Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John McKenny (1788–1847)

by K. J. Cable

This article was published:

John McKenny (1788-1847), Wesleyan Methodist minister, was born at Coleraine, Ireland. He came of a Wesleyan family and began preaching in 1807. In the next year he was listed as a lay preacher, given full status in 1811 and accepted in 1813 as a member of Thomas Coke's mission to the East. McKenny's field was South Africa, where he worked for two years despite official discouragement. From 1816 to 1834 he served in Ceylon and then returned to England in poor health. There he was appointed by the conference to be chairman of the New South Wales mission. McKenny and his family reached Sydney by way of Hobart Town in April 1836.

McKenny found the local Methodists in a state of some confusion. There had been disputes about ministerial appointments and property management; there was indecision about the status of Methodism and its relations with the Church of England. Sir Richard Bourke's Church Act of 1836 did not solve these special problems, although it gave denominational equality and provision for government support. McKenny was not a dynamic or inspiring leader; his strength lay in the tactful management of affairs. He persuaded the government to give legal status to the Methodist connexion and secured full legal recognition for its marriage celebrations. The Wesleyan schools and immigrant ministers gained some Treasury support. By these means the Methodist dilemma of its former subservience to Anglicanism was gradually resolved.

McKenny had to combat the separatist tendency in Methodism, which the strengthening discipline and connexion with the State provoked into action. Revivalism had also to be harnessed to the general life of the Methodists. When he served at Parramatta (1840-43), McKenny directed several remarkable revival campaigns. During his superintendency, Methodist chapels multiplied in the urban areas and the settled districts. In Sydney the centenary chapel was completed after long delay in 1845, and a dozen new places of worship were built in the town and its suburbs. McKenny travelled widely to promote extension in the country, and spent as much of his time on administrative matters as on preaching and pastoral work. When McKenny was succeeded in 1846 by William Boyce, Wesleyan Methodism in the colony had developed from the position of a semi-private religious society to that of a regularly constituted and accepted church. McKenny became a supernumerary in 1847 and died at Stanmore, Sydney, on 31 October of that year.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Watsford, Glorious Gospel Triumphs (Lond, 1904)
  • J. Colwell, The Illustrated History of Methodism: Australia, 1812 to 1855, New South Wales and Polynesia, 1856 to 1902 (Syd, 1904)
  • Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society, New South Wales, minutes (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

K. J. Cable, 'McKenny, John (1788–1847)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 25 May 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]


Coleraine, Londonderry, Ireland


31 October, 1847 (aged ~ 59)
Stanmore, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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