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Thomas Cooper Makinson (1809–1893)

by R. A. Daly

This article was published:

Thomas Cooper Makinson (1809-1893), Church of England clergyman converted to Catholicism, was born in October 1809 at Manchester, England, the son of Joseph Makinson, a cotton merchant, and his wife Mary, née Cooper. In January 1829 he was admitted to the Manchester Grammar School where Dr Jeremiah Smith was high master and on 8 July 1831 he enrolled as a sizar at St John's College, Cambridge (B.A., 1835). Makinson was ordained deacon by Bishop Sumner of Chester on 16 August 1835, went to the curacy of St Ann, Manchester, and was priested on 17 July 1836. Jeremiah Smith was also rector of St Ann's in 1825-37, his ministry there ending with the fabric of the church dilapidated and the parish making an apparently negligible impact on a city that was desperately overcrowded and badly governed.

In 1837, at the instance of Bishop William Grant Broughton, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel appealed 'to the friends of the Church of England in behalf of their brethren in Australia', particularly for more clergy. Makinson, undoubtedly influenced by the depressed situation in Manchester, Smith's retirement from St Ann's, and his own marriage in 1837 to Sarah Ann Soulby (1815-1873), offered his services and was accepted. He sailed with his wife in the Siam and reached Sydney in January 1838, one of nine clergy who arrived in Sydney late in 1837 or in 1838 as a result of the society's appeal; each received a travel allowance of £150 and £50 a year in addition to the government stipend, and the local diocesan committee gave them each £50 to help in settling to colonial life.

Makinson soon took up parish duties at Mulgoa; his government stipend commenced on 13 February and his licence was issued on 31 March. In the parsonage he quickly established 'a most respectable boarding school', attended by twelve pupils. He celebrated divine worship every day in the church, and on Sundays after a service and a sermon, he went eleven miles to South Creek, until St Mary Magdalene's Church there was served from Penrith.

Thomas Whytehead, who visited Mulgoa in 1842, reckoned Makinson, his fellow collegian at Cambridge, 'the very picture of a parish priest: the clergyman at his parsonage-door habited in his black cassock, after the fashion of the olden times in England'. Whytehead found that Makinson was respected by the neighbouring clergy but was 'withal so humble and simple-minded, and such a picture of meekness that, while few know so much, few think they know so little'. In December 1842 Makinson assisted at the laying on of hands at the ordination of Robert Sconce in St James's Church, Sydney. During the 1840s he followed the activities of the Oxford Movement keenly and studied the tracts that were published. Presumably he discussed these tracts with Sconce when Sconce was minister at Penrith and South Creek.

Makinson continued as minister at Mulgoa until January 1848 when he moved to Sydney to take temporary charge at St Peter's Church, Cook's River. Sconce's doubts about the apostolic nature of the Church of England were becoming critical at that time; being dissatisfied by Broughton's explanations, he approached the Roman Catholic Archbishop, John Bede Polding, who agreed 'with great joy of the heart' to see him and within a few days received him, his wife and family into the Catholic Church. At the same time Makinson, with his wife and family, who had precisely the same difficulties, was received into the church. The critical questions for both Sconce and Makinson were apostolic succession and the supremacy of the Pope. They resigned their licences as Anglican clergy on 21 February 1848, and five days later Broughton held a court at which sentences of deprivation and deposition from the ministry were pronounced against them; these sentences were read next day (Sunday) in the churches where they had officiated.

Many Anglicans in Sydney knew that Sconce was an advocate of 'Puseyism', but Makinson's conversion caused great surprise, partly because he had a country parish and was of a retiring nature, but chiefly by the rapidity with which he eventually acted; on 18 February he had consulted Broughton about a parish matter without giving any indication of a changing attitude, on the 20th he took the Sunday service at Cook's River, and on the 21st wrote to Broughton stating that he could 'no longer continue a minister or member of the Church of England'. Sconce's conversion seems to have influenced Makinson, whose decision was not made easier because he then had six children to support, the eldest being 8.

Polding employed Makinson and Sconce as teachers in charge of the lay school attached to St Mary's Seminary, at a salary of £150 each. Makinson also taught at St Mary's College, Lyndhurst, when it was inaugurated in February 1852 under the direction of Bishop Charles Davis. In 1851 Makinson applied for appointment as the first lecturer in mathematics in the college that was intended initially to be the forerunner of the University of Sydney; he was placed second among the candidates, but the plan was altered and no appointment was made.

Soon after the death of Bishop Davis in May 1854, while Polding and Abbot Henry Gregory were in Europe, Makinson took his wife and family to Belgium. For a time they lived at Liège where he earned a living by tutoring. About this time Polding appointed Makinson his secretary and on 26 January 1856 Makinson, his wife and family, with Polding, Gregory, and some other clergy arrived back in Sydney in the Phoenix. Makinson was secretary to the archbishop until March 1877 when Polding died. Until about 1860 he continued to teach at Lyndhurst, philosophy being one of his subjects. In 1858-85 Makinson was fellow of St John's College within the University of Sydney. He was on the sub-committee of fellows appointed to draw up letters to Pius IX, informing him of the college's founding, and to Newman, Wiseman, William Ullathorne, and Paul Cullen seeking their assistance in the appointment of a first rector of the college.

The extent of Makinson's services as Polding's secretary awaits analysis, but it was generally accepted that he contributed to most of the archbishop's pastorals and that his personal position became more important after Gregory, with whom he later corresponded, had to leave the Australian mission. Polding indicated his reliance on Makinson when he wrote in December 1868: 'And now I am back in Sydney, to coldness, reserve and misery: not one except Makinson with whom I can speak unreservedly, and this is almost a safety-valve to me'.

When Polding died Makinson's eyesight was failing; he was allowed a liberal pension by Archbishop Roger Vaughan and his active connexion with the archdiocese gradually tapered off to become an honourable sinecure. He lost his sight about 1883 and in his last years was mostly confined to his home in Gladesville, where he had lived since the early 1860s; he attended Mass regularly at the Marist Fathers' Church, Villa Maria, Hunter's Hill, almost to the time of his death on 7 November 1893. He was buried from Villa Maria in St Charles's cemetery, Ryde.

Makinson's wife died in 1873 and was also buried in St Charles's cemetery. Of their twelve children, three died young and six were born at Mulgoa, baptized Anglicans by their father and became Catholics with their parents in 1848. The eldest son, Henry Massey, taught at Lyndhurst before establishing a successful legal firm in Sydney. The youngest daughter, Miriam Josepha (1854-1896) married C. G. Heydon in 1880.

Select Bibliography

  • W. W. Burton, The State of Religion and Education in New South Wales (Lond, 1840)
  • J. F. Smith (ed), The Admission Register of the Manchester School, vol 3, part 2 (Manchester, 1874)
  • T. Whytehead, Poetical Remains and Letters (Lond, 1877)
  • H. N. Birt, Benedictine Pioneers in Australia, vol 2 (Lond, 1911)
  • SPG Sydney Committee Reports, 1837-47
  • Sydney Morning Herald, Feb 1848
  • private information.

Citation details

R. A. Daly, 'Makinson, Thomas Cooper (1809–1893)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 13 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]


October, 1809
Manchester, Greater Manchester, England


7 November, 1893 (aged 84)
Gladesville, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

general debility

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.