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Patrick John Stephen (1864–1938)

by Don Wright

This article was published:

Patrick John Stephen (1864-1938), Methodist minister, was born on 2 February 1864 at Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, son of Peter Stephen, shipmaster, and his wife Margaret, née Hay. He was educated at a Scottish national school and Harley College, London. As a youth he took part in a mission at Aberdeen and became interested in social questions and the welfare of the working class.

Arriving in Sydney in 1886, Stephen was accepted for the Wesleyan Methodist ministry. After a year's training he was appointed to the Homebush circuit. While serving at Balmain (1888-93), he married Amy Mary Blackmore on 20 March 1890 at Leichhardt; they were to remain childless. In the same year he founded the Balmain mission: he used outdoor services and brass bands to attract an audience and revived the flagging Methodist class meeting system, employing it as the training ground for new converts. An emotional fundamentalist preacher and a good platform speaker, he rapidly transformed a failing cause into one which had difficulty in housing the congregation which flocked to his services in the neutral ground of Balmain Town Hall. He successfully undertook similar work at Leichhardt in 1903-07, having served on the Parramatta (1894-96), Wesley Church (1897-99) and West Maitland (1900-02) circuits.

Stephen presided over the Christian Endeavour Union in 1896 and later the Evangelical Council of New South Wales; he was active in the temperance and Protestant defence movements. He published several pamphlets, including The Morals and Manners of Cardinal Moran in 1904. Stephen's interest in social issues had led him to support the striking Lucknow goldminers in 1897. He was a strong advocate of trade unionism and argued that strikes would remain the best way of resolving industrial disputes until the state introduced an adequate arbitration system.

A voracious reader, Stephen had a sound knowledge of theological questions. He was a capable teacher at Leigh College, and at the Sydney Central Methodist Mission from 1908 to 1914: there he spent four years under W. G. Taylor and two as superintendent; he left in 1915 only because of ill health. While serving at Lindfield (1916-19), he was president of the united Australasian Methodist Conference in 1917.

After short terms at Manly, Annandale and Cronulla, in 1924 Stephen was appointed to his last circuit, Ashfield; he became a supernumerary in 1927. In the 1920s he chaired the Leigh College committee and in 1927 was chairman of the New South Wales Council of Churches.

Survived by his wife, he died of hypertensive cerebrovascular disease at Ashfield hospital on 22 July 1938 and was buried in Rookwood cemetery. While Stephen was noted for his sympathy for young people, he did his greatest work at the Balmain and Leichhardt missions. The 'whimsical, mystic, Celtic strain' in his nature, his passion for social reform, his fiery manner and his solidity of character enabled him to reach out to members of the industrial working class.

Select Bibliography

  • D. I. Wright, Mantle of Christ (Brisb, 1984)
  • Methodist Church of Australasia (New South Wales) Conference Minutes, 1939
  • Methodist (Sydney), 25 Apr 1908, 30 July 1938.

Citation details

Don Wright, 'Stephen, Patrick John (1864–1938)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 23 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


2 February, 1864
Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, Scotland


22 July, 1938 (aged 74)
Ashfield, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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