Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Christian MacCullagh (1832–1917)

by N. G. Curry

This article was published:

John Christian MacCullagh (1832-1917), Anglican priest, was born on 6 June 1832 at Johnstown, County Kildare, Ireland, son of James MacCullagh, land agent, and his wife Mary, née Holmes. Educated at Clontarf Crescent and Trinity College, Dublin, he entered the Islington Mission College but doctors warned him to give up study because it was affecting his sight. He arrived at Sydney in January 1863 and entered Moore College in May. Made deacon at St James's pro-Cathedral, Melbourne, on 18 December 1864, he was licensed to Lancefield and Romsey in 1865 and ordained priest at St James's on 27 May 1866. The first clergyman in the district, he opened in six years ten places for divine service and ten Sunday schools with a total of over 500 scholars. At Christ Church, Hawthorn, on 26 December 1865 he had married Elizabeth, who was born in Queen's County, daughter of John Ince, solicitor, and Caroline, née Cooke. His wife went with him on his tours but her health was a constant worry and she died on 22 October 1870 aged 27.

In November MacCullagh was inducted as incumbent of St Paul's, Sandhurst; he served there for forty-six years. His work resulted in the clearing of a large debt, the erection of a new tower, the installation of a peal of bells, a new gallery, organ and small chancel, and the building of a new vicarage, parish hall and three churches. Attendance at his Sunday schools rose to 1100 pupils, with nearly 100 teachers preparing classes in a course of lessons which he had drawn up. He was elected a canon of St James's and became a rural dean and in 1883 archdeacon of Bendigo. When the new diocese of Bendigo was established in 1902 many thought that he would be the first bishop, but advancing years and increasing obstinacy lost him the preference. At the first synod he argued strongly for St Paul's as the new pro-Cathedral but All Saints was chosen instead. He was reluctant to be its dean but was persuaded to accept the position of a cathedral dean while incumbent of another parish. He exercised authority at the cathedral only on diocesan occasions and parochial responsibilities at All Saints were left to him. In 1907 he was vicar-general of the diocese and acted as archdeacon in 1909-14.

MacCullagh had contributed scientific and religious articles to the Argus and continued them in the Bendigo Church News. He also published Sunday school lesson material and notes for theological students. Active in the Christian Social Union he was chief spokesman in 1909 for a delegation which protested to the minister of mines on labour conditions in the Bendigo mines. At St Paul's he organized classes in English and scripture for members of the Chinese community. Friends knew him as an entertaining conversationalist, witty, quick at repartee and capable of deep indignation. He won repute throughout the whole district for his liberality and concern for those who suffered. A pronounced Evangelical, he returned each year to the text of his first sermon: 'For I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified'.

Ill health marred the last years of MacCullagh's ministry but he continued to hold the community's affection and respect. When he died at Hawksburn on 24 September 1917 he was almost penniless; for years he had given his income to those who needed it. He was buried in the Lancefield cemetery beside his wife.

Select Bibliography

  • Church of England Messenger (Victoria), 20 Oct, 1, 29 Dec 1916, 26 Jan, 27 July, 5 Oct 1917
  • Lancefield Chronicle, 28 Oct, 4 Nov 1870
  • Australasian, 21 June 1902
  • Argus (Melbourne), 25 Sept 1917
  • Bendigo Advertiser, 25 Sept 1917
  • Lancefield Mercury, 28 Sept 1917
  • Registrar's book, Bishop Perry's letter-books (Melbourne Diocesan Registry).

Citation details

N. G. Curry, 'MacCullagh, John Christian (1832–1917)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 20 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


6 June, 1832
Johnstown, Kildare, Ireland


24 September, 1917 (aged 85)
Hawksburn, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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