Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Benjamin Vale (1788–1863)

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Benjamin Vale (1788-1863), Church of England clergyman, was born in London, the son of Benjamin Vale. At 20 he showed the variety of his interests by publishing in London A New System of Stenography and Rhetoric in Miniature, both works running to several editions. In June 1812 he was admitted a sizar at Christ's College, Cambridge (LL.B., 1819; LL.D., 1834), and ordained priest by the bishop of Ely in 1813. Appointed assistant chaplain to the 46th Regiment in New South Wales he sailed with his wife Mary Ann in the Broxbornebury and arrived at Sydney in July 1814. Governor Lachlan Macquarie had not been advised of his appointment and was 'at a Loss in regard to the Conduct I should Strictly pursue toward him', when Vale continually 'expressed much feeling of Disappointment' because promises which he claimed had been made in London could not be fulfilled. Macquarie contemplated sending him to Liverpool as soon as a parsonage was built there, and meanwhile made him assistant to William Cowper at St Philip's Church, Sydney, and 'to render him as Comfortable as his own Temper and my Ability will admit' gave him a convict servant, rations, fuel and lodging money.

In 1815 Vale published A Pastoral Letter to the Congregation Assembling at St Philip's but his discontent was deepened by association with Jeffery Bent and William Moore. Aided and abetted by these 'strange characters' while Macquarie was absent on a tour of inspection, Vale seized the American schooner Traveller as a lawful prize under the Navigation Act. The governor had permitted this ship to enter Port Jackson on 19 February 1816; he returned a week later, quickly 'removed the Arrest', sent for Vale and rebuked him. Instead of apologizing the chaplain 'Attempted by Argument to Vindicate the Measure', so Macquarie ordered his arrest and trial by court martial. At this trial in March Vale was found guilty of subversive behaviour, insubordination and 'Conduct highly derogatory to his Sacred Character'. Although sentenced to be publicly reprimanded, he was privately admonished by Macquarie at Government House before a few officers.

This episode delayed Vale's return with his sickly wife to England. In June he sailed in the Alexander taking with him a 'memorial of settlers in New South Wales respecting the conduct of Governor Macquarie'. On 10 March 1817 this petition was presented to the House of Commons by Henry Grey Bennet, but Castlereagh repudiated its malicious aspersions. At the same time Vale published in London his own account of the trial, claiming that he had acted only on 'patriotic impulse'.

Vale became morning preacher at St Margaret's Chapel, Westminster, afternoon lecturer in 1820 at St Luke's, Old Street, London, curate in 1827-31 of Stoke-upon-Trent and rector in 1839-63 of Longton, Staffordshire. Many of his papers were destroyed in a fire at Longton rectory, but he continued to publish his sermons and devotional books, interspersed with works on geology, ancient history, Druidism, logic, Odd Fellowship, botany, the Zodiac and many other subjects; some were republished in several editions. The restlessness of his mind may have derived from the diseased liver of which he died on 2 March 1863 at Longton. By his own request he was buried 'without pomp or show'. The principal legatee of his £4000 estate was his son Benjamin.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 8-9
  • M. H. Ellis, Lachlan Macquarie (Syd, 1947)
  • Parliamentary Debates, (Great Britain), 35 (1817), 920.

Citation details

'Vale, Benjamin (1788–1863)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 21 May 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]


London, Middlesex, England


2 March, 1863 (aged ~ 75)
Longton, Staffordshire, England

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