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.

Adam Compton Thomson (1800–1859)

by James Grant

This article was published:

Adam Compton Thomson (1800?-1859), Church of England clergyman, studied at the University of Edinburgh in 1825-26. In 1830 he was master of a grammar school at Wooler, Northumberland, when he was accepted by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel as a missionary in India, subject to ordination. He was ordained deacon in December 1830 at St James's, Westminster, by Bishop Blomfield of London, and priest in January 1835 at Tanjore, South India, by Bishop Wilson of Calcutta. Thomson was stationed at Tanjore (1831-33), Negapatam (1833-35), Vepery (Madras) from 1836, and in 1838 was headmaster of the Vepery seminary for catechists. In 1839 he went to England because of the illness of his wife Adèle Zélée, whom he had married in South India, and who, according to Georgiana McCrae, was a niece of Spengler, the curator of the Stockholm museum.

He did not return to India, but instead in March 1840 was appointed to the ecclesiastical establishment of Van Diemen's Land and intended for Launceston. However, Bishop William Grant Broughton sent him in September 1840 to Melbourne to relieve Rev. J. Y. Wilson, locum tenens for the chaplain of St James's. In January 1841 he succeeded as locum and later as incumbent, but not until October 1842 was St James's Church opened for worship, replacing the temporary wooden 'Church of the Pioneers'. Wilson had begun a movement for a second church in Melbourne, but depression in the early 1840s stopped progress and it was May 1847 before St Peter's, Eastern Hill, was opened.

Notwithstanding an increasing population, from June 1842 Thomson was the sole Anglican priest for Melbourne and district. He had to conduct services regularly at St James's and Brighton, visit as far as Geelong, Bacchus Marsh and Seymour, and supervise day and Sunday schools; in 1847 he officiated at 583 baptisms, 142 marriages and 171 burials. In 1844, at the request of Superintendent Charles La Trobe, he began the St James's Visiting Society, whose infirmary was a precursor of the Melbourne Hospital, and as Edmund Finn records was 'foremost in every work of charity or philanthropy'.

The arrival of Bishop Charles Perry with additional clergy in January 1848 meant little lightening of Thomson's responsibilities. Not surprisingly his health broke down, and in June 1850 he resigned from St James's to accept the rural parish of Windermere in northern Tasmania. In 1853 he moved to Evandale, but after the death of his wife in 1855 he obtained leave and went to England. When he had not returned by 1858 his parish was declared vacant. He died suddenly at Norwood Green, London, on 23 September 1859.

Thomson was generally accounted a gifted preacher and an energetic organizer. He was of an amiable disposition and, in contrast to Bishop Perry, maintained friendly relations with his colleagues, the Roman Catholic,Patrick Geoghegan, and the Presbyterian, James Forbes. He was criticized as being too plausible and familiar, suspected of Tractarian sympathies, while some took offence at his chronic indebtedness. But in general opinion 'Parson' Thomson, as he was universally styled, was a faithful pastor and a good citizen.

Thomson composed occasional hymns but his only published work was a Tamil translation of W. Marsh's A Short Catechism on the Collects (Colchester, 1821), printed at Vepery in 1842.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Goodman, The Church in Victoria During the Episcopate of the Right Reverend Charles Perry, First Bishop of Melbourne, Prelate of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (Melb, 1892)
  • F. Penny, The Church in Madras, vol 2 (Lond, 1904)
  • S. M. Smith, Church of England Origins in Victoria to 1848 (Th. Schol. thesis, Mollison Library, St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne, 1961).

Citation details

James Grant, 'Thomson, Adam Compton (1800–1859)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 24 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]




23 September, 1859 (aged ~ 59)
London, Middlesex, England

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.