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John Legg Poore (1816–1867)

by Niel Gunson

This article was published:

John Legg Poore (1816-1867), Congregational minister, was born on 10 January 1816 at Carisbrooke, Isle of Wight, eldest son of Henry Poore, tradesman, and his wife Mary, née Snudden. Educated at Newport Grammar School and other schools till 15, he taught at schools in Rochester, Canterbury and Shrewsbury. From 1834 he studied for the Congregational ministry at Yeovil Academy and Highbury College and was ordained in October 1839. For fourteen years minister of Hope Chapel, Salford, and officer of the Lancashire Congregational Union, he became known for his Evangelical and ecumenical interests, his anti-Chartist teachings and his deputational work in England and Ireland on behalf of the London Missionary Society. Through Rev. Thomas Binney he had become interested in the work of the Colonial Missionary Society and was recommended by Binney to supervise the society's work in the Australasian colonies. With Rev. Richard Fletcher (d.1861), also from Manchester, and Rev. Edwin Day (1814-1896), Poore arrived at Melbourne on 22 March 1854 in the Thomas Fielden.

In 1855 Poore and Fletcher convened the first intercolonial conference in Melbourne and worked for a common college, hymn-book and periodical for the denomination. Poore spent much of each year in Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania and South Australia preaching and obtaining funds for the new Home Missionary and Chapel Building Societies. His visits to Western Australia in 1861 and New Zealand in 1863 aroused much interest in eastern Australia. In Victoria he established Congregational churches at Dunolly and Maryborough in 1859. Under his leadership twenty churches were formed in the colonies. In many ways he was the 'John Wesley of Congregationalism' in Australia, claiming that he was 'expected to ride like a trooper; preach as a man ought to preach; make speeches—grave, gay, inspiriting, money-getting; teach classes of maidens and theological students; and generally to do what nobody else likes to do, or will do'.

Poore also did deputational work for the British and Foreign Bible Society and with the support of Bishop Perry convened the Committee for Promoting the Evangelisation of the Chinese in 1855. However, his plans to bring the Polynesian missions under control of the Australian churches were not implemented. He visited England in 1857, 1858 and 1863 to recruit ministers and selected and sent out twenty-eight men including John Graham of Sydney, A. M. Henderson and A. Gosman of Melbourne.

Poore and Fletcher left their imprint on the organization of Australian Congregationalism: the structure of the colonial unions closely resembled that of Lancashire; the Congregational College of Victoria, opened in 1862, directly resulted from their efforts to establish an Australian denominational training centre; the Ministers' Provident Fund, largely financed by Henry Hopkins in 1863, was one of their plans to attract ministers to migrate; the Southern Spectator which Fletcher edited in 1857-59 was the first Congregational periodical; and their fostering of intercolonial activities induced Congregationalists early to support the idea of colonial Federation. Poore's writings on church and colonial affairs, sometimes under the pseudonym 'Vectis', were published in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Christian Times.

In England in 1864 Poore was persuaded to become secretary of the Colonial Missionary Society and visited Canada in 1865. In 1866 he decided to resign from his Australian work and returned to Melbourne to wind up his affairs. He served as minister pro tempore at St Kilda. His wife Mary, younger daughter of Rev. Samuel Hillyard of Bedford, whom he had married on 6 August 1841, was on her way out to join him when he died on 27 March 1867 at his country home at Osborne, near Mornington; he was buried at St Kilda. Besides Fletcher, his closest Australian friends were John Fairfax of Sydney and T. Q. Stow of Adelaide.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Corbin, Ever Working, Never Resting (Lond, 1874)
  • A. Gosman et al, The Principles and History of Independency (Melb, 1879)
  • J. King, Ten Decades: The Australian Centenary Story of the London Missionary Society (Lond, 1895)
  • B. Nightingale, The Story of the Lancashire Congregational Union 1806-1906 (Manchester, 1906)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 29 Mar 1867.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Niel Gunson, 'Poore, John Legg (1816–1867)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 23 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]

Alternative Names
  • Vectis

10 January, 1816
Carisbrooke, Isle of Wight, England


27 March, 1867 (aged 51)
Mornington, Victoria, Australia

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