Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Fullerton (1807–1886)

by Alan Dougan

This article was published:

James Fullerton (1807-1886), Presbyterian minister, was born on 11 January 1807 at Aghadowey, County Londonderry, Ireland, the fourth son of Rev. Archibald Fullerton and his wife Elizabeth, née Church. He studied for the ministry at the Royal Academical Institution, Belfast, and the University of Glasgow. Ordained on 2 December 1836 at Benburb, County Tyrone, he was persuaded by John Dunmore Lang to migrate to Sydney where he arrived on 3 December 1837 in the Portland. He ministered at Windsor but Lang's synod, which had separated from the Presbytery of New South Wales, soon appointed him to a third Presbyterian group in Pitt Street. He gathered a strong congregation, especially Ulster families, responsive to his vigorous evangelicalism. His voice failed in 1868 but he remained at Pitt Street until 1886.

In the differences that beset the early Presbyterian Church in New South Wales Fullerton turned against Lang who abused him as 'a mere hibernian driveller with neither ability nor respectability'. In contrast Lang's successor, Dr Archibald Gilchrist, described him as 'the unbending champion of the old theology'. In 1841 Marischal College, Aberdeen, awarded Fullerton an honorary doctorate and he contributed to an anthology, Lectures on the Sabbath, by ministers of the Presbyterian Church. In 1844 he published Ten Lectures, and edited the Christian Herald for some months. In the 1840s he served on the committees of several philanthropic and educational societies as well as campaigning for shorter hours for shop assistants and against transportation. In July 1851 he was tried in the Supreme Court for 'illegal solemnization of marriage' and discharged on a technicality; later the registrar-general claimed that Fullerton had run a 'marriage shop', conducting over four hundred marriages a year. In 1856 he published The National Duty of Christian States and in 1865 as moderator he led the conservative Synod of Australia into the final union which created the Presbyterian Church of New South Wales. In 1877-86 he served on the Council of St Andrew's College after years of opposition to its establishment in the University of Sydney.

Fullerton died in Sydney of pneumonia on 3 July 1886 and was buried in Rookwood cemetery. He was survived by two sons and two daughters of his first wife Mary, née Jenkins, whom he had married on 30 June 1840, and by two sons and two daughters of his second wife Janet, née Young, whom he had married at Melbourne in 1859. His estate, including a farm and shares in a sugar plantation in Queensland, and sixteen houses and sixty-three acres (25 ha) in Sydney, was valued at £13,000.

His brother George (1802-1883), physician, was the second son of Archibald Fullerton. Educated at the Universities of Glasgow (Ch.M., 1831) and Edinburgh (M.D., 1832) he arrived at Sydney in 1841. On 27 March 1845 he became physician to the first medical staff of Sydney Infirmary. About 1849 he returned to Ireland and in 1855 married his cousin Julia Moffatt. Next year they went to Sydney but soon moved to Brisbane. Fullerton became first president of the Medical Board of Queensland, and in 1860 was appointed to the first Legislative Council. In 1863 he resigned the presidency of the Medical Board. He acquired large land holdings at Toolambilla in the Maranoa district. By 1867 he had fourteen runs comprising 584 square miles (1513 km²). In 1870 he published a Family Medical Guide which became very popular in the outback. He contributed generously to the Presbyterian Church. About 1878 he returned to Sydney, where he died on 24 September 1883, leaving an estate worth £17,800.

Select Bibliography

  • J. D. Lang, Presbyterian Union (Syd, 1858?)
  • D. S. Myles, One Hundred Years. Fullerton Memorial Church (Syd, 1938)
  • E. H. Stokes, The Jubilee Book of the Sydney Hospital Clinical School (Syd, 1960)
  • Select Committee on Registration of Births, Death, and Marriages, Evidence, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Council, New South Wales), 1885-86, 4, 297
  • Presbyterian (New South Wales), 7 May 1881, 10 July 1886, 20 Aug 1887
  • D. Gordon , 'Men of Medicine at Separation', Medical Journal of Australia, 7 July 1962, pp 1-8
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 5, 10, 17, 19, 22 July 1851, 14 July 1886
  • Town and Country Journal, 10 July 1886
  • Pitt St Church registers (Presbyterian Library, Assembly Hall, Sydney)
  • private information.

Citation details

Alan Dougan, 'Fullerton, James (1807–1886)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 16 June 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]


11 January, 1807
Aghadowey, Londonderry, Ireland


3 July, 1886 (aged 79)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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