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.

Matthew McGavin (1807–1874)

by Robert Steel Byrnes

This article was published:

Matthew McGavin (1807-1874), Presbyterian minister, was born on 23 October 1807 in Irvine, Ayrshire, Scotland, son of Robert McGavin, grocer, and his wife Mary, née Reid. Trained at the United Presbyterian Church's Synod Hall (M.A., 1830), he was ordained on 15 June 1831 at Stonehouse. The parish had apparently been depleted because the call was signed by only 94 members and 66 adherents, small numbers for Scotland. Under his ministry at Stonehouse, however, the church made numerical progress, many members joining from Glassford, Dalserf and Lesmahagow.

McGavin accepted a call to the church, known as Wellwynd, at Airdrie in Lanarkshire and was inducted there on 2 March 1841. A new church was built, opened and dedicated in 1847, and surrounding districts, Chapelhall, Coatdyke, Cadder and Rawyards, were drawn within the bounds of the parish. A gifted musician, he composed a Psalm tune known as 'Clydesdale', still used in some Presbyterian churches, and with Andrew Thomson, organist at Paisley, published The Precentor's Guide to the Selection of Tunes (1853). After a record period of 'unbroken peace' he resigned his parish at Airdrie in February 1863. A deputation of the congregation asked him to delay this step, but he told them that their only course was to acquiesce because his mind was made up.

McGavin arrived in Brisbane in August 1863 and immediately took over the work based on the Creek Street Church, vacant for some time following the ministry of Rev. Thomas Bell. Under McGavin's vigorous ministry the work grew and prospered. He was moderator of synod in 1868. The building of a more enduring church than the earlier wooden structure had been started but the funds ran out and the new church was never completed. For some years the congregation worshipped in the composite building, part Gothic in style, having a nave without transepts. In aid of the Queensland Presbyterian Sabbath School Union McGavin gave and published two lectures on The Claims of Popery (Brisbane, 1874). Soon afterwards he suffered a serious illness and went to Sydney for treatment. He died at Milson's Point on 16 December and was buried in the Presbyterian section of Willoughby cemetery. He was married twice in Scotland: first, on 25 March 1832 to Elizabeth, née Chep, who bore him three sons and four daughters; and second, on 12 May 1857 to a widow, Grace Drummond née Ewing, who survived him.

The Creek Street parish later sold its property for a large sum to the neighbouring National Bank of Australasia Ltd, and transferred its work to Leichhardt Street (St Paul's Terrace), on that hill building the fine Gothic church which remains one of the architectural adornments in Brisbane.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Hay, Jubilee Memorial of the Presbyterian Church of Queensland (Brisb, 1900)
  • R. Small, History of the Congregations of the United Presbyterian Church from 1733 to 1900 (Edinburgh, 1904)
  • R. Bardon, Centenary History of the Presbyterian Church of Queensland 1849-1949 (Brisb, 1949)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Queensland), 1875, 2, 232
  • Church of Scotland records (Church Offices, 121 George St, Edinburgh, Scotland).

Citation details

Robert Steel Byrnes, 'McGavin, Matthew (1807–1874)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 22 May 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]


23 October, 1807
Irvine, Ayrshire, Scotland


16 December, 1874 (aged 67)
Milsons Point, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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.