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Rowland Hassall (1768–1820)

by Niel Gunson

This article was published:

Rowland Hassall (1768-1820), preacher and landholder, was born on 31 March 1768 at Coventry, England, the son of James Hassall. He married Elizabeth Hancox, a silk weaver like himself, and a son Thomas was born in 1794. Both he and his wife were 'called under one sermon' preached by Rev. George Burder, and became members of the West Orchard Congregational Church. Hassall founded a Sunday school and was one of the field preachers for whom Burder wrote his famous 'Village Sermons'. Burder, a director of the (London) Missionary Society, recommended Hassall as an artisan missionary for Tahiti. He described Hassall as 'a stout young man' with a 'rather bold' disposition who could read and write tolerably well but was 'rather illiterate than otherwise'. Hassall was accepted as a carpenter and the family sailed for Tahiti in the Duff in 1796. A second son born before they left England was named Samuel Otoo in honour of the Tahitian king.

In 1798 the Hassalls fled to Sydney in a party with their brother-in-law, Rev. James Cover. Hassall received a grant of 100 acres (40 ha) in the Dundas district, which was later greatly augmented. For a time he lived in a house belonging to George Barrington 'in the North boundary' where religious services were held. Hassall also assisted in the itinerant ministry established by Cover and William Henry at Toongabbie, Kissing Point and other preaching stations. On Cover's departure in 1800 Hassall carried on this work single-handed; one special care was the school at Kissing Point under Matthew Hughes, and his pleas for contributions and books received the attention of William Wilberforce. When William Crook arrived at the end of 1803, Hassall shared with him the ministry at Castle Hill.

On Samuel Marsden's recommendation, in September 1800 Governor Philip Gidley King put Hassall in charge of the granary at Parramatta and the stores at Toongabbie, as government store-keeper. In September 1802 he was discharged for 'not having discovered the constant Frauds practised by Repeated Forgeries of the Deputy Commissary of Parramatta's initials', but he continued to be provided from the stores in return for performing church services in the neighbouring districts. In March 1804 he was a sergeant in the Loyal Parramatta Association of Volunteers. Some time after moving from Barrington's farm to Parramatta Hassall had opened a store. He ran the sheep of other flockmasters besides his own, borrowed a Spanish ram from Marsden to cross with his ewes, managed the property of Mrs King and during Marsden's absence acted as his agent and managed his property. By 1808 Hassall had acquired 1300 acres (526 ha) of land, including a grant of 400 acres (162 ha) on the Nepean at Camden. In 1814 he was appointed superintendent of government stock, thus acquiring management of the Cowpastures, the most extensive run in the colony.

During William Bligh's régime Hassall began to minister to the Calvinistic Methodist and Presbyterian settlers at Portland Head on the Hawkesbury, and in 1808 he helped them to build a Dissenting chapel (since 1824 exclusively Presbyterian) on land given by Owen Cavanough. He was a supporter of Bligh, but despite interrogation by the military officers he continued to preach there until the appointment of Rev. John Youl in 1809. He then extended his preaching labours to Liverpool until he was succeeded there too by Youl as Anglican clergyman.

As the itinerating ministry was taken over more exclusively by Crook and as relations between Crook and Marsden deteriorated, Hassall confined his labours to the services held in his own barn (`the chapel') at Parramatta on Sunday and Friday evenings. Fully amenable to Marsden's ideal of an Evangelical preserve in New South Wales, he was not anxious to promote Dissent for its own sake. He did much to stamp the character of 'Calvinistic Methodism' on the district, which proved a source of embarrassment to his son-in-law Walter Lawry and the other Wesleyan preachers who gradually assumed the itinerating ministry established by the missionaries. Hassall remained loyal to the London Missionary Society and his house at Parramatta became the base for missionaries visiting the colony. He acted as colporteur and corresponded with missionaries in other fields. Of his numerous philanthropic and civic commitments might be cited his election in 1814 as a committee member of the New South Wales Philanthropic Society for the Protection and Civilization of such of the Natives of the South Sea Islands who may arrive at Port Jackson. He made several visits beyond the Blue Mountains and was the first to preach at Bathurst. Hassall welcomed the Wesleyan ministers, who refrained from undermining his theological influence until after his death. He also did much to help the Sunday school institution, and the first Sunday school at Parramatta, conducted by his son Thomas, was commenced in his house before it was moved to St John's.

Hassall died at Parramatta on 28 August 1820, a victim with two of his grandchildren of the prevailing 'catarrhal fever' epidemic. He left farms totalling 3000 acres (1214 ha) around Parramatta, Dundas, Prospect, Mulgrave Place, Cook and Bringelly but, despite these interests, on which Crook had adversely commented in 1804, Hassall's life was said to have been a 'continued example of religion and piety, extensive benevolence and hospitality', and he had 'never lost sight of his original designation as a Missionary, and continued to the latest period of his life zealously to perform the duties of one, by preaching the Gospel in almost all parts of the colony'. His voluminous correspondence is one of the main sources for the early social history of New South Wales.

Mrs Hassall, who had borne four sons and five daughters, died at Parramatta on 11 February 1834. Apart from Thomas, the sons engaged in pastoral pursuits. Samuel (1796-1830), who married the daughter of Dr James Mileham, was associated with his father in the management of the government herds, and held the office until his death. He also bred merinos bought from the Camden Park stud. The eldest daughter, Mary Cover, married Rev. Walter Lawry. Eliza Cordelia married Rev. William Walker. Susanna Marsden married the eldest son of the missionary William Shelley.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 2-10
  • J. M. Hassall, The Genealogy of the Hassall Family (priv print, no date)
  • J. Bonwick, Australia's First Preacher (Lond, 1898)
  • S. Macarthur Onslow, Records of the Macarthurs of Camden (Syd, 1912)
  • C. M. H. Clark, A History of Australia, vol 1 (Melb, 1962)
  • W. D. Adye Campbell, Record of the Descendants of Rowland Hassall from 1798 to 1947 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Hassall papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • LMS archives (Westminster)
  • Haweis papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Additional Resources

Citation details

Niel Gunson, 'Hassall, Rowland (1768–1820)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 30 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]


31 March, 1768
Coventry, Warwickshire, England


28 August, 1820 (aged 52)
Parramatta, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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