Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Harris (1754–1819)

by Niel Gunson

This article was published:

John Harris (1754-1819), missionary and schoolmaster, was baptized on 21 January 1754 at Reading, Berkshire, England, the son of John and Mary Harris. A cooper by trade, he attended the services of Rev. William Romaine, a celebrated Evangelical preacher in London, and applied to the (London) Missionary Society as an artisan missionary. He was one of the party which sailed in the Duff with James Cover in 1796. On 19 March 1797 Harris was ordained at Tahiti, with the intention of settling him in the Marquesas with William Crook. However, he felt unable to cope with conditions there and returned to Tahiti where he remained as a missionary until January 1800. Then in the whaler Betsey, which had arrived with the Spanish prize Anna Josepha in tow, Harris set out to visit the Tongan missionaries, from whom no news had been heard. At Tongatapu William Shelley and the other survivors of the mission were given a passage to Sydney. Harris undertook to navigate the Anna Josepha, and brought it to Sydney in February 1800. He then commenced a preaching ministry and, being persuaded to accept the position of chaplain and schoolmaster at Norfolk Island, his connexion with the Missionary Society ceased. He took up his appointment some time before November 1800, acting as chaplain until the arrival of Henry Fulton and continuing as schoolmaster until February 1803 when he returned to Sydney. Samuel Marsden at once secured his appointment as schoolmaster at the settlement of Green Hills (Windsor), where he also had liberty to preach in the Hawkesbury district. Harris remained as pastor-teacher at Green Hills until 1808 when he moved to Sydney before returning to England. Some time before September 1808 he had gathered a congregation which became the nucleus of the Congregational church formed by Crook. After his return to England, Harris received episcopal ordination, and was curate of Hunstanworth, Durham, when he died on 6 November 1819.

Though somewhat vacillating in character, Harris was highly regarded by his colleagues and received the particular favour of Marsden. He was described in 1798 as 'a dark, swarthy man', 'reserved in his carriage', 'a man of strong sense' and 'in examination, singularly intelligent'.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Boag (ed), Faith's Transcendent Power (Newcastle upon Tyne, 1945)
  • V. W. E. Goodin, 'Public Education in New South Wales Before 1848', Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 36, part 2, 1950, pp 65-108
  • Haweis papers (National Library of Australia)
  • manuscript catalogue under John Harris (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Niel Gunson, 'Harris, John (1754–1819)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 28 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]




6 November, 1819 (aged ~ 65)
Hunstanworth, Durham, England

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