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William Henry (1770–1859)

by Niel Gunson

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with James Fleet Cover

James Fleet Cover (1762-1834), Congregational minister, and William Henry (1770-1859), preacher in the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion, were missionaries of the (London) Missionary Society who conducted a preaching and teaching ministry in New South Wales. Cover was a schoolmaster at Woolwich, London, and had been long married when he was accepted as a missionary. On 26 July 1796 he was ordained at Holywell Mount Chapel, London. William Henry was born on 21 June 1770 at Sligo, Ireland, son of George and Sarah Henry, and became a carpenter and joiner. He married Sarah Maben of Dublin, by whom he had four surviving children. After an Evangelical conversion, he received some theological tuition from Rev. John Walker of Trinity College, Dublin.

In August 1796 Cover and Henry joined a large contingent of missionaries who sailed to the South Seas in the Duff. They were the principals of a section of the missionaries who went to Tahiti, felt it unsafe and impolitic to stay there, and arrived in Sydney in the Nautilus in May 1798. The others were two married artisan missionaries, Rowland Hassall and Peter Hodges (b.1767), and eight single men, Samuel High Clode (1761-1799), John Cock (b.1773), Edward Main (b.1773), Francis Oakes, James Puckey (1771-1803), William Puckey (1776-1827) and William Smith (1775-1824).

Both Cover and Henry were favourably received by Governor John Hunter, and the two chaplains in the colony recommended that they should have liberty to preach and teach. They were given permission to open a chapel in the Sydney area, but in August began an itinerating ministry based on Parramatta. Their congregations were said to be greater than those of the official chaplains, Richard Johnson and Samuel Marsden. Cover and Henry set up regular preaching stations at Toongabbie and three places 'within the northern boundary'; a congregation at Kissing Point developed into St Anne's, Ryde, the third church to be established in the colony. Both engaged in teaching while Cover also gave regular Sunday evening lectures at Parramatta. In March 1800 Cover returned to England, and worked as a Congregational minister. He died at Bolton on 3 December 1834.

Henry and his family had returned to Tahiti in October 1799. He was one of a party which sought refuge in Sydney in February 1810, and resumed his ministry at Kissing Point. In 1811 Governor Lachlan Macquarie made him a justice of the peace for the islands, and he returned to Tahiti. After his wife died in 1812 he made a brief visit to Sydney in 1813 when he married Ann, daughter of James Shepherd of Kissing Point; they had six sons and four daughters. Her brother Isaac later worked in the Tahitian mission with John Gyles. Another brother James also worked in Tahiti before joining the Church Missionary Society in New Zealand. Henry was inducted as a pastor of a Tahitian church after the establishment of Christianity and remained in the islands until October 1842. After a short residence at Ryde he returned to the islands until he retired to Sydney in February 1848. Until his death at Ryde on 1 April 1859 he was an active colporteur and preacher. His wife died at Sydney on 28 July 1882. Although he viewed himself as an Anglican Henry was led by his Evangelical sympathies to work with Methodists and Dissenters. He corresponded regularly with the leading church figures in the colony including Marsden, John Dunmore Lang and Thomas Hassall. His eldest daughter, Sarah, was the first wife of Dr William Bland. His eldest son, Captain Samuel Pinder Henry (1800-1852), was well known in Sydney trading circles. He was master of the Queen Charlotte and the Governor Macquarie for King Pomare II of Tahiti, and in 1821 he was made Pomare's 'sole agent for the disposal of his cargoes in Sydney'. In 1822 he was involved with Edward Eagar in a bitter law suit.

For a short period Samuel Clode also made his contribution. Having received some medical training before joining the mission, he was engaged as assistant by Surgeon John Harris. In addition to his medical work, he was one of the first persons to attempt to evangelize the Aboriginals. He was the victim of a sensational murder on 2 July 1799.

The other missionaries engaged in secular pursuits, and most of them received grants of land. Hodges, a smith and brazier, left the colony in December 1798, but returned as a free settler in the Nile in December 1801. For some years he held the post of superintendent of government blacksmiths. James Puckey was appointed a master carpenter in 1800 and for a time was superintendent of the artificers at Parramatta. He left the colony in January 1801, was detained in the Philippines after the capture of the ship, and died at the Cape on his way to Europe in 1803. William Puckey returned to his native Cornwall in July 1799, married Margery Gilbert, and became master of a ship. He returned to Sydney in September 1815 with a commission to collect specimens for the British Museum, but was unsuccessful and returned to his trade of shipwright. He received a grant of land in the Parramatta district in 1818, and in July 1819 sailed as an artisan missionary with Marsden to New Zealand. He remained with the Church Missionary Society until March 1826 when he returned to Sydney, dying there in November 1827. Puckey's son, William Gilbert, became a noted missionary in New Zealand.

The other missionaries openly abandoned their strict principles. John Cock returned to England in December 1798. Main, a former artilleryman, did some preaching at Toongabbie and the Hawkesbury in 1798-99. Regarded as an incorrigible backslider by Marsden, he attempted to redeem his missionary vocation, but was given little sympathy. He practised his original trade of tailor at Kissing Point, but then joined the crew of H.M.S. Buffalo. He was discharged from her in 1804 to act as chaplain at Port Dalrymple when William Crook withdrew from the expedition. He was back in Sydney in 1807 and received a grant of land in the Windsor district. He married Ann Colp (Kolp), who had been transported in 1811 and later became a schoolteacher in the Airds district and then at Minto. William Smith, formerly a linen-draper, was engaged by Robert Campbell as his agent in Sydney, but became involved in litigation with his employer in 1800, and was imprisoned for debt. Captain Wilson of the Royal Admiral, an agent of the Missionary Society, secured Smith's release, and engaged him as his purser when he left Sydney in March 1801. Smith's adventures in Sydney, England and America were recorded in Journal of a Voyage in the Missionary Ship Duff … Comprehending Authentic and Circumstantial Narratives of the Disasters Which Attended the First Effort of the London Missionary Society … (New York, 1813). Smith, who was trained in the monitorial system of education, set up a school in New York and was later sent to Sydney by the British government to take charge of the principal public school there. He and his family arrived in the Hibernia in 1819. In 1823 he entered the commissariat but died on 20 May 1824. By his wife Dinah, née Milledge, who died at Port Macquarie on 23 June 1863, he had four children. The only son, John William (1805-1875), became a commissary clerk in Sydney, went to England, entered the War Office in 1832, had a distinguished military career and was created a K.C.B. One daughter Mary (1803-1880) married Rev. John Cross.

Another party of Duff missionaries arrived in February 1800. John Buchanan (b.1765), James Cooper (1768-1846), and William Shelley, arrived in the Betsy from Tonga, and Seth Kelso (b.1748) and James Wilkinson (b.1769) arrived with John Harris in the Anna Josepha. Cooper, a shoemaker, returned to England in July 1800. He later went to America, returning to Sydney via Bengal in 1814. Marsden put him in charge of the public school at Kissing Point where he remained for many years. He died in 1846. Buchanan, Kelso and Wilkinson returned to England with Cover.

Other Duff missionaries to visit Sydney, besides W. P. Crook and John Eyre, included Henry Bicknell (1766-1820) in 1808 and 1810, and Henry Nott (1774-1844) in 1812 and 1825-26. Most of these men contributed to the educational and religious development of New South Wales. An engraving of Cover was published in the Gospel Magazine for 1796. Henry and his wife are prominent in the foreground of Smirke's oil painting of the cession of Matavai in 1797.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 2, 5, 7, 8, series 3, vol 1
  • A. Strachan, Remarkable Incidents in the Life of the Rev. Samuel Leigh (Lond, 1855), pp 49-50
  • J. King, Ten Decades, the Australian Centenary Story of the London Missionary Society (Lond, 1895)
  • J. Bonwick, Australia's First Preacher (Lond, 1898)
  • M. A. A. Carnachan, The Spreading Tree (Auckland, nd)
  • J. Sibree (ed), A Register of Missionaries, Deputations … from 1796 to 1923, London Missionary Society (Lond, 1923)
  • G. L. Lockley, ‘Edward Main’, Papers and Proceedings (Tasmanian Historical Research Association), vol 9, no 3, Aug 1961, pp 109-15
  • G. L. Lockley, An Estimate of the Contribution Made in NSW by Missionaries of the LMS … between 1798 and 1825 (M.A. thesis, University of Sydney, 1949)
  • manuscript catalogue under LMS and specific missionaries (State Library of New South Wales)
  • LMS archives (Westminster).

Citation details

Niel Gunson, 'Henry, William (1770–1859)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 15 June 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]


21 June, 1770
Sligo, Sligo, Ireland


1 April, 1859 (aged 88)
Ryde, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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