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Thomas Piper (1835–1928)

by R. W. Piper

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with Arthur William Piper

Thomas Piper (1835-1928), clergyman, and Arthur William Piper (1865-1936), judge, were father and son. Thomas was born on 5 February 1835 at Abbotsham, Devon, England, son of John Piper, labourer, and his wife Ann. After working at farming, milling and other trades, he became a Bible Christian pastor in 1858 and ministered in the south of England, in London and at Bristol. On 27 August 1863 at Deptford he married Elizabeth Yelland; they had two daughters and two sons. In 1869 Piper was appointed to Adelaide as a resident minister and arrived next year. A 'fervent preacher, often blending keen logic and holy passion with remarkable effect', he undertook strenuous circuit work in Adelaide, Auburn, Willunga and Clarendon, Stirling East in the Adelaide hills, Moonta Mines and Burra North.

Piper had been chairman of his Church's Adelaide district till 1877 when he moved for the establishment of the Bible Christian Conference in South Australia, becoming its president in 1877-80 and 1890. He was a founder and council-member of Union College, conducted by Congregationalists, Baptists and Presbyterians for ministers' training; Piper was an examiner in Hebrew. In 1885 he suggested the founding of a boys' denominational college; his Church bought land and constructed a building at North Unley (later Methodist Ladies' College) and it became Way College. Piper was the college's secretary and a life governor and was also later on the council of Prince Alfred College.

Piper participated in discussions about his Church's union with the Methodists in 1900. He did not oppose union, but gave an adverse vote because 'I did not believe in the absolute absorption of the Bible Christian church concessions'. Nevertheless he was elected secretary of the South Australian Conference of the Methodist Church of Australasia that year, and president in 1901. Not all differences dissolved; in 1909 Sir Samuel Way wrote: 'Dear old Mr Piper made a characteristically gruesome speech … chiefly made up of the airs of superiority of the Wesleyans over the Bible Christians'.

In 1906 Piper retired from circuit work but preached till 1922, though troubled by failing hearing and eyesight, for which he learned braille. He deplored the decline of Sabbatarianism and thought that 'secular matters are brought too much into the pulpit. I could not speak upon a novel for instance'. He blamed material prosperity for the attenuation of spirituality that he saw. Predeceased by his wife, Piper died on 26 May 1928 at Fullarton and was buried in West Terrace cemetery. Eulogies praised him as a fine Church statesman and debater, known for his enterprise, courage, kindliness and ability to inspire. His younger son Ernest John (1868-1951) worked with the China Inland Mission for eight years and became president in 1929 of the South Australian Methodist Conference.

His elder son Arthur William was born on 5 July 1865 at Faversham, Kent. In Adelaide he won a scholarship to Prince Alfred College and was articled to Fleming, Boucaut & Ashton in 1881-85. Admitted to the Bar on 24 July 1886, he entered partnership with F. A. Joyner. In 1892 he joined the firm of Symon, Bakewell & Stow (in 1897-1922 Bakewell, Stow & Piper; later Piper, Bakewell & Piper). He worked up an extensive practice, especially in commercial cases. From 1892 he was a member of the board of examiners of the Supreme Court and from 1906 he lectured in commercial law at the University of Adelaide. On 7 August 1889 at Middleton he had married Edna Elizabeth Counter; they had two daughters and six sons.

Piper was appointed K.C. in 1911. After he had refused an offer in 1919, his appointment as justice of the Supreme Court in 1927 was welcomed both for his 'forensic qualities' and his 'splendid personality'. His erudition enabled him to handle any case with ease, he dealt expeditiously with the most involved problems, and he was a 'prodigious worker'.

A Federationist, Piper was an official guest at the ceremonies in 1901 in Melbourne and Sydney. A member of the Australian National League, he represented it at the conference which resulted in the formation in 1910 of the Liberal Union whose constitution he drafted and of which he was president in 1916-19.

In 1894 Piper had joined the council of Prince Alfred College. Following a quarrel with W. G. Torr, headmaster of Way College, Piper joined Stow Memorial Congregational Church and became a deacon there. He was also grand master of the Grand Lodge of Freemasons of South Australia in 1919-24. He generously supported many of Norwood's sporting bodies.

Survived by his wife and seven children, Piper died of cancer on 19 February 1936 and was buried in Mitcham cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • A. D. Hunt, This Side of Heaven (Adel, 1985)
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 28 May 1928, 20 Feb 1936
  • Observer (Adelaide), 14 Feb 1925, 18 June 1927
  • Way letters (State Library of South Australia).

Citation details

R. W. Piper, 'Piper, Thomas (1835–1928)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


5 February, 1835
Abbotsham, Devon, England


26 May, 1928 (aged 93)
Fullarton, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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