Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hugh Gilmore (1842–1891)

by R. B. Walker

This article was published:

Hugh Gilmore (1842-1891), Primitive Methodist minister, was born in Glasgow, Scotland. He soon became a homeless orphan and later claimed to have been brought up among the poorest of the poor of that city. These rough beginnings left him with some painful memories but also with a conviction of the goodness of human nature and a broad sympathy with the poor. At 19 while working at Ballast Hills, a suburb of Newcastle upon Tyne, he was converted suddenly and dramatically and became a member and then lay preacher of the Primitive Methodist Church. A probationer in 1865, he was ordained as an itinerant preacher at Stockton-on-Tees in 1870, served in various northern circuits and after six years at Preston migrated to South Australia in June 1889 hoping to improve his health. In 1881 he had refused an invitation to Adelaide.

Gilmore wanted to serve in the city slums but was sent to minister in the pleasant residential area at Wellington Square, North Adelaide. At first he was inclined to think that the colony had no poor but later found much poverty though less widespread than in the United Kingdom. His preaching, marked by a deep sincerity and a forceful simplicity and which rarely employed the usual evangelistic and theological phrases, soon attracted a congregation of very diverse degrees of wealth, education, religious belief and political attachment. The chapel soon had to be enlarged with a gallery.

In 1890 Gilmore was elected president of the Primitive Methodist conference of South Australia in February, and president of the first intercolonial conference of the Primitive Methodist Connexion at Adelaide in October. In the maritime strike he supported the unions whole-heartedly. In a speech at Port Adelaide on 12 October he condemned capitalism and advocated somewhat vaguely the public ownership of capitalist enterprises. A week later at a large demonstration in Adelaide the unionists cried out two names: Hugh Gilmore and Charles Kingston. Although he called himself a Christian Socialist his main political object was to promote the Adelaide branch of the Single Tax League. In 1890-91 he was foundation president of the league and of the Society for the Study of Christian Sociology. He also joined a deputation from the Women's Suffrage League which in June 1891 urged the premier, Thomas Playford, to adopt a suffrage bill then before parliament.

In many ways an unorthodox Methodist, Gilmore declared that conversion could not be swift and complete, that the real test of a Christian was not attendance at church or class-meeting and that 'experimental' religion was not enough unless justified to the mind. He criticized the Evangelicals who saw the world as a spiritual wilderness but neglected to improve its conditions, thus reducing the gospel to religious individualism. He advocated reform of the physical and material aspects of life as a necessary part of Christian conduct while at the same time he insisted that if need be a man could lead a spiritually good life even in adverse material conditions. The harmony of his religious and political ideals was best seen in the Christian Commonwealth movement which he began in April 1891. Membership was open to all Christians whatever their religious attachments. Its first section was to give relief to the poor; the second to offer friendship, accommodation and employment to strangers; the third to redeem the lapsed and depraved; and the fourth and fifth to deal with political and social questions. To Gilmore the movement was an expression of the true 'spiritual' religion, active and beneficent, in contrast to contemporary 'ecclesiastical' religion, respectable, exclusive and institutional. However, ill health forced him to retire from preaching in July. He died aged 49 on 24 October. His funeral procession included among many others 400 members of labour organizations. He was survived by his wife, four sons and four daughters. His eldest son, Joseph, served in the Primitive Methodist ministry and later was purser in the Royal Tar on two journeys to Paraguay.

Gilmore's literary work in England included contributions to the Quarterly Review and leading articles to the Primitive Methodist Weekly. In the colony he was joint-editor of the South Australian Primitive Methodist in 1889-91 and his My Intellectual Quickening appeared soon after his death. From shorthand notes members of his church compiled Sermons by the Late Hugh Gilmore in 1892 and one of his many lectures, The Single Tax, was published in 1911.

Select Bibliography

  • Minutes of the Primitive Methodist Conference, England (1892)
  • Christian Colonist, 29 Aug 1890, Advertiser (Adelaide), 24, 26 Oct 1891
  • private information.

Citation details

R. B. Walker, 'Gilmore, Hugh (1842–1891)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 15 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]


Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland


24 October, 1891 (aged ~ 49)
North Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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