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William Henry Terry (1836–1913)

by F. B. Smith

This article was published:

William Henry Terry (1836-1913), by unknown photographer

William Henry Terry (1836-1913), by unknown photographer

National Library of Australia,

William Henry Terry (1836-1913), shopkeeper and spiritualist, was born at Islington, London, son of Thomas Charles Terry (d.1876), manager of the Wood Paving Co., and his wife Martha Ann, née Smith. He came to Melbourne in 1853 with his father, a brother and a sister. In 1855 the family opened a general store at Flemington on the road to the goldfields. Terry and his father were interested in at least four drapery shops around Melbourne between 1859 and 1866, with no marked success.

Like his father, who had been a follower of W. J. Fox, Terry was a free-thinking Unitarian. In the late 1850s the Terrys took up spiritualism, and at Berigny's and Crookes's circles William discovered that he possessed mediumistic skills. When spiritualism burgeoned in Victoria, Terry and his father forsook drapery selling in 1869 for full-time mediumistic work, and early next year William set up in Russell Street, Melbourne, as spiritualist bookseller, medium, trance and magnetic healer, and clairvoyant herbalist. His busy shop became the headquarters of the movement. In September 1870 he launched under 'direct spiritual injunction' the Harbinger of Light, which became the Australasian organ of the faith. Terry edited the Harbinger until his retirement in 1905, and wrote much of its staple of reports of spiritual phenomena and advocacy of vegetarianism and temperance until he sold the paper in 1907.

Steadfast, evidently sincere, and mild in public, Terry was an ideal spokesman for his often absurd and embattled co-devotees. Within the movement he was constructive and hard working. He founded the Progressive Lyceum (children's Sunday school) in 1872 and taught there until 1889. He sponsored tours by celebrated mediums including Dr Slade and Dr Peebles. The Victorian Association of Progressive Spiritualists (later the Victorian Association of Spiritualists), which he helped establish in 1870, depended upon his administrative and financial acumen for its survival. Terry was elected an honorary member of the British National Association of Spiritualists and in March 1880 became an inaugural fellow and councillor of the Theosophical Society in Australia. In 1893-94 he visited the United States of America as representative of the Australian spiritualist movement.

Terry had married Martha Robinson on 7 December 1858. The union was unhappy and he finally obtained a judicial separation in 1874, with custody of eight of their nine children. Aged 77, he died at Malvern, Victoria, on 27 October 1913, and was buried in Melbourne cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 2 (Melb, 1904)
  • M. K. Neff, How Theosophy Came to Australia and New Zealand (Syd, 1943)
  • Australasian, 16 May 1874
  • F. B. Smith, Religion and Freethought in Melbourne 1870 to 1890 (M.A. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1960).

Citation details

F. B. Smith, 'Terry, William Henry (1836–1913)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 19 July 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

William Henry Terry (1836-1913), by unknown photographer

William Henry Terry (1836-1913), by unknown photographer

National Library of Australia,

Life Summary [details]


London, Middlesex, England


27 October, 1913 (aged ~ 77)
Malvern, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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