Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

David Shearer (1832–1891)

by John Shearer

This article was published:

David Shearer (1832-1891), teacher and Presbyterian minister, was born on 23 July 1832 at Canisbay, Caithness, Scotland, son of John Shearer, farmer, and his wife Elizabeth, née Banks. In 1847-57 he taught before enrolling at the Free Church of Scotland Normal Training College in Edinburgh. He then taught in the Free Church School at Fordyce, obtained a schoolmaster's certificate in 1860, was appointed to Canisbay Free Church School, but soon returned to Edinburgh. Granted a bursary in 1863 by the Edinburgh-Caithness Association he studied at the University of Edinburgh (M.A., 1867) while working as a city missionary. In 1871 he was licensed to preach by the Free Church Presbytery of Edinburgh and was appointed to the pastorate of the Ellison Street Presbyterian Church at Gateshead; he was ordained on 12 July 1872 by the Presbytery of Newcastle upon Tyne. In 1865 he had married Margaret Fisher, daughter of Thomas Ballantine of Edinburgh.

Through the joint action of the colonial committees of the Established and Free Churches of Scotland, Shearer was commissioned to establish the Presbyterian Church in Western Australia. He sailed from Gravesend with his wife and family in the Charlotte Padbury, arriving at Fremantle on 1 October 1879. His initial services were held in St George's Hall, Perth, and later in the Working Men's Institute. For the first four years his stipend was met by the colonial committees, enabling him to concentrate his efforts on acquiring land and building a church, opened in August 1882. That year he visited Sydney to attend the Third General Conference of the Presbyterian Churches of Australasia and collected nearly £600 for the Church in Western Australia. He brought Rev. Robert Hanlin from Scotland to establish Scots Church at Fremantle and pioneered Albany, Jarrahdale and Geraldton.

A leading reformer in education, Shearer was chairman of the Perth District Board of Education in 1885-89. Strongly opposed to state aid for denominational schools, he aimed to overhaul the National school system and widen its curriculum, but in 1889 the combined efforts of Catholic and Anglican clergy blocked his re-election to the board. He was chairman of a commission on education in 1887, a member of a commission on technical education in 1890, president of the Perth Literary Union from its foundation in 1885, a member of the Orange Lodge and a keen supporter of the British and Foreign Bible Society. He also wrote articles on education in the West Australian. After a prolonged illness attributed to overwork, Shearer died of endocarditis on 13 November 1891, survived by his wife, five daughters and three sons. The administrator, the premier and the colonial secretary were among those who attended his funeral and the pall-bearers were Protestant clergymen. The hall behind the Stirling Street manse was named the Shearer Memorial Hall and a monument, erected by public subscription, stands outside St Andrew's Church, Perth.

Select Bibliography

  • In Memoriam, Rev. David Shearer (Perth, 1891)
  • D. Mossenson, State Education in Western Australia, 1829-1960 (Nedlands, 1972)
  • Inquirer (Perth), 8 Oct 1879, 27 Oct 1880, supplement
  • W. A. Bulletin, 13 Aug 1888
  • West Australian, 13 Apr 1889, 14, 26 Nov 1891
  • CSR 1879-80 (State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

John Shearer, 'Shearer, David (1832–1891)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 24 June 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]


23 July, 1832
Canisbay, Caithness, Scotland


13 November, 1891 (aged 59)
Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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.