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James Egan Moulton (1841–1909)

by S. G. Claughton

This article was published:

James Egan Moulton (1841-1909), Wesleyan Methodist missionary, was born on 4 January 1841 at North Shields, Northumberland, England, son of Rev. James Egan Moulton and his wife Catherine, née Fiddian. A member of a well-known Wesleyan Methodist family, he was educated at Kingswood School, Bath, but asthma prevented him from entering a university. He worked as a clerk in a shipping office before acceptance into the Wesleyan ministry in 1863. He sailed in the Merrie England and arrived at Sydney on 31 May. He was headmaster of Newington College until 1865 and soon had every place occupied, with many applications for the first vacancy.

Early in 1865 Moulton was appointed to Tonga and left Sydney in May. Next year he established a college to which King George Tupou gave his name and patronage. Under Moulton Tupou College succeeded and had a profound influence on young Tongans training for the ministry and government positions. On 2 June 1877 he left Tonga for Sydney on his way to London where he worked on translations. He visited Sydney and Fiji in May-June 1880 before returning to Tonga. A dispute between Moulton and another missionary, S. W. Baker, led to controversy which was probably the cause of Tupou establishing the Free Church of Tonga and leaving out the small Wesleyan nucleus. The cleavage had serious political, social and religious consequences. A deputation from the New South Wales and Queensland Conference found that members of the Wesleyan Church were cruelly persecuted and many Wesleyans exiled to Fiji. 'In a period of crisis [Moulton's] loyalty and fortitude won for him the respect and admiration of those from whom he differed'. Assured that his work would continue under Rev. George Brown, Moulton left Tonga on 11 August 1888 for Suva and then to Sydney.

In 1893 Moulton was appointed president of the New South Wales Conference and in March succeeded Rev. Dr William Kelynack as president of Newington College. 'Within a few weeks he was utterly involved in the life and affairs of Newington—refuting charges in the Press that the College was in a “poor state”, raising loans from banks and private persons'. By December the tide turned in Newington's favour. Moulton raised the subject of 'suitable arms and insignia for the college' in the council and 'the editorial of the Newingtonian demanded a school song'. In 1895-1906 he was chairman of the Tonga District and in 1902 completed his translation of the Bible from the original languages. His scholarship and sure knowledge of Tongan enabled him to give the islanders 'the finest literary expression of their own language'. The Moulton Bible, recently reprinted in the new official spelling, is 'more popular than ever'. His hymns are reputed to have had an almost greater influence than his Bible. 'He did not translate literally from the English but took Tongan ideas and developed them with the insight of true poetical genius'. He invented a tonic sol-fa system and introduced Tongan choirs to the great composers. He died at Lindfield on 9 May 1909 and was buried in Gore Hill cemetery. He was survived by his wife Emma, née Knight, whom he had married in Melbourne on 23 December 1864, and by three sons and three daughters. His estate was valued for probate at £1216.

A portrait of Moulton is in the chapel of Tupou College.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Brown, George Brown, D.D.: Pioneer-Missionary and Explorer: An Autobiography (Lond, 1908)
  • J. W. Burton, The Call of the Pacific (Lond, 1912)
  • J. E. and W. F. Moulton, Moulton of Tonga (Lond, 1921)
  • J. E. Carruthers, Memories of an Australian Ministry 1868-1921 (Lond, 1922)
  • N. Rutherford, Shirley Baker and the King of Tonga (Melb, 1971)
  • Australasian Wesleyan Methodist Church, Minutes of the 13th New South Wales and Queensland Conference (1886)
  • Methodist Church of Australasia, Minutes of the 9th New South Wales conference (1910)
  • Methodist Missionary Society of Australasia, Missionary Review, Aug 1922
  • manuscript catalogue under J. E. Moulton (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

S. G. Claughton, 'Moulton, James Egan (1841–1909)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 13 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]


4 January, 1841
North Shields, Northumberland, England


9 May, 1909 (aged 68)
Lindfield, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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