Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Cross (1781–1858)

by Herbert Marshall

This article was published:

John Cross (1781-1858), Church of England clergyman, was born on 10 June 1781 in England. He had an excellent education and won high reputation as a Greek scholar. After teaching in London he was ordained at Fulham in 1818 by Dr Howley, Bishop of London. He had great sympathy with the teachings of Charles Wesley and was anxious to take up missionary work, so applied for an appointment overseas and was granted the position of assistant chaplain in New South Wales. When he arrived in 1819 with his wife and three children there were only four Anglican clergymen to minister to 18,000 persons. Cross worked at Windsor for nine years from December 1819. During his term the main work of building St Matthew's Church was carried out, and he took part in the consecration of the church in 1822. He was the first to live in the rectory built by William Cox in 1822.

He was appointed rector and chaplain at Port Macquarie soon after the new church, St Thomas's, had been opened in February 1828, and supplied the church with communion vessels, a bell and other requirements. His congregation was mostly conscripted, being convicts. The services were accompanied on the violin and the flute; the violinist, Benjamin Reed, helped the minister by conducting a school in the church. The chaplain also visited the gaol, and his granddaughter, Mrs H. H. Parker, recounts in her memoirs that it was his practice to drop pieces of tobacco for the prisoners, contrary to regulations. From 1844 Cross, having become too infirm to fulfil all his duties, was assisted and virtually superseded by Rev. Charles Woodward; in 1847 Rev. T. O'Reilly took Woodward's place. O'Reilly succeeded Cross when he died on 7 August 1858.

Cross's first wife was Ann Davis, whom he had married in London in 1801. Three children of the marriage survived, two daughters and one son. The eldest daughter, Ann Mary, married Henry Harding Parker, superintendent of agriculture, and the younger, Louisa, married James McIntyre, government medical officer. The son, William, received a grant of land on which he settled, and which he called Crossland. On 13 July 1837, after the death of his first wife at Port Macquarie on 10 May 1836, Cross married Mary Ann, daughter of William Smith, sometime of the London Missionary Society.

According to Mrs Parker, Cross 'was clean shaved and he wore a long black coat, almost to the ankles, stockings and buckled shoes, a low crowned beaver hat, the rim on each side turned up and held with black ribbon rosettes, wide flaps on the front of his white collar'. Cross held broad and liberal views, but was a strict disciplinarian and would allow nothing to stand before his duty. He was a good friend to the poor, and sensitive and tender-hearted to those in trouble. He was uneasy about his position among the military and the convicts, and in doubt as to who had the greater need of salvation. When he died Bishop William Tyrrell referred to him as one of the 'aged fathers of our church'. He did not have the deep concern of a James Backhouse, nor the evangelical ardour of a Samuel Marsden: he was indeed a good plain clergyman.

There are portraits of him in St Thomas's, Port Macquarie, in St Matthew's, Windsor, and in the Historical Museum at Windsor.

Select Bibliography

  • Newcastle Church Society, Report, 1851 (Syd, 1852)
  • J. W. Fawcett, A Brief Life of the Reverend John Cross (Brisb, 1898)
  • A. E. Pountney (ed), Centenary of St Thomas' Church, Port Macquarie (Syd, 1924)
  • A. P. Elkin, The Diocese of Newcastle (Syd, 1955)
  • Innes family diaries and memoirs of Mrs H. H. Parker (Hastings District Historical Society, Port Macquarie, New South Wales)
  • L. I. Parker, The Passing of a Century, Port Macquarie, New South Wales (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Herbert Marshall, 'Cross, John (1781–1858)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 15 July 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 Cross, c.1820s

John Cross, c.1820s

State Library of New South Wales, P1/1328

Life Summary [details]


10 June, 1781
Bristol, Gloucestershire, England


7 August, 1858 (aged 77)
Port Macquarie, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

general debility

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