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Henry Dowling (1810–1885)

by Isabella J. Mead

This article was published:

Henry Dowling is a minor entry in this article

Henry Dowling (1780-1869), Baptist minister, was born on 3 November 1780 at Ston Easton, Somerset, England. At 13 he joined the East India Co.'s navy and shipped in the Sir Edward Hughes to Bombay; later he saw action in the West Indies. At 17 he left the sea and became a clerk at Ludgate Hill, London. His first wife died within a year of marriage, and in 1805 he married Elizabeth, daughter of an eminently pious woman, Susanna Darke of Gloucester, a personal friend of the countess of Huntingdon. In 1814 when a church was formed at Stanwell Street, Colchester, Dowling was called to be its first pastor. This call was his ordination and he remained at Colchester until 1834. Thirty-five years later his farewell address was printed in the Launceston Examiner.

In July 1834 Dowling, his wife and two of their sons sailed in the Janet to join other members of his family already in Van Diemen's Land. They arrived at Hobart Town in December and soon went to Launceston. There on the last Sunday in 1834 Dowling preached three sermons in the court-house to 'numerous auditories'. He established his first Baptist congregation in Launceston and, with some government aid for the building, the York Street chapel was opened on 27 November 1840. In a long ministry he preached all over Tasmania and baptized in many of its rivers. His short, neat figure belied his bustling habits. In politics he espoused the cause of civil and religious liberty; more ardently he advocated teetotalism and the Infant School, and made his home an asylum for the poor. In March 1856 he was presented with £100 to celebrate his fifty years as a minister, but continued to serve his congregation. In July 1863 he wrote firmly to the government, 'I cannot allow my name to be put on the Pension List'. His intellect remained clear to the end, and he died at his home adjoining the chapel on 29 March 1869. A Tribute of Affection, by Samuel Cozens, was published in his memory in Launceston in 1869, and Tracts of Truth and Incidents in the Life of the Rev. Henry Dowling soon followed in Melbourne. He was survived by his third wife, Hannah Read, née Purbrick, whom he had married in Launceston on 5 June 1854. His second wife had died on 24 March 1853 at the age of 71, having borne him two daughters and eight sons.

Of Dowling's children, John Leonard became a grazier at Ellerslie, Fairfield, and married Cecilia Lord in 1841; Leonard Thomas married Mary Jane Gibson of Pleasant Banks, Perth; John was a farmer at Danbury Park; Thomas became a grazier in the Western District and a member of the Legislative Assembly in Victoria; Robert Hawker achieved distinction as an artist; Mary married Richard Palliser, and Hannah Maria married Kilner Waller and, with her husband and six children, was drowned in the wreck of the Dunbar at Sydney Heads in 1857.

The eldest son, Henry Dowling junior (1810-1885), printer, publisher, bank manager and philanthropist, was born at Gloucester, and educated at the Free Grammar School, Colchester. He arrived in Hobart in September 1830, and was employed at the Hobart Town Courier office under James Ross. He soon went to Launceston, joined the Advertiser owned by John Pascoe Fawkner and in 1831 became its editor and publisher. On 10 February 1832 he opened Launceston's first Sunday school with five boys and three girls at St John's Church. There on 6 November 1833 he married Eliza Tayspill, newly arrived from Colchester; they had seven sons and three daughters.

In 1834 Dowling opened a stationery warehouse in Brisbane Street; here he began the Launceston Bank for Savings, now the oldest in Australia. Dowling was its secretary and in 1844-68 served as its actuary. At these premises Dowling printed and published a Tradesman's and Housekeeper's Diary in 1836, and a pirated edition of The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, in twenty-five parts from August to December 1838; they were followed by lithographed illustrations and in July 1839 by a bound volume, claimed to be 'the largest publication which has issued from either the New South Wales or Tasmanian Press'. Dowling helped to produce the Launceston Courier in 1840-42, the Teetotal Advocate in 1843, the monthly Van Diemen's Land Temperance Herald in 1845-49, a Table Book for children in 1851 listing his school publications, and John West's The History of Tasmania in two volumes in 1852. Next year he disposed of his printery and in 1854 his Brisbane Street warehouse became a drapery business conducted by Dowling, Swain & Co.; it was sold to Williamson & Thomas of Melbourne in 1862.

In 1841 Dowling went to England to encourage emigration to the colonies and to select farm servants for various settlers. On his return in 1843 he was involved in several court cases for libel. In 1848 he became secretary of the London Agency under John Alexander Jackson and later of the anti-transportationist Australasian League; in appreciation of his work he was presented with 250 sovereigns. In 1853 he was elected to Launceston's first municipal council. While he was mayor in 1857-61 the city gained a pure water supply through the St Patrick's River scheme and he commemorated it by installing a fountain in Prince's Square in 1859. He also helped to improve all Launceston's parks and to organize a new municipal police force. In 1861-62 he represented Launceston in the House of Assembly and then became an active advocate for the Launceston and Western Railway, his lecture on it being published in 1863. In 1867-74 he was secretary of the company, and the first sod of its railway, the first in Tasmania, was turned by the Duke of Edinburgh on 15 January 1868.

Dowling was prominent in many other activities in Launceston. He was warden of the Marine Board, a promoter of the Gas Co., president of the Cornwall auxiliary of the Bible Society and the Chamber of Commerce, on the board of managers of the General Hospital, secretary of the Benevolent and the Immigration Aid Societies and a committee member of the Horticultural Society. In 1856 he became a justice of the peace. As an ardent Baptist, he contributed to the building of the York Street chapel and became a trustee and deacon. He died on 17 September 1885 at his home in Adelaide Street, Launceston.

Portraits of Rev. Henry Dowling are in the Central Baptist Church, Launceston and in the possession of D. C. McLaren, Hobart; one of Henry Dowling junior is in the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston.

Select Bibliography

  • correspondence file under Dowling (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

Isabella J. Mead, 'Dowling, Henry (1810–1885)', 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

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