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Jabez King Heydon (1815–1885)

by Peter Heydon

This article was published:

Jabez King Heydon (1815-1885), printer and publisher, was born on 23 April 1815 at Plymouth, Devon, England, the son of Richard Heydon, naval dockyard foreman, whose father had been a supporter of John Wesley. Heydon worked in Plymouth as a compositor in a printery owned by an uncle. In 1834 he married Sophia Hayes (1809-1884). Two children were born to them in England and eight in Sydney where they arrived in 1838 as free settlers.

Heydon soon established himself in Sydney and persuaded two brothers, William and Ebenezer, to follow him. By 1843 he was an auctioneer and agent at 78 King Street. He acquired various business interests, including the agency in New South Wales, Port Phillip and New Zealand for Holloway's pills, which he claimed in extensive advertisements, to be 'the greatest cures of any medicine in the globe'. From 1854 to 1876 he lived at Ermington House, formerly the property of Edmund Lockyer on the Parramatta River, west of Ryde. Because of his daily absence in the city, his wife largely supervised the German migrants who worked the farm and orchard. Despite later reverses through bank failures he was financially secure from 1854. Heydon was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1845 and his wife in 1866. He developed a close contact with the Marist Fathers at Villa Maria, Hunter's Hill, moving in 1877 to a house they had built there.

In his early years in Sydney, Heydon was active in politics and journalism. In 1848 he was on the provisional council of the Constitutional Association which sought an 'immediate extension of the Executive Franchise', a 'just and equitable application of the Representative Principle', and land reform. The council met weekly, and he contributed to the People's Advocate and New South Wales Vindicator, 1848-54, which was the association's organ, and persistently attacked the conservatives. On 22 January 1849 at a meeting which James Macarthur, William Bland and James Martin declined to attend, Heydon, after speeches by others, proposed the petition to the Queen for voting rights as in the United Kingdom. On 11 June 1849 at 'the protest meeting of 4,000', he was elected to the deputation to present to the governor its resolutions condemning the resumption of transportation. Consistently with this he was intensely interested in immigration, at one stage actively helping Caroline Chisholm.

In 1851 he was secretary of a committee, chaired by D. J. Tierney, supporting Alexander Longmore as a 'Catholic candidate' for the city of Sydney in the Legislative Council. Votes were sought from all denominations to ensure that the Roman Catholics in the council might reflect their numbers in the community and make their political emancipation more effective, but Longmore was narrowly defeated. Heydon was associated with the emergence of Robert Lowe and Henry Parkes and always had access to the latter. In old age he encouraged the political activity of his sons. He was appointed a justice of the peace in 1869 and was an alderman, 1877-83, and mayor, 1880-81, of Hunter's Hill.

From 1850 onwards, Heydon was best known for his activities as a Roman Catholic layman. Against his strict Nonconformist background, his conversion in 1845 derived from the strong impression made on him by the Oxford Movement, and by his association with William Duncan, on the Australasian Chronicle from 1839 to 1844. Heydon's religious conviction dominated his thinking thereafter; it both illustrated his robust and total approach to life and exacerbated every crisis he faced, especially when proprietor, 1857-60, and editor, 1858-60, of the Freeman's Journal. This review, first published by Archdeacon John McEncroe on 27 June 1850, though not an official organ of the church, proclaimed itself 'Catholic and Irish' in sentiment, attracted many famous writers, and widely influenced Catholic thought until in 1942 it amalgamated with the Catholic Press to become the Catholic Weekly.

Heydon's period with the Freeman, as he called it, established its business basis but was notable for serious disputes fomented by the strength of his editorials and the vigour of the correspondence columns. Archbishop John Bede Polding was for many years criticized by some members of the laity and clergy for his efforts to establish the Benedictine Order in the colony, for delegating too much authority to the vicar-general, Abbot Henry Gregory and to other Benedictines, for not making greater use of secular priests, particularly those of Irish birth, and for denying the laity wider opportunities of service within the church. Heydon, considering himself an 'English Catholic', rejected the merger of Catholic and Irish causes, but he did want the Australian church opened to orders other than the Benedictine, and his Wesleyan experience suggested a more influential role for the laity in his adopted church. Duncan, writing forcefully as 'Icolmkill' in the Freeman on 16 May 1857, set off controversies which spread to the pulpits, and which in the result appeared to combine all dissidents against the archdiocese. In a Monitum Pastorale of 11 June 1858 Archbishop Polding and the bishops of Melbourne and Hobart Town pointedly condemned open lay discussion of matters within exclusively ecclesiastical authority.

In an attempt at conciliation the archbishop asked the laity to make known their wishes to him. Heydon was in the deputation which on 29 July 1858 presented an address covering all points in dispute with the administrator of the archdiocese. It was summarily rejected by Polding. In this atmosphere in 1858 Heydon was elected one of the original fellows (six clergy and twelve laymen) of St John's College within the University of Sydney; all sides of the disputes were represented among the fellows. On one occasion Heydon suggested action on primary education quite outside their powers defined by statute. On another he was censured by the council for statements appearing in the Freeman. His membership lapsed in 1861 for non-attendance at meetings.

On 26 February 1859 a rowdy public meeting of Catholics hastily called by Heydon and others protested violently against the appointment, on Gregory's nomination, of a Protestant, Dr William Bassett, to the board of a Catholic orphan school at Parramatta. The resolutions, moved in a fiery speech by Daniel Deniehy and carried in the face of pleas by moderates such as Peter Faucett, included the threat of an appeal to the Pope. The resolutions were conveyed immediately to Polding; on 2 March Gregory as vicar-general wrote at the archbishop's direction to Heydon and seven others informing them that unless they 'renounced' the proceedings by 10 March they would incur excommunication. On 4 March the letters were published as advertisements in the Sydney Morning Herald. Deniehy did not retract; the others did, but put the matter to Rome and claimed later that their action was vindicated by the reply they received.

Heydon now intensified his attacks on Gregory in the Freeman until it was announced in April 1860 that Gregory would 'proceed to Europe on the business of the Archdiocese for twelve months'. His retirement was admitted publicly in December and he finally left on 5 February 1861. To Polding's great regret, he never returned to Australia. Meanwhile Heydon had given up the editorship of the Freeman, and sold it to William Dolman. In a final editorial on 2 June 1860 Heydon wrote: 'We retire solely for the sake of peace. We have resolved to evacuate the citadel—or in plainer language—to allow others in better odour in high quarters than we to occupy our place'.

The remaining years till his death on 10 February 1885 were relatively quiet, though he occasionally attracted attention to his views. In 1865 as 'An English Catholic' he engaged in a long debate, through letters to the Empire, with a Presbyterian, Rev. John McGibbon, on 'The Bible and The Reformation'. In 1867 he moved at a public meeting for a Catholic Association to provide funds for primary schools. The association flourished at first but was disbanded in 1872 for lack of support. Letters he wrote in 1874-75 to the Sydney Morning Herald on 'Civil and Religious Liberty in Education' were published as a pamphlet in 1877 and presented his views on state aid to denominational schools.

Heydon had capacity, courage, ambition and vigour. By self-education, through constant reading and widely varying interests, he attained solid influence. His combative zest, although it involved a constant risk of excess in anything he took seriously, found outlets in progressive politics before 1856, in efforts at church reform until 1860 and in agitation for financial aid for denominational education and in civic and family affairs thereafter. His migration, conversion and polemics mirrored major issues of his time. His contributions to his city, state and church, if somewhat erratic and rarely original, were significant, substantial and authentic. The Heydons were a close-knit family; J. K. Heydon, an avid reader and bookbuyer insisted on rational discussions in the family circle and the writing of detailed letters in periods of separation. He influenced his children to strong Catholic loyalties. Of his two daughters and three sons to survive infancy, Emily became a Sister of Charity; Catherine entered a convent but found she lacked the vocation and married Nathaniel Connolly; George (1845-1866), largely educated in France, was the first Australian to enter the Marist Order and died in London; Charles Gilbert (1845-1932), barrister, was attorney-general of New South Wales in 1893-96 and a judge, first of the District Court and later of the Industrial Arbitration Court; Louis Francis (1848-1918), solicitor, long served in the Legislative Assembly and Council, and was minister of justice in 1885-86.

Select Bibliography

  • T. L. Suttor, Hierarchy and Democracy in Australia, 1788-1870 (Melb, 1965).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Peter Heydon, 'Heydon, Jabez King (1815–1885)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 19 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]


23 April, 1815
Plymouth, Devon, England


10 February, 1885 (aged 69)

Cultural Heritage

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