Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John McGarvie (1795–1853)

by Jean F. Arnot

This article was published:

John McGarvie (1795-1853), Presbyterian minister and writer, was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and became a graduate of the university there. In answer to an appeal in 1825 for a minister for the church at Portland Head on the Hawkesbury River, New South Wales, he was selected by Rev. John Dunmore Lang. He arrived in Sydney in the Greenock on 22 May 1826 after a six months voyage from Leith. Met on arrival by Lang, he went straight to Portland Head as the first Presbyterian minister of the Ebenezer Church and remained there until 1830. In 1829 he contributed a series of biographical articles to the Sydney Gazette together with a number of his poems under such pseudonyms as 'M., Ananbaba', 'A.B., Marramatta' and 'C.D., Warrambamba'. When the Sydney Herald commenced in 1831, with his brother William as one of its three original proprietors, he contributed the editorials, and continued as leader writer for some years. He also appears to have chosen the paper's two mottoes, both from Pope: 'In moderation placing all my glory, while Tories call me Whig—and Whigs a Tory' and 'Sworn to no master, of no sect am I'. He was one of the founders in 1826 of the Sydney Dispensary, afterwards the Sydney Infirmary and Dispensary, and was its honorary secretary from 1836 until his death. He was also a founder of the Sydney School of Arts. On the establishment of the Australian College in 1831 he conducted the mathematics department and also lectured in natural philosophy and chemistry.

In 1832 he accepted an invitation to start a second Presbyterian congregation in Sydney and held services in the courthouse until St Andrew's Scots Church was ready 'for use of persons connected with the Established Church of Scotland.' Built in Kent Street near Bathurst Street, it was opened for divine service on 13 September 1835 and he remained as its minister until his death. McGarvie filled the pulpit at Scots Church in 1830 during Lang's absence abroad and two years later joined Lang and three others to form the first presbytery in Sydney. During the disagreements within the church connected with Lang, McGarvie seems to have taken an active part. In 1838 and again in 1848 he signed as 'Moderator'. He held many important offices in the church and took a fairly prominent part in the affairs of synod. In 1840 the University of Glasgow awarded him an honorary D.D. A volume of his sermons was published in Sydney in 1842. A list of his book purchases shows his wide range of reading and learning and his sermons were said to be distinguished for their literary merit. He died, unmarried, on 12 April 1853 and was buried at Gore Hill cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Maclehose, The Picture of Sydney (Syd, 1838)
  • J. Cameron, Centenary History of the Presbyterian Church in New South Wales, vol 1 (Syd, 1905)
  • A Century of Journalism: The Sydney Morning Herald, 1831-1931 (Syd, 1931)
  • G. R. S. Reid, The History of Ebenezer, Australia's Oldest Church (Petersham, 1951)
  • C. A. White, The Challenge of the Years: A History of the Presbyterian Church of Australia in the State of New South Wales (Syd, 1951)
  • Truth (Sydney), 26 Mar 1911
  • McGarvie papers (Presbyterian Library, Assembly Hall, Sydney)
  • manuscript catalogue under John McGarvie (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Jean F. Arnot, 'McGarvie, John (1795–1853)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 19 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]

Alternative Names
  • M., Ananbaba
  • A. B., Marramatta
  • C. D., Warrambamba

Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland


12 April, 1853 (aged ~ 58)
New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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