Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Eyre (1768–1854)

by Niel Gunson

This article was published:

John Eyre (1768-1854), by unknown artist

John Eyre (1768-1854), by unknown artist

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 32739

John Eyre (1768-1854), missionary and schoolmaster, was born in London. He became a block-maker, was accepted as a candidate for the ministry by the (London) Missionary Society, and ordained at Holywell Mount Chapel on 26 July 1796. He married a woman more than twenty-five years his senior, and soon afterwards sailed with a large party of missionaries to Tahiti in the Duff (see J. F. Cover). He stayed at his post in the Society Islands until October 1809 when he sailed with James Elder and most of the remaining missionaries to Sydney.

Eyre at first assisted Rev. William Cowper who recommended him as a preacher and teacher for the Newcastle district. Governor Lachlan Macquarie, however, was anxious for a capable master to start the charity school at Parramatta, and Eyre was appointed in March 1810. He was particularly successful as a teacher, and many leading colonists paid for their sons to be instructed at his school. When Eyre's first wife, Elizabeth, died on 10 January 1812, aged 71, he married Susannah, sister of James Wilshire, former deputy-commissary, on 25 August 1812; she bore him one son and one daughter. She later extended the school activities to 'a very limited Number of young Ladies' who boarded with them. Eyre continued on good terms with Samuel Marsden and was appointed his parish clerk, though his unfailing support of non-Anglican ventures, such as an auxiliary missionary society and the Sunday School Institution, occasionally strained this relationship. In February 1820 Eyre was appointed assistant coroner of Parramatta, and in April provost-marshal's deputy. He continued active in civic affairs until 1843. Prominent in philanthropic organizations, he was the first secretary of the Parramatta Bible Association and an officer and committee member of other benevolent and educational societies.

By nature conciliatory and devout, described in old age as 'a tall, venerable old gentleman', he died at Parramatta on 12 April 1854. His wife had died on 21 October 1853. Their son, Alfred John, was gold commissioner and police magistrate at Port Phillip. An oil painting of John Eyre is in the Dixson Gallery, Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vol 7
  • G. L. Lockley, An Estimate of the Contribution Made in NSW by Missionaries of the LMS … Between 1798 and 1825 (M.A. thesis, University of Sydney, 1949)
  • manuscript catalogue under J. Eyre (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Niel Gunson, 'Eyre, John (1768–1854)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 13 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

John Eyre (1768-1854), by unknown artist

John Eyre (1768-1854), by unknown artist

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 32739

Life Summary [details]


London, Middlesex, England


12 April, 1854 (aged ~ 86)
Parramatta, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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