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Barzillai Quaife (1798–1873)

by G. L. Lockley

This article was published:

Barzillai Quaife (1798-1873), Congregational and Presbyterian minister, was born at Lenham, Kent, England, the son of Thomas Quaife, farmer, and his wife Amelia, née Austin. He entered Hoxton Academy, London, in 1824 and later served as teacher and minister at Collompton, Devon, at St Leonards-on-Sea, Sussex, and at other centres.

In 1835 he submitted to the South Australian Colonization Commissioners a 'Plan to provide the New Settlement of South Australia with the means of Religious instruction on the Congregational principle'. His own hopes of appointment under this plan were disappointed and a further offer of service in 1836 was declined by the Colonial Missionary Society. However, with help from George Fife Angas he reached Adelaide in September 1839, established a Bible and tract depot, and for six months wrote for Archibald Macdougall's Southern Australian.

Macdougall's offer of a partnership sent Quaife to Kororareka (Russell), New Zealand, where on 15 June 1840 he began to publish the New Zealand Advertiser and Bay of Islands Gazette. After twenty-seven issues it was suppressed when he attacked what he believed to be governmental transgression of Maori land rights. In February 1842 he became editor of the Bay of Islands Observer but soon resigned. His main work at Kororareka was the formation of the first Congregational church in New Zealand where he ministered from May 1840 until April 1844.

Intending to return to England, Quaife left for Sydney in May 1844. Delayed there, he preached in Parramatta and remained to form a Congregational church and erect a chapel. His relations with Rev. Dr Robert Ross of Pitt Street Congregational Church, Sydney, were uneasy; their connexions were severed when Quaife accepted a temporary appointment to Scots Church while Rev. Dr John Dunmore Lang was overseas. Quaife continued as supervising pastor of the Parramatta church until it closed in 1850, and his service to Scots Church was protracted until February 1847 when a Presbyterian minister arrived. Some members of the church, eager to retain Quaife's services, seceded and formed a church under his ministry, meeting first in the Macquarie Street Wesleyan Chapel and later in the old City Theatre, Market Street, and he ministered to it until 1850. To this point he regarded himself as a Congregationalist.

In 1850 Lang reopened the Australian College and appointed Quaife professor of mental philosophy and divinity. He became a foundation member of Lang's Synod of New South Wales (1850) and of the reunited synods (1865). His professorship lapsed when the college's work was restricted in 1852. From 1853 to 1855 he lived at Parramatta.

In 1855 Quaife moved to Paddington where he taught a school and ministered to a congregation in his home. In 1863 reconciliation with Congregational leaders was effected when he was invited to train three students for the ministry. He closed his school, merged his congregation with the Ocean Street Congregational Church, Woollahra, and, from 13 July 1863 until 30 September 1864, devoted himself to the tuition of his students; in October they were transferred to the newly-founded Camden College, but Quaife was bitterly wounded when he did not receive an expected tutorship in the college. Thenceforth ill health withdrew him from professional activity until his death on 3 March 1873.

In addition to his journalism mentioned above Quaife became leader-writer for the Empire (1852-57) and contributed articles to the Atlas, the People's Advocate, the Press and the Illawarra Mercury. He edited the Christian Standard in 1849 and both forms of the Christian Pleader from 1858 to 1864. Among other works he published A condensed view of the proper design and uses of the Lord's Supper (Parramatta, 1845), The Rules of the Final Judgment (Parramatta, 1846), and Lectures on Prophecy and the Kingdom of Christ (Sydney, 1848). His last publication, The Intellectual Sciences, vols 1-2 (Sydney, 1872), comprised lectures at the Australian College and has been claimed as the first serious philosophical work published in Australia.

Quaife was always conscious of his own rectitude. His colleagues acknowledged his integrity and ability, yet found themselves at odds with him. His self-vindication tends to obscure the faithfulness of his pastoral service. His students appreciated his erudition but felt that 'if teaching was his forte, omniscience was his foible'. He wrote didactically on many topics, but could be scathing in controversy; yet his journalism was influential in public and church affairs.

In 1836 Quaife married Maria Smith at St Anne's, Westminster; two of their four sons died in infancy and Maria died at Paddington, New South Wales, on 12 January 1857. On 29 May 1857 he married Eliza Buttrey, by whom he had a son and a daughter. Frederick Harrison Quaife, youngest son of the first marriage, graduated in the Universities of Sydney and Glasgow and practised medicine in Sydney, where he was a foundation member of the New South Wales Branch of the British Medical Association, its president in 1884-85, and a member of the New South Wales Medical Board from 1894 to 1915. He was a member and a vice-president of the Royal Society of New South Wales. William Francis Quaife, the son of the second marriage, graduated in the same universities and practised medicine in Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • G. M. Meiklejohn, Early Conflicts of Press and Government (Auckland, 1953)
  • G. Nadel, Australia's Colonial Culture (Melb, 1957)
  • Colonial Missionary Society minutes (London)
  • Van Diemen's Land Home Missionary minutes and Christian Instruction Society, minutes (Congregational Union of Tasmania, Hobart)
  • manuscript catalogue under Barzillai Quaife (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

G. L. Lockley, 'Quaife, Barzillai (1798–1873)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 19 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

Life Summary [details]


Lenham, Kent, England


3 March, 1873 (aged ~ 75)

Cultural Heritage

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Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.