Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Harcus (1823–1876)

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William Harcus (1823-1876), by unknown photographer

William Harcus (1823-1876), by unknown photographer

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 6402

William Harcus (1823-1876), Congregational minister, editor and author, was born at Newcastle upon Tyne, England, son of William Harcus, Congregational minister and author of tracts. Educated by his father, he worked as a journalist until he decided to enter for the ministry. For three years he studied under Rev. John Frost in the Congregational Theological Institution at Cotton End, near Bradford, and shared in student preaching. His first ministry was at Loughborough, near Leicester, and at Newport on 26 December 1848 he married Eliza Oliver. He then moved to Doncaster where he was active in the Association of Congregational Ministers of Yorkshire and won repute for his 'sincerity, genial spirit and sociable disposition'. His next ministry was at Toxteth Park, Liverpool, where he helped to found an evangelical alliance and became its secretary. He also resumed his literary pursuits and contributed to many religious journals, notably the Christian Witness, for which he wrote a 'thoughtful and illuminating' series on the lives of the Apostles. Indifferent health, a low stipend and the needs of a young family induced him to resign. With glowing testimonials from Congregationalists and other denominations he sailed in the Lord Raglan with his wife, three sons and three daughters; they arrived at Melbourne on 25 November 1860 and soon went to Adelaide.

Harcus ministered at Clayton Congregational Church, Kensington, until 1865 and thereafter remained an active member, preaching often and helping to raise funds. After some differences with his parishioners in 1862 he had joined the South Australian Register. In 1867 he moved to the South Australian Advertiser, was literary editor until John Barrow died in 1874 and full editor until 1876. Prolific and versatile, his work was always frank, clever and very readable. He won repute for his fair editorials and sound judgment even when controversial. In July-December 1874 his 'Laconic Leaders', a series on public men, aroused criticism in some quarters but, as 'Onkaparinga', he answered firmly in a series entitled 'Post and Rail' in the Garden and Field, 1875.

Harcus was appointed a justice of the peace in May 1871 and often acted as coroner. Commissioned by the government in 1873 he published Handbook for Emigrants Proceeding to South Australia, for which he was paid £143 15s. The Adelaide edition included an appendix in German by Karl Eggers, and the London edition, 'for gratis distribution', ran to at least seven reprints each of 10,000. For the Philadelphia Centenary Exhibition he was commissioned by the government to write South Australia: Its History, Resources and Productions; dedicated to Governor Sir Anthony Musgrave, it was published in London and Adelaide in 1876. Pressed by many duties he died aged 53 on 10 August at his home in Hackney, and in compliance with his own request was buried at Clayton Church. He was survived by his wife, six children and some grandchildren and left an estate worth £900.

Select Bibliography

  • Register (Adelaide), 11 Aug 1876
  • Illustrated Adelaide News, Sept 1876.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

'Harcus, William (1823–1876)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 22 May 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

William Harcus (1823-1876), by unknown photographer

William Harcus (1823-1876), by unknown photographer

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 6402

Life Summary [details]


Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne and Wear, England


10 August, 1876 (aged ~ 53)
Hackney, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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Religious Influence

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