Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Cosh (1838–1900)

by Alan Dougan

This article was published:

James Cosh (1838-1900), by unknown photographer

James Cosh (1838-1900), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 12960

James Cosh (1838-1900), Presbyterian minister and professor, was born on 27 June 1838 at Whitleys, near Stranraer, Scotland, the second son of James Cosh, carpenter, and his wife Agnes, née Hunter. His father later became superintendent of buildings for the Duke of Montrose. With a scholarship granted by the duke, James attended the University of Glasgow (M.A., 1861), taking prizes in classics. Cosh came of Cameronian stock and so entered the Divinity Hall of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. Desiring missionary service, he also studied medicine and physiology at the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh. He was ordained on 4 October 1865 by the Presbytery of Paisley and appointed to serve in the New Hebrides. He married Janet, daughter of Thomas Frame, architect of Alloa, Clackmannanshire, and sailed on 1 March 1866 by way of Sydney for Efate in the New Hebrides. In his four years there he translated the books of Genesis and St John into the native language and wrote a primer of scriptural history, published by the British and Foreign Bible Society.

In 1870, after his wife's health broke down, Cosh served for a year at St Andrew's, Auckland, New Zealand, and in 1872 became minister of Balmain, Sydney, where he remained until September 1899. In 1878 he was also appointed tutor in exegetical theology in the Theological Hall of the Presbyterian Church in New South Wales. In 1892 the University of Glasgow conferred on him an honorary D.D. He was president of the church's faculty of theology in 1894 and in 1899 was elected to the Hunter Baillie chair of Oriental and Polynesian Languages in St Andrew's College, University of Sydney. Cosh was also prominent in wider affairs of the Presbyterian Church. In 1883 he became a councillor of St Andrew's College. In 1881-83 he was moderator of the New South Wales General Assembly and later of the first Federal Assembly of the Australian Presbyterian Church. He represented New South Wales at the Pan-Presbyterian Council at Belfast in 1884 and played an important role in missionary affairs.

Although Cosh came from one of the smaller and stricter Presbyterian sects and retained its orthodox theology he had a great breadth of vision in practical church matters. He strongly supported independence for the colonial churches. Indeed his upbringing in a small sect may have been responsible for his liberal views on the nature of the church and his pragmatic attitude to its secular mission. He was a painstaking scholar who fought to maintain the highest academic standards for students for the ministry. The Sydney Morning Herald, 10 March 1883, reported that Cosh was 'a man who has mingled with the world, listened with respectful attention to the opinion of all classes of thoughtful men and studied with an unprejudiced mind the current literature of science and philosophy'.

Cosh died at his home, Strathendrick, Turramurra, on 20 September 1900 and was buried at the Gore Hill cemetery. He was survived by his wife, a daughter, Janet Mary, and three sons: James (B.A., B.D.), Presbyterian minister; Thomas Frame, architect; and John (M.B., Ch.M.).

Cosh is commemorated by a window in the Chapel of St Andrew's College.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Witness, 14 June 1872, 25 Oct 1873, 27 June 1874, 3 Mar 1877
  • Presbyterian and Australian Witness, 12 Nov 1881, 20 Oct 1883, 5, 26 July, 2 Aug, 8 Nov, 2, 27 Dec 1884
  • Messenger (Presbyterian, NSW), 4 Oct 1900
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 10 Mar 1883
  • General Assembly minutes 1872-1901 (Presbyterian Library, Assembly Hall, Sydney)
  • Faculty of Theology, records (St Andrew's College, University of Sydney).

Additional Resources

Citation details

Alan Dougan, 'Cosh, James (1838–1900)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 24 June 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

James Cosh (1838-1900), by unknown photographer

James Cosh (1838-1900), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 12960

Life Summary [details]


27 June, 1838
Stranraer, Wigtownshire, Scotland


20 September, 1900 (aged 62)
Turramurra, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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