Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Parkin (1801–1889)

by Dirk Van Dissel

This article was published:

William Parkin (1801-1889), businessman, politician and philanthropist, was born on 24 August 1801 at Glastonbury, Somerset, England. About 1838 he married Sarah May. With free passages he and his wife sailed for South Australia in the Recovery and arrived at Port Adelaide on 19 September 1839. He farmed briefly near Willunga and then opened a drapery in Hindley Street, Adelaide. Despite suffering in the 1840-43 depression he recovered and his business prospered. By 1856 he had moved into larger premises in Rundle Street with G. W. Chinner as his partner. He retired from business with a 'comfortable fortune' and devoted himself to politics. He was a representative of the City of Adelaide in the House of Assembly in 1860-62 and a member of the Legislative Council in 1866-77. Quiet and conscientious, he won repute for his 'quaint, humorous, but intelligent addresses'.

Parkin is best remembered as a philanthropist and benefactor of the South Australian Congregational Church. He was a prominent and generous member of Rev. T. Q. Stow's Church in Freeman Street, and later attended the Glenelg Congregational Church for twenty years. In 1876, after consultation with R. D. Hanson and John Brown, he founded the Parkin Trust for the training and maintenance of students for the Congregational ministry by a gift estimated at £10,000, £8000 of it in cash and 4160 acres (1684 ha) worth £2000 near Palmerston in the Northern Territory. The trust was also to be used for building churches and schools, and supplying benefactions for the widows of ministers. In 1882 he established the 'Parkin Congregational Mission of South Australia' for maintaining missionaries in the less settled parts of South Australia, and for aiding twenty widows over 60, chosen by the governors as 'worthy of assistance' by giving them £5 each at Christmas. To provide for these purposes he gave his valuable property in Rundle Street. The Parkin Mission was duly incorporated on 24 October 1882.

Parkin had been prominent in many commercial concerns. He was one of the largest shareholders in the Wallaroo and Kadina Tramway Co. and a member of the syndicate which took over the Advertiser in 1864. He was not in the front rank of South Australian colonists, but his success in commerce and politics, and his support of religious and philanthropic activities were typical of the many Dissenters who prospered in the 'Paradise of Dissent'.

Predeceased by his wife on 23 March 1871, Parkin died at Plympton on 31 May 1889 and was widely mourned. He was buried in the family vault at West Terrace cemetery, survived by his second wife Ellen Stonehouse, whom he had married on 28 February 1872; he had no children. His estate of £22,550 was divided among his many relations, his church and benevolent societies. His home and nine acres (3.6 ha) at Plympton became the property of the trust when his widow moved to Glenelg a few years after his death. Two memorial windows were placed in the Glenelg Congregational Church, one by his wife and the other by the governors of the trust and mission that bear his name.

Parkin Theological College was opened in North Terrace, Kent Town, in 1910, but the decline of Congregationalism in South Australia led to the close of the college in 1969. Its few remaining students and large endowments were transferred to the Methodist Wesley College in Wayville, which now functions under the name of Parkin-Wesley College.

Select Bibliography

  • G. E. Loyau, The Representative Men of South Australia (Adel, 1883)
  • J. J. Pascoe, History of Adelaide and Vicinity (Adel, 1901)
  • F. W. Cox and L. Robjohns, Three-Quarters of a Century (Adel, 1912)
  • Observer (Adelaide), 1, 8 June 1889.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Dirk Van Dissel, 'Parkin, William (1801–1889)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 17 July 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]


24 August, 1801
Glastonbury, Somerset, England


31 May, 1889 (aged 87)
Plympton, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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