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Daniel James Draper (1810–1866)

by F. Hambly

This article was published:

Daniel James Draper (1810-1866), by John Cochran, 1870s

Daniel James Draper (1810-1866), by John Cochran, 1870s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an9482270

Daniel James Draper (1810-1866), Wesleyan Methodist minister, was born on 28 August 1810 in the parish of Wickham, Hampshire, England, the son of James Draper, a carpenter, and his wife Mary Witmarsh, née Hellier. Educated in the village school at Wickham, he was later apprenticed to his father, who in 1829 sent him to Southhampton to round off his apprenticeship. In 1830, against the wishes of his father who was a member of the established Church, he joined the Methodist Society at Fareham, and became a local preacher. After a further period at home, he moved in December 1833 to Brecon, South Wales, where he lived with a half-sister, Mrs Pugh, daughter of his father by a former marriage. Nominated in March 1834 as a candidate for the Wesleyan Methodist ministry, his candidature was approved by the District Meeting at Swansea in May, and the conference received him in July and appointed him a preacher on probation to the Charteris circuit. In August 1835 he was approached with a view to his going to Australia. He agreed, was married in September to the daughter of the Webb family, farmers of Fareham, who had introduced him to the Methodist Society, and was ordained in the Southwark Chapel on 7 October. He left England on 13 October and arrived in Hobart Town in February 1836.

Draper's thirty years of ministry in Australia were divided almost equally between the colonies of New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria. A genuine Wesleyan minister, he distinguished himself by his sagacious leadership, his practical bent showing itself in the building of churches and schools and in the establishment and consolidation of Methodist societies not only in urban areas but on the goldfields and in rural communities.

Draper arrived in Sydney on 3 April 1836 to take up his first appointment at Parramatta. Here he built two new churches. Early in 1838 his wife fell ill, gave premature birth to a son who lived only a few days, and herself died on 16 February. In July 1839 Draper married Elizabeth, daughter of William Shelley, formerly a missionary in Tonga and Tahiti. In 1840 he was appointed to Bathurst and in 1842 to Sydney. During his term of service in Sydney he reported the opening of a new chapel at the Haymarket and the laying of the foundation stone of another at Balmain.

In 1846 Draper was appointed to South Australia, where he built the Pirie Street Church in Adelaide, as well as a number of country and suburban chapels and parsonages. He became the centre of a bitter dispute on state aid to religion, and a number of those opposed to his acceptance of the grants seceded from the Wesleyan Church. During the gold rush in Victoria, when many males left the colony, Draper wisely sent John Symons to the goldfields to care for South Australian diggers and obtain from them money for the impoverished South Australian churches. During Draper's chairmanship of the South Australian district, thirty new chapels were built, church membership rose by 1300, Sunday school scholars increased by 2000, and attendants at public worship by 7000.

In 1855 the Australian Wesleyan Church, having been granted independence of the British Conference, held its first Australian conference, and appointed Draper to Melbourne as chairman of the Victoria district. There he paid regular visits to the goldfields and rural communities, encouraging the erection of chapels. In Melbourne he was largely responsible for the building of three large bluestone churches, in Lonsdale Street (Wesley Church), North Melbourne and St Kilda.

Draper was deeply involved in the current controversy over education. He denied Bishop Charles Perry's claim that many of the Wesleyan schools were unnecessary, and unsuccessfully asked that the government grant to Wesleyan schools be on the basis of the number of scholars taught rather than on the number of Wesleyans reported on the census returns. Finally the Wesleyan Conference agreed to a system of public education though it still wanted government grants to church schools. The Wesleyans did not, however, withdraw from the field of education. With Walter Powell, a Melbourne merchant, Draper was the moving spirit behind the establishment of Wesley College, Melbourne. For a number of years he served as secretary to the Australian Wesleyan Methodist Conference, and was elected in 1859 as its fifth president.

In January 1865 Draper was granted leave for a year to represent Australia at the British Conference. He also visited the Irish Conference where, after consultation with British Methodist leaders, he and Powell selected Dr James Corrigan, an Irish Methodist local preacher, to be the first headmaster of Wesley College. Apart from a brief visit to the Continent, Draper spent most of his time speaking of the Methodist work in Australia. He took part in the opening of a 'Leigh Memorial Chapel' at Milton, near Burslem, the birthplace of Rev. Samuel Leigh, the first Methodist minister in Australia.

On 5 January 1866 Draper and his wife boarded the London at Plymouth for their return journey. Caught in a fierce storm in the Bay of Biscay, the ship sank with all but seventeen of the 263 souls aboard. The survivors reported that Draper had comforted and exhorted those doomed to perish with him 'by recommending that Pilot by Whom all might arrive safely at the Port of Heaven'. So Draper died on 11 January 1866, the day after the opening of Wesley College, when those present had paid honour to him in his absence.

News of the disaster reached Melbourne only when the London was expected to berth. Nearly every Wesleyan church in the colony had its memorial service. Among the ways in which his work was commemorated were the endowment of a Draper scholarship at Wesley College, Melbourne, the erection of the Draper Memorial Church in Adelaide, and the Daniel J. Draper, a lifeboat given by British Wesleyans to the Royal National Life-boat Association and launched at Penzance, Cornwall, in 1867.

Select Bibliography

  • F. J. Jobson, The Shipwrecked Minister, and His Drowning Charge (Lond, 1866)
  • J. C. Symons, Life of the Rev. Daniel James Draper (Melb, 1870)
  • J. Haslam, The History of Wesleyan Methodism in South Australia (Adel, 1886)
  • C. Irving Benson, A Century of Victorian Methodism (Melb, 1935).

Citation details

F. Hambly, 'Draper, Daniel James (1810–1866)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 16 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

Daniel James Draper (1810-1866), by John Cochran, 1870s

Daniel James Draper (1810-1866), by John Cochran, 1870s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an9482270

Life Summary [details]


28 August, 1810
Wickham, Hampshire, England


11 January, 1866 (aged 55)
at sea

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