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Richard Hill (1782–1836)

by K. J. Cable

This article was published:

Richard Hill (1782-1836), Church of England clergyman, was born in London. He did not receive a formal classical education and was engaged in secular pursuits until his ordination in 1813 by the bishop of London. After serving several curacies, he was appointed to a chaplaincy in New South Wales on 1 January 1818. Hill and his wife, Phoebe Sapphira, reached Sydney in the male convict transport Hibernia on 18 June 1819. The passage had been troubled by conflict with the surgeon, Charles Carter, of whose conduct Hill made a bitter complaint to Governor Lachlan Macquarie.

Hill soon won the good opinion of Macquarie and Samuel Marsden, the senior chaplain; the Wesleyan Methodist missionaries admired his evangelical zeal and his tolerant churchmanship. Thomas Scott, secretary to Commissioner John Thomas Bigge and later archdeacon of New South Wales, was less favourably disposed towards Hill, possibly because of his persistent complaints to Bigge, Macquarie and the bishop of London about the inadequacy of his stipend and grants; Scott doubted Hill's financial stability and business acumen.

Hill's initial appointment was as assistant to Rev. William Cowper at St Philip's, the only church in Sydney. In 1821 he was given charge of the new district of St James's, and when the new church was consecrated in February 1824 Hill became its regular minister. Scott declared St James's to be subordinate to St Philip's but it soon became the chief church in the colony. The archdeacon used it for official purposes and assumed the general direction of its affairs; Hill's duties were confined to routine matters. He was a nominal principal in the Edward Smith Hall cases, which followed the exclusion of the editor of the Monitor from a rented pew in the church, but the real mover in the affair was the archdeacon. Hill worked hard at St James's. He visited the convict barracks and the hulks and ministered to the poor. He promoted Sunday and infants' schools and tried to play a part in the free public schools. Hill had advanced ideas about educational methods and his contemporaries were to remember him chiefly for his work with children. Governor (Sir) Ralph Darling considered him a 'most zealous and reputable' clergyman and Archdeacon William Grant Broughton believed that his labours 'much impaired' his health.

Hill's strong social conscience, and perhaps his lack of responsibility at St James's, led him to take an active part in philanthropic and humanitarian organizations. His sixteen years secretaryship of the Benevolent Society was evidence of his success in this field. He was on the committee of the New South Wales auxiliary of the Bible Society and the Australian Religious Tract Society; his large private library was well stocked with theological books and he lent them freely. He was a founder of the New South Wales Society for promoting Christian Knowledge among the Aborigines, a director of the Natives Institution and joint secretary of the Australasian auxiliary of the Church Missionary Society; his interest in the Australian and Pacific natives was greater than that of the average clergyman. By virtue of his clerical office, he served as a trustee of the Male and Female Orphan Institutions and the Church and School Lands Corporation.

Hill acquired considerable landed property: suburban lots near Darlinghurst and areas of 800 (324 ha) and 1200 acres (486 ha) in the counties of Hunter and Northumberland. His grant of Milbrodale, near Parson's Creek on the Bulga road, later proved valuable. He conducted services in the Hunter River region on several occasions. Despite his possessions, and a stipend and emoluments reckoned at almost £600 a year by 1835, Hill could not resolve his financial difficulties. His tastes were simple and, apart from his wife, his only dependant was his widowed mother in England; but he seems to have been a poor manager of money and a generous donor to charity. On his death his affairs were found to be in some disorder.

Hill died of an attack of apoplexy in the vestry of St James's on 30 May 1836. His constitution had long been weakened by his labours but his sudden death came as a surprise; there were many expressions of regret from outside, as well as within, the Church of England. On 5 June Broughton was enthroned at St James's. The church was in deep mourning for Hill and in his sermon the bishop 'adverted to the awful visitation of Divine Providence, in the departed life of his fellow labourer, whose exertion for the advancement of the moral and religious instruction of his fellow men was beyond all praise'. On this occasion, said the Sydney Gazette, 'many an eye was moist with the tear of affection for departed public and private worth'.

Mrs Hill, who was born on 29 January 1780, died at Darlinghurst on 7 November 1863. There were no children of the marriage.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 10-17
  • A. P. Elkin, ‘Some Early Chaplains and Churches in the Hunter River Valley’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 23, part 2, 1937, pp 122-48
  • K. J. Cable, ‘St James' Church, King Street, Sydney, 1819-1894’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 50, part 4, 1964, pp 241-61.

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Citation details

K. J. Cable, 'Hill, Richard (1782–1836)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 24 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]


London, Middlesex, England


30 May, 1836 (aged ~ 54)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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