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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hassall, Eliza Marsden (1834–1917)

by Ruth Teale

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Eliza Marsden Hassall (1834-1917), clergyman's daughter and philanthropist, was born on 2 November 1834 at Denbigh, Cobbity, New South Wales, seventh of eight children of Rev. Thomas Hassall, colonial chaplain, and his wife Ann, eldest daughter of Rev. Samuel Marsden. Eliza was educated at home, by a governess and by her brothers' tutors. She assisted with the Sunday schools at Heber Chapel (built by Thomas for the Denbigh estate workers) and St Paul's Church, Cobbity (1842). Intensely interested in her extended family, with whom she corresponded, Eliza practised both domestic and estate management—even learning to make table and fortified wines. She also ministered to the families of the estate's skilled tradesmen and tenants. Her older sisters married. She did not, devoting her life to helping her father and her eldest brother Rev. James Hassall, caring for her widowed mother and finally promoting overseas missions.

In 1855 her father wrote of her taking up 'so earnestly' the work of the British and Foreign Bible Society. Through him, she acquired a farm at Bowral, sold in 1866 for £450. After he died in 1868, she and her mother moved to Parramatta. In time Eliza became pietistic and didactic, exhorting one niece to break off an engagement 'whatever you may suffer' since 'he does not have a good character', and telling a sister-in law that one of 'the lessons affliction is sent to teach us is to be more sympathetic and forgiving to others'. In July 1880 she helped to found the New South Wales branch of the Young People's Scripture Union, of which she became secretary. Her mother died in June 1885.

In July 1892 the Church Missionary Association of New South Wales was formed, reflecting unprecedented interest in evangelical missions. It set its own policies and recruited its own missionaries, although the parent committee retained ultimate control over their placement. About 1893 Eliza bought Cluden, on the corner of Frederick and Church streets, Ashfield, close to the church of St John the Baptist. In response to a request from the C.M.A., here she established Marsden House (the Marsden Training Home for Women Missionaries). Its first recruit, her niece Amy Isabel Oxley, went to China in 1896.

The training home's curriculum comprised Bible studies and missionary geography. Eliza was voluntary superintendent and president of the ladies' fund-raising committee. In 1898 the home expanded into further leased premises and the following year held a successful missionary exhibition. Eliza was made an honorary life member of the Church Missionary Society, London. She retired in 1903 and moved to a cottage in Charlotte Street, Ashfield, which she also called Cluden. The Deaconess Institute at Redfern took over the training of women missionaries.

Eliza died on 26 December 1917 at Coogee and was buried in the churchyard of St Paul's, Cobbity. Almost three-quarters of Australian missionaries overseas in her time were women. She had contributed significantly to their recruitment in Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • K. Cole, A History of the Church Missionary Society of Australia (Melb, 1971)
  • H. Radi (ed), 200 Australian Women (Syd, 1988)
  • B. Dickey (ed), The Australian Dictionary of Evangelical Biography (Syd, 1994)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 27 Dec 1917, p 4, 9 Jan 1918, p 7
  • Hassall papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Ruth Teale, 'Hassall, Eliza Marsden (1834–1917)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 6 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

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