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Josiah Brown Pearson (1841–1895)

by J. J. Auchmuty

This article was published:

Josiah Brown Pearson (1841-1895), by unknown engraver

Josiah Brown Pearson (1841-1895), by unknown engraver

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, IAN28/08/80/157

Josiah Brown Pearson (1841-1895), scholar and divine, was baptized on 4 February 1842 at Chesterfield, Derbyshire, England, son of Benjamin Pearson, hatter, and his wife Sarah. Educated at Chesterfield Grammar School and St John's College, Cambridge (B.A., 1864; M.A., 1867; LL.M., 1871; LL.D., 1877; D.D., 1880), he took the only first in the moral sciences tripos and was Burney prizeman in 1864. A fellow of St John's in 1865-80, he was made deacon in 1865 and ordained priest in 1866. In addition to his college duties he held several curacies in Cambridge before becoming vicar of Horningsea in 1871-74 and of Newark in 1874-80 when he acted as commissary for Bishop Moorhouse in 1876-80. Pearson acted as lecturer to his college in moral science in 1864-71; in 1872 he was Hulsean lecturer, Ramsden preacher and Whitenell preacher. In 1872-74 he was a preacher at the Chapel Royal, where he won the attention of Disraeli. Though he published no major work he was recognized at Cambridge as an outstanding intellectual; the British Museum Catalogue has ten entries after his name. He regularly attended the Discussion Club, originated by John Grote, Knightsbridge professor of moral theology.

Through the influence of a fellow member, Moorhouse, Pearson was elected on 4 September 1879 by the Newcastle Diocesan Synod as successor to Bishop Tyrrell. The election was notable as the first under the authority of regulations approved by the Diocesan Synod and by the Church of England in Australia and Tasmania; the choice was then approved by the Australian House of Bishops and a pattern was set for future episcopal elections. Pearson was consecrated in St Paul's Cathedral, London, on 1 May 1880 by Archbishop Benson of Canterbury and sailed for Melbourne in the Potosi with his wife Ellen, née Tallents, whom he had married in London on 10 February. The form of his election and the reputation of his scholarship attracted much public attention. After impressive welcomes in Melbourne and Sydney he was enthroned in Newcastle on 26 August and took up his residence at Morpeth.

Pearson's public addresses, especially to synod over which he presided faithfully, and his sermons were thoughtful and influential but his diocese was in financial difficulties and its organization gave little scope to episcopal initiative. Opposed to pew rents in principle, he held comprehensive views on church unity rather than uniformity and stressed that the church must retain its independence of the state. He strongly opposed legislation on divorce. A strong advocate of sound clerical education, he encouraged a higher standard of preaching among his clergy. In the general administration of his diocese he was popular and successful but could not achieve the parochial expansion he felt essential.

Increasingly despondent at his failures, he accepted in 1886 an offer from Moorhouse, then bishop of Manchester, of the vicarage of Blackburn with an assistant bishopric in the diocese, but fell ill, withdrew his acceptance and went on leave for a year to recuperate. He suffered such a severe mental breakdown that his mind was not clear enough until 18 June 1889 to complete his resignation from Newcastle. In 1893 he was sufficiently recovered to accept the small parish of Leck in North Lancashire, where he died on 10 March 1895 aged 54. He was survived by his wife who died in 1925.

The most distinguished scholar to serve as an Anglican bishop in Australia, Pearson was ill adapted to the almost frontier conditions of an Australian see with its wide distances, few clergy, no great cathedrals or academic centre, but with scattered churches of all sorts and sizes.

Select Bibliography

  • A. P. Elkin, The Diocese of Newcastle (Syd, 1955)
  • Maitland Mercury, 18 Mar 1895
  • Guardian (Sydney), 20 Mar 1895
  • manuscript material (Newcastle Diocesan Registry).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

J. J. Auchmuty, 'Pearson, Josiah Brown (1841–1895)', 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

Josiah Brown Pearson (1841-1895), by unknown engraver

Josiah Brown Pearson (1841-1895), by unknown engraver

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, IAN28/08/80/157

Life Summary [details]




10 March, 1895 (aged ~ 54)
Leck, Lancashire, England

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