Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Sowerby (1799–1875)

by Ian Matheson

This article was published:

William Sowerby (1799-1875), Anglican clergyman, was born on 31 August 1799 at Castle Sowerby near Penrith, Cumberland, England, son of William Sowerby, farmer. Educated by two clerical tutors, at 16 he became a schoolteacher, but in 1823 entered St Bee's College to study for the ministry. Ordained in 1826 he went as curate to Beckermet, Cumberland, where that year he married Hannah Grayson, a member of a farming family.

Sowerby was one of the first to respond to an appeal by Bishop Broughton for clergy to serve in New South Wales, and on 31 October 1837 he reached Sydney in the Andromache. In November he became the first Anglican clergyman at Goulburn, which had no church and only about thirty houses. His work entailed long visits over rough country. He drove bullock teams to haul timber and spent almost £1000 of his limited private means on building the original St Saviour's Church and parsonage. He ministered to the convict gangs at Towrang and had to attend executions and from 1852 was chaplain at Goulburn gaol. In 1863 he gave a lecture advocating life assurance which was published as a pamphlet for the Australian Mutual Provident Society. By then he had so developed the parish that it was chosen as the second rural diocese in the colony. In 1855 the people of the district presented him with a testimonial of £200; in 1869 Bishop Mesac Thomas created him dean of Goulburn and his parishioners presented him with a silver salver and tea service.

In the early 1840s Sowerby kept a school for 'the sons of highly respectable families' and took a keen interest in the institutions of the growing town. In 1850 he was active in the anti-transportation agitation. He was treasurer of the Goulburn District Hospital for many years, an agent and trustee of the Goulburn Savings Bank and succeeded the Presbyterian minister, Rev. William Ross, as president of the Mechanics' Institute. He was also an honorary member of the Strangers' Friend Lodge of the Manchester Unity Order of Oddfellows. Genial and kindly, Sowerby enjoyed attending the early race meetings, lent his paddock for cricket matches and delighted in the fine garden he had created round the deanery. He died from chronic diarrhoea on 22 November 1875 at Goulburn and was buried in the Anglican cemetery. All business premises closed an hour before his funeral which was attended by Catholic and other clergy as well as those of his own Church. Predeceased by a son, he was survived by his wife (d. 17 June 1884) and three of his four daughters; the eldest, Hannah, married F. R. L. Rossi and the second, Eliza, Sir William Manning.

Select Bibliography

  • R. T. Wyatt, The History of the Diocese of Goulburn (Syd, 1937), and The History of Goulburn, 2nd ed (Syd, 1972)
  • Illustrated Sydney News, 30 Jan 1874
  • Goulburn Evening Penny Post, 25 Nov 1875
  • Town and Country Journal, 4 Dec 1875.

Citation details

Ian Matheson, 'Sowerby, William (1799–1875)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 26 May 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]


31 August, 1799
Castle Sowerby, Cumberland, England


22 November, 1875 (aged 76)
Goulburn, New South Wales, Australia

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