Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Joseph Horner Fletcher (1823–1890)

by D. B. Smart

This article was published:

Joseph Horner Fletcher (1823-1890), Wesleyan minister, was born at St Vincent, Windward Islands, the eldest son of Rev. Joseph Fletcher, Wesleyan missionary, and his wife Mary, née Horner. In 1830-37 he attended a Methodist school in Kingswood, England, and then his uncle's school in Bath. He entered business but in July 1842 became a local preacher. He was accepted for the Wesleyan ministry in 1845 and after training at Richmond College, Surrey, he married Kate Green in December 1848. He was sent to Auckland, New Zealand, where he became the founding principal of Wesley College. In 1856 poor health obliged him to take up circuit work in Auckland and New Plymouth, where he witnessed the Maori war. He moved to Queensland and in 1861-64 was on circuit in Brisbane. In 1863 he became the first chairman of the Queensland Wesleyan District.

In 1865 Fletcher was serving at Ipswich when invited to succeed Rev. John Manton as president of Newington College, Sydney. He acknowledged that the main business of the school was secular education in a Christian atmosphere and believed that education could help to overcome sectarianism. He invited distinguished academics to examine Newington students and strongly supported (Sir) Henry Parkes's education policies. He opposed the formation of a Methodist university college until a strong secondary school was established. He believed that boys should be taught to appreciate orderly conduct rather than to fear punishment and that corporal punishment was degrading and to be used only in extreme circumstances. Under Fletcher Newington developed a high moral tone and a tradition of order and respect. After he retired in 1887 the old boys gave him an address of appreciation and a portrait in oils to be hung in the hall. In addition to his normal duties from 1883 he had taught resident theological students. From 1887 he was an effective and progressive full-time theological tutor.

As a preacher Fletcher had exceptional power: he expressed his thoughts in a fresh way with sparkling illustrations and characteristic humour. He combined humility with great spiritual power, prophetic vision and administrative ability. He encouraged the development of institutional church work which grew into the Central Methodist Mission in Sydney. Fletcher was elected as the first president of the New South Wales and Queensland Wesleyan Methodist Conference in 1874 and again in 1884, when he was also president of the General Conference of the Australasian Wesleyan Methodist Church. As conference editor in 1868, 1871 and 1873, Fletcher contributed more than fifty articles, numerous essays and reviews of books to the Weekly Advocate. He read widely, deeply and with discrimination. Never robust in health, he suffered months of illness before he died aged 66 at Stanmore, Sydney, on 30 June 1890. He was survived by three sons and two daughters, and buried in the Wesleyan section of Rookwood cemetery. In 1892 his eldest son, Joseph, edited a memorial edition of his Sermons, Addresses & Essays.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Colwell, The Illustrated History of Methodism (Syd, 1904)
  • Jubilee Newingtonian 1863-1913 (Syd, 1914)
  • D. S. Macmillan, Newington College 1863-1963 (Syd, 1963)
  • Weekly Advocate, 5, 12, 19, 26 July, 2 Aug 1890
  • C. B. Fletcher, ‘A Footnote to the History of Christian Missions’, Journal and Proceedings (Australasian Methodist Historical Society), vol 1, part 1, Jan 1933, pp 2-12
  • Town and Country Journal, 7 Feb 1874
  • D. B. Smart, The Role of the Methodist Church in New South Wales Education to 1880 (M.Ed. thesis, University of Sydney, 1965)
  • J. E. Carruthers, Fathers and Founders (typescript, State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

D. B. Smart, 'Fletcher, Joseph Horner (1823–1890)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 20 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


St Vincent and the Grenadines


30 June, 1890 (aged ~ 67)
Stanmore, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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