Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Philip Palmer (1799–1853)

by P. R. Hart

This article was published:

Philip Palmer (1799-1853), Anglican clergyman, was born at Landrake, Cornwall, England, the son of Jonathan Palmer and his wife Ursula, née Blake. After schooling at Landrake and Liskeard, he matriculated in 1824 and went to Trinity College, Cambridge (B.A., 1828; M.A., 1833). About 1830 he married Harriet, daughter of Rev. Jeremiah Owen, of Carmarthen, Wales; they had one daughter in May 1831 and another in April 1832. He was a curate at Langdon Hills, Essex, from 1831 to 1833. In response to a request from the Colonial Office, the bishop of London recommended Palmer, because of his piety and leadership qualities, for appointment as rural dean in Van Diemen's Land. In the Warrior he arrived with his family at Hobart Town in June 1833, but to prevent the friction that might have risen if Palmer had been put in charge of colonial clergy who were his seniors, Archdeacon William Grant Broughton limited his duties as rural dean to those of correspondence, the charge of Trinity and St John's, New Town, and services at the penitentiary and hospital.

As rural dean he was given the seat in the Legislative Council formerly held by Rev. William Bedford and in 1834-36 served in the Executive Council where Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur appreciated his co-operative nature after the delays arising from Bedford's contrariness. Resentful at being superseded, Bedford tried to frustrate the performance of the clerical duties for which Palmer was responsible. However, on the arrival in January 1837 of his brother-in-law, Archdeacon William Hutchins, Palmer ceased to be rural dean and lost his seat in the council. Although appointed acting archdeacon and Bishop Broughton's commissary on Hutchins's sudden death in June 1841, he was finally displaced on the arrival of Archdeacon Fitzherbert Marriott with Bishop Francis Nixon two years later.

Continued ill health caused him to apply for a position in England. Disappointed on learning that he was not successful, he sought leave of absence for eighteen months, and sailed for England in February 1845. There he collected funds for the new Holy Trinity schoolhouse and residence. He returned in March 1847, far from well. After five more years of struggle with sickness, he became incapable of active work, planned a long leave to recuperate, and was preparing to resign from Holy Trinity when he died suddenly of apoplexy on 21 May 1853 at Hobart. He was survived by his widow and five children.

A man of strong evangelical views, Palmer came into conflict with Marriott and Nixon who described him as 'unfit for any post of trust or efficiency … weak in voice, deficient in zeal and active only in scattering the tracts of the Religious Tract Society'. For eleven years he was joint secretary of the undenominational British and Foreign Bible Society and had several disputes with the bishop during the 1840s for allowing the society to use Anglican churches for meetings at which Dissenting teachers criticized the lukewarmness and indifference of the Church of England. With other Low Churchmen, he signed the Solemn Declaration against Nixon in 1851, but ill health prevented him from taking further part in the ritualist controversy. In church development his greatest contribution was in the building of Holy Trinity Church and providing it with the first peal of bells in Australia. He took an interest in the transportation of convicts, and while in England suggested some expensive and impractical improvements in the separate housing of prisoners. He was an inspector of public schools, had a great affection for children, and established three Church of England schools in Hobart. During his term at Trinity, the debt on the building of the church was almost paid off. A marble tablet to his memory was erected in the church by his parishioners in 1854.

Select Bibliography

  • F. Bowden and M. Crawford, The Story of Trinity (Hob, 1933)
  • N. Nixon, The Pioneer Bishop in Van Diemen's Land 1843-1863 (Hob, 1953)
  • Hobart Town Advertiser, 24 May 1853, GO 1/33/321, 33/14/864 (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • CO 280/167.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

P. R. Hart, 'Palmer, Philip (1799–1853)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 14 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

Philip Palmer (1799-1853), by unknown artist

Philip Palmer (1799-1853), by unknown artist

Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, State Library of Tasmania, AUTAS001125883504

Life Summary [details]


Landrake, Cornwall, England


21 May, 1853 (aged ~ 54)
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

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