Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Archibald Macarthur (?–1847)

by S. M. Mortyn

This article was published:

Archibald Macarthur (d.1847), Presbyterian minister, was sent by the Scottish Missionary Society to the University of Edinburgh, according to Rev. John Dunmore Lang, but did not complete the course required for licentiates of the Church of Scotland. In December 1821, when the secessionist United Associate Presbytery of Edinburgh received a request from Scottish Presbyterians in Van Diemen's Land for a minister, Macarthur volunteered, and was ordained on 22 January 1822 as a missionary minister in Dr John Jamieson's Secession Chapel, Nicholson Street, Edinburgh.

Macarthur arrived in the Skelton at Hobart Town in December 1822, the first Presbyterian minister in Australia. He held his first service on 5 January 1823 in a room of the government factory. At a welcome meeting on 3 February 1823 the Presbyterian Church in Van Diemen's Land was officially formed, a committee of management appointed, and arrangements made to provide the minister's salary and to raise funds for a church. The government gave land and promised contributions equal to private donations for a church in Bathurst Street. The building, opened for services on 12 September 1824, was of plain design and soundly constructed in freestone, and in 1966 was still in use as a Sunday school. Macarthur was granted 1250 acres (506 ha) in the Bothwell district, which he later sold. He visited Sydney in 1825 and conducted services for Dr Lang, then in England. On 21 May 1828 he married Mary, née Geiss. They had three sons and a daughter, of whom there are records only of John, the third child. Macarthur's wife died on 2 December 1835 and was buried in the old Presbyterian cemetery on Trinity Hill, Hobart.

By 1834 a larger church was needed and sufficient funds were soon in sight to begin its erection. Meanwhile Macarthur's ordination was deemed irregular according to the practices of the Church of Scotland. In October 1835 the Presbytery of New South Wales sent Dr Lang to Van Diemen's Land to form a local Church of Scotland presbytery consisting of himself, Rev. John Mackersey of Macquarie and Rev. John Anderson of Launceston and, by its authority, to admit Macarthur as a de facto minister. Lang arrived in Hobart on 26 October to find that charges had been made against Macarthur gravely affecting his moral character, and that he admitted guilt. After conferring with Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur and the Kirk session and after Macarthur had submitted his resignation, Lang declared the church vacant on Sunday 1 November. Some of the parishioners followed Macarthur when he tried to form a new congregation at Roxburgh House in Elizabeth Street, but on 8 June 1836 he left for England in the Eldon with his son John. Two weeks later the new church that his ministry had inspired was opened by Dr Lang. In 1842 Macarthur became minister of a new Congregational chapel at Barley, Herefordshire. In October 1843 at Chishall, Essex, he married Martha, daughter of Rev. James Dobson. He died at Bayswater, London, on 2 January 1847. His son John returned to Tasmania where he married Louisa Jean, a daughter of Algernon Burdett Jones and his wife Fanny Edith, who was a daughter of Anthony Fenn Kemp.

Macarthur was active in the Hobart community; he also established the Van Diemen's Land Missionary Society and was associated with the Temperance, the Infant School and the Auxiliary Bible Societies. Though he had no outstanding gifts, contemporary records show that he had determination and, despite hardships and prevalent low standards, exercised his ministry with devotion and vigour in a manner acceptable to his parishioners until the time of his moral lapse.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Heyer, The Presbyterian Pioneers of Van Diemen's Land (Launceston, 1935)
  • Hobart Town Gazette, 24 Dec 1822, 11 Jan 1823
  • Hobart Town Courier, 8 Jan 1836, 29 May 1847
  • GO 1/33/233, 33/19/614, 33/20/752.

Citation details

S. M. Mortyn, 'Macarthur, Archibald (?–1847)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 24 June 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]


2 January, 1847
London, Middlesex, England

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