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William Schofield (1793–1878)

by G. L. Lockley

This article was published:

William Schofield (1793-1878), Wesleyan missionary, was born on 17 June 1793 at Dudley Hill, near Bradford, Yorkshire, England. He began work in a commercial house. His family had no connexions with Methodism but Schofield came under its influence in 1814. In January 1819 he was put on trial as a local preacher and in 1826 was accepted by the Wesleyan Methodist Conference as a minister. At the suggestion of Lieutenant-Governor Arthur of Van Diemen's Land the British government asked the conference to supply missionaries for the penal establishments in Van Diemen's Land. Schofield was selected and in April 1827 sailed for Sydney in the Alacrity. On arrival in October he re-embarked in the Harvey for Hobart Town where with some reluctance he accepted appointment as the first missionary chaplain at Macquarie Harbour. He sailed from Hobart in the Derwent and, although distressed by what he saw and heard on arrival, he was not dismayed.

Schofield's first service with the convicts at Macquarie Harbour was held on 30 March 1828. A large room was provided for later meetings and, although attendance was compulsory, it was soon evident that some of the men and boys were influenced by his message. The penal settlement already had a small Methodist class meeting which Schofield continued; he added weekly meetings for religious conversation, regular evening lectures and singing classes, and a night school, all with voluntary attendance. In these projects he was helped by the commissariat clerk, T. J. Lempriere, and others, including young convicts who tried to teach old convicts to read. The results of this work impressed the commandant and his officers, but Schofield was not deceived by signs of religious revival; he warned his successor, Rev. J. A. Manton to be cautious in recommending apparently pious convicts to the governor for removal to less isolated prisons.

At Arthur's request Schofield extended his term at Macquarie Harbour to a fourth year, during which the Wesleyan Committee in London appointed him to the mission at Tonga. Schofield objected to this transfer because of the difficulty of learning a new language at his age, and the district committee amended the decision by sending him to Parramatta, New South Wales. There, from 1832 to 1834, and in later circuit appointments at Windsor (1834-38), Sackville Reach (1838-39), Sydney (1839-42), Melbourne (1842-45), Parramatta (1845-47), Windsor (1847-50) and Goulburn (1850-51), he ministered faithfully and acceptably. In 1851 he became a supernumerary minister but continued to preach. Released from a fixed station he became associated with the church's acquisition of York Street House as a depot for Methodist literature.

Schofield died at Waverley on 9 June 1878. He left an estate of nearly £50,000, of which £40,000 went at his wife's death to the Wesleyan Methodist Church of New South Wales to establish 'The Rev. W. Schofield's Free and Perpetual Loan Fund'. Against the background of early commercial experience in Yorkshire, his letter-book reveals his first minor financial transactions in Van Diemen's Land in 1831; it appears that his fortune was gradually amassed by thrift and careful investment. In 1849 he acquired from the Hawkesbury Benevolent Society its Mooki River cattle-run. On his death he bequeathed about £9000 to relatives, most of whom he had never met. His ability to endow a substantial fund was an unusual outcome of a normally ill-paid vocation. Although an astute financier he had in his circuits a well-earned reputation for untiring industry; pastoral concern, judicious counsel and carefully prepared expository preaching. His devotion to duty was perhaps most marked at Macquarie Harbour, where his remarkable gifts of prayer and leadership were much in evidence.

Schofield's first wife Martha, whom he married on 15 March 1827, was the daughter of Roger Milnes of Horton. After her death on 30 April 1849 he married Kezia, widow of Lancelot Iredale; she died 24 April 1863. His third wife, Ellen, the widow of James Barker, survived him, and died in November 1893. She had means of her own as well as those inherited upon Schofield's death and used them generously in support of the Methodist Church. Her name is commemorated in Schofield Hall, Methodist Ladies' College, Burwood, New South Wales, for the construction of which she provided £2800 in 1886. No children were born to Schofield by any of his marriages.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 3, vol 6
  • In Memoriam, Rev. W. Schofield (Newtown, no date)
  • W. Moister, Missionary Worthies (Lond, 1885)
  • J. Colwell, The Illustrated History of Methodism (Syd, 1904)
  • C. I. Benson (ed), A Century of Victorian Methodism (Melb, 1935)
  • Rev. W. Schofield journal, 1827-63, and letter book, 1827-39 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • J. A. Manton, inward letter book (privately held).

Citation details

G. L. Lockley, 'Schofield, William (1793–1878)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 25 February 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]


17 June, 1793
Dudley Hill, Yorkshire, England


9 June, 1878 (aged 84)
Waverley, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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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.