his pension by farming or grazing, he held services in Melbourne, beginning on 31 December. He had taken some steps towards building a church, when in January 1838 Rev. James Forbes arrived in Melbourne by direction of the presbytery of New South Wales, and Clow abandoned his plan.

While on his visit of inspection Clow, at the second Melbourne land sale on 1 November 1837, had bought several lots at the south-west corner of Lonsdale and Swanston Street, extending along Swanston to Little Bourke Street. He built a house on this land, and in August 1838 took possession of the Corhanwarrabul run. A homestead he named Tirhatuan was built there, just north of the present Wellington Road, Rowville, and the family divided their time between it and Melbourne. In 1850 he sold Corhanwarrabul, and in 1856 let his town house and built Clutha at Queenscliff. Soon afterwards he moved to Oakhill, a house he built on a property of 120 acres (49 ha) some three miles (4.8 km) from Queenscliff.

In Port Philip Clow was never minister of a congregation, but he assisted the various Presbyterian ministers of the colony, and for some time after his removal to Queenscliff conducted a morning service in that township. When the Presbyterians of Port Phillip split over the Scottish Disruption of 1843, Clow was in sympathy with the Free Church of Scotland but opposed to carrying the division to the colonies, and retained his connexion with the local Church of Scotland. In 1859, when the Presbyterian Church of Victoria was formed by a union of four branches of Presbyterianism, it was arranged that, on 7 April at the initial General Assembly Rev. A. Love of Geelong would be elected moderator. Love was unpopular with two Free Church ministers, who without warning nominated Clow for the office. To avoid division the nominators of Love remained silent, and Clow was elected. From about 1855 he had been suffering from angina pectoris, and died suddenly on 15 March 1861 while in his garden at Oakhill giving instructions to a servant.

Clow was undoubtedly a man of high qualities of character; but his claim to be remembered seems to rest on two somewhat fortuitous happenings: his conducting a service on his initial visit to Port Phillip some three months ahead of the first regularly appointed Presbyterian minister, and his election as moderator of the first General Assembly.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Hamilton, James Clow, a Memoir (Melb, 1937).

Citation details

F. Maxwell Bradshaw, 'Clow, James (1790–1861)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 23 June 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

James Clow, n.d.

James Clow, n.d.

Royal Historical Society of Victoria, 1075387

Life Summary [details]


26 May, 1790
Chartershall, Stirlingshire, Scotland


15 March, 1861 (aged 70)
Queenscliff, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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