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James Farrell (1803–1869)

by David Hilliard

This article was published:

James Farrell (1803-1869), by S. Solomon, c1854

James Farrell (1803-1869), by S. Solomon, c1854

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 3897

James Farrell (1803-1869), clergyman, was born on 26 November 1803 at Longford, Ireland, son of Rev. James Farrell, of the United Church of England and Ireland. Educated at home by his father, in 1818 young James entered Trinity College, Dublin (B.A., 1823; M.A., 1832), where he imbibed Tory political views and mixed in evangelical circles. The bishop of Killala ordained him deacon in 1826 and priest in 1827. Farrell was curate of Kilfree, County Sligo, before leaving his homeland in 1832 in search of a secure living. After two years in Paris, where he was private chaplain to a wealthy American, he served in rural parishes in Guernsey and at Studley, Worcestershire, England. In March 1840 he was accepted by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel as a missionary to South Australia.

Reaching the province in the Lysander on 6 September 1840, Farrell was appointed to Adelaide's second Anglican Church, St John's, Halifax Street. In July 1843 he succeeded C. B. Howard as colonial chaplain and incumbent of Trinity Church. Until 1846 Farrell was the only Church of England clergyman in South Australia. His business acumen assisted Trinity Church to eliminate its oppressive debt. Privately, he invested successfully in real estate, and lent substantial sums on mortgage.

Farrell's reputation slipped in February 1845 when he was prosecuted for indecent assault of his landlady's 14-year-old female servant. Sympathetic magistrates dismissed the case, but the whiff of scandal hung around for several years. On 12 November 1845 at St Mary's-on-the-Sturt, near Adelaide, Farrell was married—by a Church of Scotland minister—to Grace Montgomery Howard, née Neville, widow of his predecessor; he became stepfather to her four young daughters.

Farrell taught a 'simple manly religion' and took a close interest in the education of the young. After the arrival in 1847 of Bishop Augustus Short, Farrell's influence was clipped. Despite their theological differences, however, Short valued Farrell's shrewd advice and in 1849 appointed him first dean of Adelaide. Although state aid to religion in South Australia was abolished in 1851, Farrell retained the position, and salary, of colonial chaplain. His combative evangelicalism mellowed and he became more tolerant of the religious views of others, 'if in them he saw the love of God really shed abroad in their hearts', so that his social circle eventually embraced prominent Unitarians. In 1854-56, travelling alone, he visited Britain and the Holy Land, with a side-trip to the Crimea to observe the war. In 1856 he was elected first chairman of the board of governors of the South Australian Institute.

Farrell's active ministry ended in May 1866 when, instead of medicine, he accidentally drank a lotion that probably contained arsenic. His health deteriorated. In a desperate search for medical treatment, at the end of 1868 he sailed to England. While taking the 'water cure' at Malvern, Worcestershire, he died of 'malignant ulceration' of the stomach on 26 April 1869 and was buried in Malvern cemetery. After small annuities to his widow (d.1870) and other family members, he left his residual estate, valued at £15,700, to the Collegiate School of St Peter, Adelaide. This bequest, and that of his friend Benjamin Mendes da Costa, ensured the school's prosperity. There are two portraits in oils by unknown artists, one (c.1855) at St Peter's College and another (c.1860) at the Anglican Church Office, Adelaide.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Pike, Paradise of Dissent (Melb, 1957)
  • D. Hilliard, Godliness and Good Order (Adel, 1986)
  • B. Dickey, Holy Trinity Adelaide 1836-1988 (Adel, 1988)
  • B. Dickey (ed.), The Australian Dictionary of Evangelical Biography (Syd, 1994)
  • J. Tregenza, Collegiate School of St Peter Adelaide (Adel, 1996)
  • A. Laube, A Lady at Sea (Adel, 2001)
  • South Australian Magazine, vol 1, no 7, Jan 1842, p 241
  • Register (Adelaide), 1 Mar 1845, p 1, 8 June 1869, p 2
  • Observer (Adelaide), 19 June 1869, p 5
  • Grace Montgomery Marryat diaries (State Library of South Australia).

Citation details

David Hilliard, 'Farrell, James (1803–1869)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 13 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

James Farrell (1803-1869), by S. Solomon, c1854

James Farrell (1803-1869), by S. Solomon, c1854

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 3897

Life Summary [details]


26 November, 1803
Longford, Longford, Ireland


26 April, 1869 (aged 65)
Malvern, Worcestershire, England

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