Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Adam Thomson (1813–1874)

by Alan Dougan

This article was published:

Adam Thomson (1813-1874), Presbyterian minister, was born on 22 February 1813 at Coldstream, Berwickshire, Scotland, son of Rev. Dr Adam Thomson and his wife Isabella, née Turnbull. His father won fame as secretary of the Free Bible Press Co. which published 50,000 Bibles in Coldstream between 1839 and 1851, before being undercut by other printers. He was the leader of the movement that abolished the Bible monopoly held by the Royal Printers and the universities.

Thomson was taught at home by private tutors and in 1824 matriculated at the University of Edinburgh (M.A., 1829). Described by Dr Thomas Chalmers as 'a model student', he completed his studies for the ministry at the United Secession Divinity Hall (later United Presbyterian Hall), and was licensed by the Presbytery of Coldstream at 18. He declined a call to the parish of Dunoon, accepting one to be colleague and successor to the minister of East Bank, Hawick, Roxburghshire, where he was ordained and inducted on 12 June 1833. Greatly admired he ministered there for twenty-seven years. He vigorously supported the Forbes MacKenzie Act, which regulated public houses in Scotland, and with John Bright campaigned for the repeal of the Corn Laws and for educational reform. At Hawick about July 1840 he married Helen Ritchie Wilson and, after her death, a widow Margaret Smellie, née Weir, of Gibraltar.

Prone to bronchial infection, Thomson was advised to seek a warmer climate; he accepted a call to the United Presbyterian Church (later St Stephen's), Phillip Street, Sydney and arrived with his second wife and family in the John Banks on 13 April 1861. He won esteem in New South Wales as an advocate of the union of the divided presbyteries and synods, acting as secretary of the Presbyterian Union Conference. He was called 'a model of Christian courtesy' by Rev. Archibald Gilchrist; his success arose from his gentleness, wisdom and integrity, and his representing of a group of Scottish Presbyterians not involved in the disputes that raged between the different Church sects. He was opposed to state aid to religion. When the Presbyterian Church of New South Wales came into being in 1865 he was unanimously elected first moderator. In 1864-74 he was a director of the Sydney Infirmary and Dispensary.

Supporting the establishment of an affiliated college within the University of Sydney, Thomson travelled extensively to collect funds. On one journey he was injured in a coach accident. When St Andrew's College was founded he was elected to the first council in November 1870. After the validity of the initial election of Rev. John Kinross was challenged by Rev. J. D. Lang, Thomson was chosen first principal on 24 September 1873. While the buildings were being constructed, he organized the new college and admitted the first students to temporary accommodation at Cypress Hall, Newtown.

Thomson developed a throat infection and died at Cypress Hall on 8 November 1874. He was survived by a son and three daughters by his first wife, by his second wife and their son and daughter Annie Elizabeth, who gave long and distinguished service to the Young Women's Christian Association in New South Wales. A stone and window in St Stephen's, Macquarie Street, and a window in St Andrew's College Chapel commemorate him. A large Polyglot Bible presented to his father is also in St Andrew's College.

Select Bibliography

  • D. B. Horn, A Short History of the University of Edinburgh (Edinb, 1967)
  • Australian Witness, 14, 21 Nov 1874
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19 Nov 1874
  • Empire (Sydney), 24 Nov 1874
  • A. Thomson, Diary While Journeying in Country New South Wales Raising Funds (St Andrew's College Archives)
  • General Assembly minutes, 1861-74 (Presbyterian Library, Assembly Hall, Sydney)
  • Thomson papers (privately held).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Alan Dougan, 'Thomson, Adam (1813–1874)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 23 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]


22 February, 1813
Coldstream, Berwickshire, Scotland


8 November, 1874 (aged 61)
Newtown, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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