Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Samuel Leigh (1785–1852)

by R. H. Doust

This article was published:

Samuel Leigh (1785-1852), Methodist missionary, was born on 1 September 1785 at Milton, Staffordshire, England. He was thoughtful and studious, responsive to religious influences, and joined the Independent Church at Hanley, where he became a lay helper and preached in the adjacent villages. He attended a Congregational seminary at Gosport, Hampshire, but found that he could not accept its Calvinistic teachings and withdrew. He then joined the Wesleyan Society at Portsmouth, was accepted as a probationer by the Methodist Conference and appointed to the Shaftesbury circuit. Deeply conscious of his call as a missionary he offered for service abroad and was appointed to North America by the 1814 conference. This assignment was cancelled at the last moment and he was sent to New South Wales in answer to an appeal for a missionary by Methodists there.

Leigh arrived in Sydney in the Hebe on 10 August 1815, and presented his credentials next day. At first Governor Lachlan Macquarie, distrusting 'Sectaries', gave Leigh scant encouragement, but the missionary's sincerity and singlemindedness gradually won his respect and support. The Anglican chaplains helped him consistently from the time of his arrival. His first service was held in a cottage in the Rocks area, where a Wesleyan Society had been meeting since 1812, but he soon turned his attention to the country and went to Castlereagh. He made contact with a farmer, John Lees, who was responsible for building there the first Methodist church in Australia. Leigh opened it on 7 October 1817. He then opened preaching places at Parramatta, Windsor, Liverpool and elsewhere in the district. On 13 September 1818 he laid the foundation stone of a chapel at Windsor, built on land given by Samuel Marsden. In January 1819 he laid the foundation stone of another chapel on land in Macquarie Street given by the governor and Thomas Wylde. In March he opened a small chapel which a retired soldier, Sergeant James Scott, had built at his own expense in Princes Street. Thus Leigh established the first Methodist circuit, with some fourteen preaching places, which involved him in 150 miles (241 km) of travel every three weeks.

He paid two visits to Newcastle, the first in response to a request from the Anglican chaplain, William Cowper, the second at the express wish of Macquarie, and preached on both occasions. He was an active member of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and Benevolence and helped to form the Colonial Auxiliary Bible Society in March 1817. But his strenuous work took heavy physical toll, and his friend Marsden generously provided him with a nine-month health trip to his mission of lay settlers at the Bay of Islands, New Zealand. When Leigh returned, it was obvious that a longer sea voyage was required to restore his health, and in 1820 he sailed for England. There he induced the conference to sanction a mission to New Zealand; and he married Catherine Clewes of Staffordshire. On the return voyage in 1821, the ship called at Hobart, where Leigh founded a mission and left it in the charge of Rev. William Horton, who had come from England with him. In February 1822 Leigh went with his wife to New Zealand where he established the first Wesleyan mission at Whangaroa. They returned to Sydney in September 1823 after being shipwrecked and suffering great privations. Despite indifferent health, Leigh continued to keep close touch with missionary activities. He was for a while acting superintendent of the Sydney circuit and later was appointed to Parramatta. There his wife died on 15 May 1831, and next year Leigh, saddened in spirit and broken in health, returned to England. He filled a number of circuit appointments, married Elizabeth, widow of Rev. William Kaye, in 1842, retired in 1845 and died on 2 May 1852, still earnestly commending the claims of missionary work in Australia and the South Seas.

The indefatigable labours, apostolic zeal and quiet courage that characterized all his undertakings give Leigh an honoured place in the history of Methodism. His memory is perpetuated in New South Wales by the Leigh Memorial Centenary Church, Parramatta, and the Leigh Theological College, Enfield.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Strachan, Life of the Rev. Samuel Leigh (Lond, 1870).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

R. H. Doust, 'Leigh, Samuel (1785–1852)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 23 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


1 September, 1785
Milton, Staffordshire, England


2 May, 1852 (aged 66)

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.