Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Jacob John Halley (1834–1910)

by Niel Gunson

This article was published:

Jacob John Halley (1834-1910), Congregational minister, was born in London, son of Dr Robert Halley, classical tutor at Highbury College, and his wife Rebecca, née Sloman. His father, author of works on Nonconformity and sometime principal of New College, London, was of Perthshire farming origins and his mother a descendant of Rev. Henry Jacob, one of the first Independents. After schooling at Manchester, where his father was pastor of Mosley Street Chapel, Halley entered a warehouse. He was active in chapel affairs, especially the Juvenile Missionary Society, and at 17 was preaching at cottage services. 'He knows nothing', said his father, 'but his manner pleases people'. About 1855 on medical advice he migrated to Sydney where he joined a business firm, became a lay preacher and helped to form the Young Men's Christian Association. He later represented the firm in Yass and preached for the Methodists but was persuaded by Rev. John Poore to enter the Congregational ministry. In 1857-59 Halley attended lectures at the University of Sydney but did not complete his degree, probably because of disagreement with his lecturers. He also worked as an evangelist at Newtown and helped to gather a congregation at Petersham.

At the request of a Lower Darling squatter Halley volunteered for bush missions and on 21 March 1860 was ordained and appointed to the district. In 'cabbage-tree hat, fly-veil, riding breeches, and high boots' he reached the station and was joined by his friend, Price Fletcher, a field naturalist who took him on expeditions. He covered his large parish by buggy, but exposure during flood condition brought back his old complaints and he sought more settled work. He went to Melbourne but soon moved to Maryborough and opened preaching stations at the goldfields of Rodborough, Norwood, Amphitheatre and McCallum's Creek. In 1864 he succeeded Rev. Alexander Gosman at Ballarat and in 1872 moved to Williamstown. As secretary of the Congregational Union and Home Mission of Victoria in 1872-1909, Halley concentrated on conserving the principles of Independency and evangelism. He strengthened the denomination by his financial acumen and by building up home mission work. His own experience had impressed him with the importance of the 'jackaroo parson' and his recruits, many from itinerant Methodist backgrounds, included John Gribble, M. M. Whitton, James Dare and Daniel Gunson. Halley himself tirelessly visited the scattered stations by train and buggy, and lectured in the towns on such subjects as 'Naples, Vesuvius and Pompeii'. He was chairman of the union in 1871-72 and 1908-09, attended the meetings of the Congregational Union of England and Wales at Manchester in 1881 and was a delegate to the International Congregational Council at Boston in 1899. He died suddenly on a tram in Melbourne on 19 January 1910 aged 75, survived by his wife Margaret, daughter of Rev. Richard Fletcher and sister of Rev. William Fletcher whose biography he had edited in 1895. Of his three daughters, Gertrude became a medical inspector of schools in Tasmania and Ethel a missionary in Shanghai.

Of liberal Evangelical outlook and strong temperance views, Halley worked well with men of other religious backgrounds. His friend Dr Llewelyn Bevan described him as 'made on large lines … intelligent, large sympathied, well read, a man not thrusting himself into visibility and notice, but seen and recognized'.

A portrait by Frederick McCubbin is in the Congregational College of Victoria, Kew.

Select Bibliography

  • Mrs Halley et al, Memorials of Rev. J. J. Halley (Melb, nd)
  • L. J. Bevan (ed), The Life and Reminiscences of Llewelyn David Bevan (Melb, 1920)
  • E. M. MacQueen, The Story of a Church (Melb, 1966)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 20 Jan 1910, Victorian Independent, Feb 1910.

Citation details

Niel Gunson, 'Halley, Jacob John (1834–1910)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 25 February 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]


London, Middlesex, England


19 January, 1910 (aged ~ 76)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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