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Thomas Roseby (1844–1918)

by Walter Phillips

This article was published:

Thomas Roseby (1844-1918), Congregational minister, was born on 8 April 1844 in Sydney, third son of Thomas Roseby (d.1867), stonemason, and his wife Ann, née Lowes. His father, a Wesleyan Methodist, was a temperance advocate and lay evangelist. Associated with the Pitt Street Congregational Church, Roseby decided to enter the Congregational ministry. He began his training under Barzillai Quaife and at Camden College in 1864. In 1866 he went to the University of Sydney (B.A., 1869; M.A. and LL.B., 1871; LL.D., 1873) and won several scholarships and a gold medal.

Roseby was ordained on 3 October 1867 in Petersham Congregational Church, and inducted as its first minister. On 11 April 1871 he married Sarah Hooworth. In 1872 he became minister of the Moray Place Congregational Church in Dunedin, New Zealand, where he exercised an influential ministry. He helped the temperance movement in New Zealand and was grand worthy chief templar in 1879-80. Keenly interested in education, Roseby was a member of the Senate of the University of New Zealand in 1878-85. In 1884 he helped form the Congregational Union of New Zealand and was chairman-elect when he accepted a call to the Dawson Street Church in Ballarat, Victoria. It prospered under his care from 6 December 1885 but he and his wife found the climate disagreeable and in October 1888 he returned to Sydney to the Marrickville church from which he retired in 1911. Recognized as a leading churchman, he remained active in religious affairs until well into his retirement.

Roseby was chairman of the Congregational Union of New South Wales in 1891 and 1903, represented it at the first International Congregational Council in London in 1891, and preached at the union's jubilee in 1916. Editor of the Australasian Independent for nine years, he was also chairman of the Congregational Union of Australasia in 1913-16. Although 'a pronounced Congregationalist' he was also an advocate of Protestant Church union and in 1900 he was elected first president of the Evangelical Council of New South Wales. Warm and friendly, with a 'rather unctuous style' in the pulpit, Roseby won repute for his liberal theology. An advanced thinker, he welcomed higher criticism as 'a rediscovery of the Bible' and saw no basic conflict between religion and science; his 1888 lectures on 'The Genetic Unity of Nature Viewed in a Theistic and Christian Light', the first of the Livingstone Lectures at Camden College, revealed his broad and sympathetic acquaintance with modern science. As early as 1876 he had held that evolution was not inconsistent with Christian belief but 'simply a question of Divine method'.

Roseby also espoused radical social ideas. A stern critic of laissez faire, he was convinced that a more humane order was emerging. He advocated the co-operative movement and land nationalization in many papers and addresses. His co-religionists found his temperance views more acceptable than some of his revolutionary social teaching, but he remained vague and somewhat pious as to the implementation of a more Christian social order. A strong supporter of trade unionism, in the maritime strike of 1890 he sympathized with the employees and headed an abortive conciliation committee. A member of the Federal Co-operative Association of Australasia, he was honorary secretary of the board of control of the Pitt Town Co-operative Settlement. He was also a member of the Old-Age Pensions League formed in 1896 and was on the Unemployment Advisory Board in 1898. A member of the Sydney branch of the Peace Society established in 1889, he was one of the few clergymen to oppose the Boer war.

Roseby had an active interest in astronomy and botany. With his observatory at Marrickville and later at Mosman he often gave educational evenings to church groups and students. He lectured in New Zealand and contributed a paper, 'The Transit of Venus, Dunedin' in the New Zealand Journal of Science (Vol. 1, 1882-83) and in 1896 'Elliptical Orbit of Comet b 1894 (Gale)' in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, and was elected a fellow. President of the New South Wales branch of the British Astronomical Association in 1901-02 and 1914, he joined the Royal Society of New South Wales in 1913.

Roseby died from pneumonia at Mosman on 16 December 1918 and was buried in the Congregational section of the Gore Hill cemetery. He was survived by his wife, five of his six sons, and four daughters, the eldest of whom, Gertrude Amy, was principal and owner of Redlands School, Neutral Bay, in 1911-45. He left an estate worth £1211 to his wife. The church at Marrickville is now known as the 'Roseby Memorial Church'.

His eldest brother John (1835-1898), monumental mason, was baptized in Stanhope, County Durham, England, on 29 November 1835. He became a magistrate in 1871, was an alderman for Cook Ward in the Sydney Municipal Council in 1870-72 and represented Shoalhaven in the Legislative Assembly in 1877-82. He was active in the temperance cause and in charitable agencies. A director of the Benevolent Society of New South Wales in 1876-98, he was its treasurer in 1898. He was also a director of the Destitute Children's Asylum, Randwick, and a trustee and custodian of the City Night Refuge and Soup Kitchen. In 1890 he was at the Australasian Conference on Charity in Melbourne and later was elected a public charities' representative on the Metropolitan Charities Association. In 1896 he was a committee-man of the Old-Age Pensions League. He was active in the Protestant Political Association and was deputy grand master of the Loyal Orange Institution in 1870 and grand master in 1885. A member of the Public School League in 1874 he later supported the Bible in Schools League.

On 18 July 1860 Roseby had married Ann Hooworth, elder sister of his brother's wife. She was the first president of the Australasian Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Bankrupted in 1885 with debts of over £7000, his estate was not released until 1897. He died on 22 April 1898 at his home in Hyde Park, survived by his wife, six sons and three daughters. He was buried in the Wesleyan section of Rookwood cemetery. His eldest son, Thomas J., was the first secretary of Sydney's Water and Sewerage Board.

Select Bibliography

  • W. A. Stewart (ed), Early History of the Loyal Orange Institution, N.S.W. (Syd, 1926)
  • J. A. Garrett and L. W. Farr, Camden College, a Centenary History (Syd, 1964)
  • J. D. Bollen, Protestantism and Social Reform in New South Wales 1890-1910 (Melb, 1972)
  • Congregationalist (Sydney), 1 Jan 1919
  • Royal Society of New South Wales, Proceedings, 53 (1919)
  • Otago Daily Times, 18 Nov 1885
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23 Apr 1898, 17, 18 Dec 1918
  • W. W. Phillips, Christianity and Its Defence in New South Wales circa 1880 to 1890 (Ph.D. thesis, Australian National University, 1969)
  • M. Lyons, Aspects of Sectarianism circa 1865-1880 (Ph.D. thesis, Australian National University, 1972).

Citation details

Walter Phillips, 'Roseby, Thomas (1844–1918)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


8 April, 1844
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


16 December, 1918 (aged 74)
Mosman, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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.