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Thomas Hobbes Scott (1783–1860)

by Ross Border

This article was published:

Thomas Hobbes Scott (1783-1860), Church of England clergyman, was born on 17 April 1783 at Kelmscott, Oxford, England, one of the youngest of eight children of James Scott, sometime vicar of Itchen Stoke, Hampshire, and chaplain ordinary to George III, and his wife Jane Elizabeth, née Harmood. Of his four brothers, three matriculated at Oxford, and of his three sisters, Jane Elizabeth was married to Edward Harley, fifth earl of Oxford, Charlotte to Thomas Hanway Bigge, and Mary to William Ord, M.P. for Morpeth. When his father died in 1794 T. H. Scott received no inheritance, but he went to France, became a vice-consul at Bordeaux and went bankrupt as a wine merchant. At 30 he matriculated and entered St Alban's Hall, Oxford (B.A., 1817; M.A., 1818).

In 1819 when John Thomas Bigge, was appointed commissioner to investigate the affairs of New South Wales Scott was appointed his secretary, with the right to succeed Bigge if he died or was incapacitated. He returned to England with Bigge, was consulted at the Colonial Office and submitted plans for chaplains and schools in the colony. He was ordained deacon in 1821, became a priest the same year, and in 1822 was appointed rector of Whitfield, in the diocese of Durham. The British government reconstituted the ecclesiastical affairs of the colony by creating, under letters patent, an archdeaconry of New South Wales in the diocese of Calcutta. On 2 October 1824 through William Ord's persuasion Scott was appointed archdeacon of New South Wales with authority in the dependencies of New South Wales, including Van Diemen's Land, at a salary of £2000 with allowances. He was given almost complete control of ecclesiastical matters in the colony and the archdeaconry was constituted a body corporate with perpetual succession. He took rank and precedence next to the lieutenant-governor, and was an ex officio member of the Legislative Council.

As an administrator Scott was tireless and exacting. He visited every part of his archdeaconry and made two long visits to Van Diemen's Land, where Lieutenant-Governor Sir George Arthur was an admired friend and adviser. No detail of church management was too small for this bachelor dignitary. He appointed teachers, sextons and clerks, negotiated for sites of churches and schools, and demanded exhaustive returns and reports from his chaplains, of whom there were, when he arrived, nine on the mainland and two in Van Diemen's Land. Although he reprimanded most of them from time to time, he remained on good terms with the senior chaplain, Samuel Marsden. In his official visits to churches and schools he investigated affairs thoroughly and sympathetically. He had great concern for the pastoral welfare of the people and he constantly appealed for more clergy, new buildings, equipment and money. He reported in detail to his bishop and sent him copies of direct correspondence with the Ecclesiastical Board for the Colonies, the archbishop of Canterbury and the bishop of London, but communication between India and Sydney took so long that the administration of the archdeaconry from Calcutta proved impractical and in some subjects Scott became independent of his bishop.

Scott was appointed King's visitor of schools by the Colonial Office and thus became virtually responsible for the colony's public education. His educational policy was guided by the principle that the church and education were inseparably connected, the funds to sustain them being administered by the same trustees. Since this view was shared by the Colonial Office, Bathurst in March 1826 erected the Corporation of the Trustees of Church and School Lands granting one-seventh of the lands of New South Wales to the corporation for the purposes of the Church of England and education in the colony. Scott was ex-officio vice-president. He placed special importance on his work for education and set out, as visitor, to build schools throughout the colony, establish teacher-training centres, inaugurate secondary education, and encourage mechanics' institutes. He set up a School of Industry for training servant girls and helped the work of the male and the female orphan schools. But despite this considerable effort and some progress in setting up schools the development of education facilities was slow. The corporation was too big in conception, impractical and unwieldy, and delay in the surveys denied quick access to resources. Nevertheless Scott made a major contribution by drawing attention to the need for public financial support of colonial education, its proper control, and an adequate supply and training of teachers. He kept the governor and Colonial Office well informed on educational matters, and his advice and findings had considerable influence. Scott had been instructed to pursue the civilization and conversion of the Aboriginals. In 1826 he appointed Richard Sadleir to conduct a peaceful mission to the natives in the County of Argyle and established a school of reading, carpentry and needlework for Aboriginals at Blacktown. He deplored the brutal treatment of the Tasmanian Aboriginals.

Scott was unpopular with the friends of Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane in the colony. He was a friend and admirer of John Macarthur and in 1829 won high praise from Governor (Sir) Ralph Darling who wrote, 'his zeal in the performance of his professional duties, as well as in the discharge of those which are attached to him as a member of the Government has been unabated'. However, Darling had written to Under-Secretary Robert Hay in October 1826 that Scott's connexion with Bigge and his 'Constant Association' with the Macarthurs deprived him of any chance of popularity in the colony. Inevitably Scott was persistently abused by the Australian and Edward Smith Hall's Monitor. The shortcomings of the Church and School Corporation were laid at his door. He was criticized as a supporter of Darling, for holding shares in the Australian Agricultural Co., for opposing the establishment of a theatre, for having been a merchant, for receiving so large a salary. Many of the attacks were mere abuse and innuendo. The combative and uncompromising archdeacon became involved in many lawsuits, some trivial and some important. He expressed his anger with Hall by locking his pew in St James's Church against him. Hall forced the lock, whereupon Scott had the pew decked over. On one occasion Hall and his family sat on the steps at the altar rail. Legal actions followed: Hall was found guilty of trespass and criminal libel; in a third action Hall obtained damages from Scott, which were later paid by the government. Scott also had several disputes with the Roman Catholic priest, John Joseph Therry and was frequently under attack from John Dunmore Lang whom he described as his 'slanderer-general'.

Scott apparently found little satisfaction in his position as archdeacon, for he had not contemplated a long stay in the colony and had left a curate in charge of his English parish. In October 1826 Darling reported that Scott appeared 'very ill at ease' and spoke of returning to England. In July 1827 he wrote to Arthur that he daily wished for release from his duties and in 1828 his brother-in-law, William Ord, reported to the Colonial Office that Scott would willingly give up his £2000 a year for £200 at home. His resignation was accepted on 14 November and on 16 September 1829 he was replaced by Archdeacon William Grant Broughton.

On his return voyage to England in H.M.S. Success the ship struck a reef off Fremantle in November and Scott was marooned at the new Swan River settlement. For the first two months he was the only ordained minister at Perth. With help from settlers and particularly the garrison, he built a temporary church, where he held the colony's first Christmas service and the first Holy Communion. When the colonial chaplain, John Wittenoom, arrived Scott gave him brotherly assistance and unofficial advice, and won such popular regard that the village of Kelmscott was named after his birthplace. He sailed for England in the William by way of Batavia, where in November 1830 he opened an English chapel.

In England Scott resumed his parish at Whitfield, was appointed archdeacon there in 1841 and became an honorary canon of Durham Cathedral in 1845. His property in Sydney, Parramatta and County Argyle was a source of constant anxiety especially in the depression of the 1840s, and helped to retain his interest in the progress of New South Wales. He was also deeply concerned with British politics and in 1836 wrote to Arthur, 'I feel confident that the only chance of avoiding a revolution in Church & State is to reform the gross & barefaced abuses in both; & instead of the former being an overgrown & most partially paid & ill supplied medium thro' which pure religion is administered to the country … we should have an efficient ministry & something more than temporalities to look after'. Scott died, unmarried, on 1 January 1860 at Whitfield, leaving an estate valued at less than £800, and bequeathing his family Bible, his gun and his specimens of art to his relations.

Although arbitrary and autocratic, Scott made an energetic and honest endeavour to fulfil his spiritual mission. His work in New South Wales was significant because of the attempt to 'establish' the Church of England in New South Wales. Although opposition to the 'establishment' led to its abandonment by 1836 when the Church Act was passed, Scott's systematic organization helped to make possible the erection of an episcopate.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 10-16
  • W. W. Burton, The State of Religion and Education in New South Wales (Lond, 1840)
  • R. A. Giles, Constitutional History of the Australian Church (Lond, 1929)
  • E. C. Rowland, A Century of the English Church in New South Wales (Syd, 1948)
  • Ross Border, Church and State in Australia 1788-1872 (Lond, 1962)
  • F. L. Wood, ‘Some Early Educational Problems, and W. C. Wentworth's Work for Higher Education’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 17, part 6, 1931, pp 368-94
  • A. Burton, ‘Notes on Three Archdeacons’, Journal and Proceedings (Western Australian Historical Society), 2 (1932-36)
  • R. T. Wyatt, ‘A Wine Merchant in Gaiters: Thomas Hobbes Scott, Archdeacon of N.S.W., 1824-1829’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 35, part 3 1949, pp 145-99
  • manuscript catalogue under Thomas Hobbes Scott (State Library of New South Wales).

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Citation details

Ross Border, 'Scott, Thomas Hobbes (1783–1860)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 13 July 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 April, 1783
Kelmscott, Oxfordshire, England


1 January, 1860 (aged 76)
Whitfield, Durham, Durham, England

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